Pandemic Parenting

It may be evening, but your workday might be just starting. Perhaps you are staying up later or getting up earlier than normal to get work done when the house is quiet. Or maybe you have lost your job in these uncertain times. As a parent, you not only have to manage your own worries and fears about your family’s health, you also have to help manage your child’s fears and their education commitments, while still juggling your own work commitments. Here are a few ideas that could help take some of the pressure off, and tips to how the family can work together to manage tasks and workload in these uncertain times.

If you have to work from home, you may need to carve out some time where your child is occupied with an activity so you can get your work done. It may be helpful to create a list of activities with three categories. Category one could be activities your child can do on their own, category two would include activities that require parental supervision, and activities in category three are those that can only be done when a parent is there to help them. Your list will vary depending on the child’s age and abilities. For example, if you are taking a conference call, then your child would choose from the list of activities that they can do on their own. If you are doing paperwork and can keep an eye on your child, they can choose from the list of activities that you observe and help out as needed. If you are taking a break from your work, then together you can choose an activity that requires your participation (i.e. cooking or going for a walk outside). 

Once you have your lists of activities established, you can then create a structure for your children. It would be helpful if your children went to bed roughly the same time as they did pre-pandemic, and woke up roughly the same time. Research shows that consistent bedtime routine has benefits for children academically, and with behavioural and emotional regulation. Your child was used to getting up at specific times to eat, clean up, get dressed, and head off to school. While in school, your child had schedules to follow with specific tasks done at certain times. Studies show that younger children develop social-emotional skills through established routines at home. It could also be helpful if your child knows that they do school work at the same time and for a set amount of time every day. This will help them manage their expectations for the day. Encourage your child to do the best work they can do at that time, keeping in mind their abilities, and the circumstances under which they are learning.

A sample “Home School” schedule might look like this: Schoolwork could start at 9:00. Your child does schoolwork for 1 hour, followed by a half an hour break, and then schoolwork resumes for 1 hour. Schoolwork ends at 11:30. In this time, the child must work on specific tasks, whether it is answering a pre-determined amount of questions, writing a set amount of sentences, or completing a certain number of math problems, for example. These guidelines should be based on your child’s age and abilities, or use what has been provided by their school. By being specific with your lesson plan, you help everyone stay on task. 

If you are having trouble getting your child to do their schoolwork, they may benefit from an incentive system. You can have them trade in work for a specific reward or reward time on a device. Inviting your child into this process will help with adherence to the schedule. If they could pick their preferred and least preferred tasks, determine when they would do them, and help decide what an appropriate rewards might be, you may get more interest and compliance.

If you have found that your child’s screen time has increased dramatically, you are not alone. Some screen time is expected, after all, since it is how we are staying connected these days. But too much time on a phone, gaming device, or computer means they are spending far less time participating in other enriching activities. It may be difficult to reduce the amount of time your child has been on a screen without creating a fight or a meltdown. Try introducing other engaging activities from your category lists that give your child the same boosts that they think they are getting from their screen time. Exercise is an excellent replacement for screen time, and it is a great way to increase your child’s feel good chemicals. Exercise recommendations vary depending on the child’s age, but generally children should have at least one hour of purposeful exercise, with other physical activity throughout the day. This may be difficult to do, given our current restrictions. Creativity is highly encouraged! Make exercise a fun game. For example, how many jumping jacks can they do in a minute, or try dancing to their favorite song. A quick Internet search of “Go Noodle” will bring up many videos for you and your child. Now that some restrictions are lifted, going on nature walks is another great way to get exercise. You can also incentivize exercise time. For every hour of exercise, they may earn half an hour of screen time. 

In addition to your child adapting to a new home routine, they may also have many questions about what is happening in the world today. Your child may have fears about themselves or their family members becoming sick. Validating your child’s concerns, and providing a safe place for fears and worries would be helpful. You can remind them about the principles of flattening the curve: that everyone is using physical distancing, washing their hands, monitoring their symptoms, and that healthcare professionals are working as hard as they can to keep everyone safe. They may be wondering when they can see their extended family, friends, and teachers again. Reassure them that, although it seems like these measures have been in place for a while, they are temporary. Things will return to normal when it is safe to do so. This would be a good opportunity for your child to use some screen time to communicate with their family and friends. And take it easy on yourself. You may not know all of the answers to your child’s questions and that is okay. Let them know that you’ll look for the answer and get back to them.  

Your wellbeing is crucial in managing the stressors of this new normal. Children will take most of their cues from you. How you respond to our current new reality will have a big effect on your child. First and foremost, it is very important to take care of your emotional health. If you are finding that you are having a hard time coping, reach out to a family member, friend, a trusted co-worker, or a therapist. If you are neglecting your own needs, it will be more challenging to manage your family’s needs. These are unique and uncertain times for adults and children alike. Adding structure and routine can help provide some certainty and normalcy to an otherwise ever-changing landscape.

Written By Derry MacKichan, Registered Psychologist