Whether you have a 1-month old, 1-year old, or 10-year old, chances are you are currently parenting very differently than you were mere weeks ago before schools were closed, events were cancelled, and you were asked to practice social distancing.

Parenting under a pandemic is uncharted territory for pretty much all of us. It’s not like a “snow day,” or “summer break” where you can fill your days with park playdates, trips to the pool, or overnights at Grandma’s. There is also the emotional stress of worrying about friends and family members who may be ill or working on the front lines of the healthcare system—all this puts pressure on the family unit.

Before you think about caring for your children, it is important during this time to be gentle with yourself. We’ve never done this before, and there are a lot of grown up worries to attend to. It is no small feat to set those aside and create a positive, fun learning environment for your children, quality time together, and mitigate the stress of the state of the world. Give yourself a high five for reading on, for continuing to hold your positive parenting as a high priority.

Over the next three weeks, we will offer tips for parenting during uncertain times.

1. Reassure your children that your family is your top priority.

There are a lot of things right now requiring your attention: following the news; caring for the home; possibly working from home; and helping your young children with distance learning. It’s a lot to juggle. Keep your sight on what’s most important right now: making your children feel safe and loved. For your older children who have concerns about the spread of Covid-19 or are more sensitive to change or prone to worry, you can use gentle phrases like: “I’m your parent, it’s my job to keep you safe and we are doing everything we can.”

2. Maintain everyday family routines.

In the first weeks of quarantine, you may have allowed your family to slack on your routine a bit, staying up late, sleeping in, not worrying about too much screen time, cookies for breakfast—“Who cares? We’re on break!”

Fast-forward a few weeks, and now the kids are getting restless and irritable (and probably so are you) and the whole family could use a bit of routine. Routines help children feel safe. Doing the same things at the same time every day helps kids know what will come next, and it is this predictable routine that provides safety. As much as possible, try to keep to your family’s usual wake-up time, mealtimes, and bedtimes. 

You might also consider writing out an age-appropriate daily plan of activities for school-aged children who are at home. Get their help in planning their routine. Would they like their exercise after breakfast or after lunch? When will be their learning time? How much screen time is reasonable, and when will it happen? When kids have some control over their routine, it helps them feel a sense of importance and builds their self esteem. They develop confidence. 

3. Have plenty of interesting things to do at home.

Busy children are less likely to be bored and disruptive. With your child, help create a list of 20 activities they can choose from when they feel “bored.” Examples could be: reading, drawing, painting, taking a walk, a neighborhood scavenger hunt, or writing a letter to a family member or friend. With preschoolers, remember that “less is more.” It’s easier for toddlers and preschoolers to make decisions when there are fewer choices in front of them. So it may be helpful to say, “Do you want to read right now or do some coloring?” 

That said, we all need unscheduled time to “do nothing.” When we have quiet time to integrate our feelings and experiences, we actually become more creative and productive. Consider giving all your children time to rest during the day. Right now, emotions like anxiety and uncertainty are everywhere, and they may need time to breathe deeply and “turn off” all the stimulation.

4. Take notice of behavior you like.

Think about the values, skills, and behaviors you wish to encourage in your children at this very difficult time. There are many opportunities to teach your children important life skills (e.g., being caring, helpful, cooperative, getting along with siblings, taking turns). Use plenty of praise and positive attention to encourage the behavior you like. For example: “That’s a lovely card you have written to your grandmother. That’s so kind. How do you think she will feel when she gets that in the mail?”

While we don’t have control over the current state of the world, we can control how we choose to parent; how we communicate with our children; and how we connect as a family through difficult times.

This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com).  Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website (https://parentingnow.org/) or contact us at info@parentingnow.org

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