At some point in our lives, we all experience uncertainty. Right now, we are collectively experiencing the uncertainty that comes with the COVID-19 virus. But it can come in other forms as well—including the loss of a job, divorce, housing issues, food scarcity, illness—and they all affect how we parent.
This week’s tips for parenting through uncertain times focuses on communication skills and how to support your child through open and honest discussions.
Be available to talk
This tip sounds easy enough in theory, but between household duties, work, meals and snacks, walking the dog, bath time, you might find yourself saying “Not right now,” or “Let’s talk about it later,” more often than you’d like.
It’s important that your children know they can come to you at any time to talk about their feelings or concerns. When possible, stop what you are doing and give your child extra attention when they want to share something with you. If you are in the middle of a work call or making dinner, just give a little extra care to your response. For example, “I really want to hear about the dream you had last night. It sounds like it was a little upsetting for you. Let’s make some time to talk about it after I am done with my phone call.”
You may be able to head off some interruptions by letting your child know when you are available. Before you make an important work call or participate in an online meeting, let them know you will be busy for the next little while. Is there anything you can do for them before the call? This can also help them anticipate their needs and plan ahead.
When you have a moment to talk with your child, validate their feelings instead of telling them how they should feel, and let them know it’s OK to feel worried, anxious or upset. Help them find a word for what they are feeling. We know that naming the feeling helps us develop the capacity for coping with it. We are teaching our kids to move through the primitive, feeling part of the brain to the cognitive, thinking part of the brain. This is where we can make decisions about ways to cope with what we are feeling.
Answer your child’s questions truthfully
We want our children to feel safe in this world; to shelter them from harm or scary things. But eventually they will come to you with questions on topics you may not feel ready to talk about. Always answer your child’s questions truthfully and to the best of your ability. For example, you could say: “What are you hearing about BLANK?”, “What questions do you have about it?” It’s OK to say “I don’t know” and to not have all the answers. If your tween asks why she can’t go to the mall with her friends this weekend, you could start by asking what she knows about the issue (in this case, COVID-19, and shelter-in-place), then answer her in a way that is simple and easy to understand, starting from the information she shared.
For a list of articles on taking to your child about COVID-19, visit https://www.lanekids.org/coronavirus-resources/ or https://parentingnow.org/parents/parenting-through-covid-19/.
Involve your children in the family’s “Plan of Action”
Parenting through uncertain times generally means that your situation is constantly in flux. This could mean cancelled travel plans, school closures, cancelled birthday parties, and changes to your child’s regular routine. When appropriate, include your child in making “plans” for any changes that arise. For example, with in-person schooling suspended for the remainder of the school year, create a daily schedule with your child that includes grade level, and age-appropriate activities, as well as things your child likes to do, such as reading or art. Providing your child with a routine they can depend on, not only helps them feel at ease but also helps to build their confidence and life skills. By contributing to or creating the routine themselves, they can feel more in control of a situation they have little control over.
When it comes to communication, follow your child’s lead
While it’s important to be there for your child when they have questions or want to share their worries with you, it’s also just as important to follow your child’s lead when it comes to when and how they want to communicate with you. If they don’t feel like talking at the moment, don’t press the issue. Come back to it at another time when you can both be fully engaged in the conversation.
If your child doesn’t want to talk, encourage them to express their feelings or worries in another way. Maybe they like to draw or paint. Ask, “ What color would your feeling or mood be right now?” Maybe they like to dance, or make up stories. Encourage pretend play. You may be surprised by what you learn, and it can provide a starting point for more discussion.
The most important thing for your kids to know is that you are there for them, and they can come to you with their concerns, worries and questions. By listening and providing a secure base for them, they know you are on the same team. When they feel confident you are on their side, they know you will get through these uncertain times together.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Triple P – Positive Parenting Program
Are you interested in receiving more parenting advice? Triple P Online – Positive Parenting Program could be for you! This online parenting program allows you to take a parenting class in the comfort of your own home! Triple P Online now includes a guide for parenting during COVID-19.
If you or your child are on Oregon Health Plan (OHP), you can get Triple P Online for free by filling out the form below. A staff person from Parenting Now! will send you an access code within 24 hours and you’ll be able to start using the program right away! For more information about the program visit the LaneKids Triple P homepage.