Parenting can be hard. Pandemics are hard. Parenting in a pandemic is hard! I hope to provide some reflection and help over the next few paragraphs but want to start by telling you to take a breath. You are not alone. You are doing the best you can with you have and that is good enough!
The good news is the core parenting advice I have for you is not that different than what I would tell you if we were not in a pandemic. The bad news is that we are in a pandemic and everything can feel harder. We have additional challenges and less breaks from our loved ones with the added anxiety of social distancing expectations when we do venture into the world that can make parenting feel harder.
This graphic is emphasizing two principles. Connection. Empowerment. These are core principles in Trust Based Relational Intervention®, an approach to caregiving that focuses on attachment (connection) while enhancing your ability to interpret behavior (empower) and respond appropriately (correction).
Connection: Connecting is hard. As a parent you are pulled in a million different directions, and while most of those directions are things that benefit your child and are for your child’s well-being most of them do not foster connection. This must be a mindful practice that you commit to and complete on a consistent basis. If you are connected to your child, you will recognize the information they are offering through their behaviors. These behaviors are telling you how they are feeling. We cannot expect our children to have the words or express how they are feeling on your terms. They need this expression modeled. They need their self-expression to be fostered. They need their behaviors to be seen by their parent with patience, calm and curiosity. When you can engage in this way, you are connecting with your child and your relationship will grow. When your relationship grows, your child’s behaviors will improve because you will both be speaking the same language.
Empowerment. Once you have connected with your child, you are on your way to empowering your child. Think of it as you are their tour guide for feelings and coping skills (those healthy things you do to feel calmer.) If you met a tour guide who had never been to the museum/city would you trust them to get you safely through and know the important things along the way? They will only trust you if you are connected with yourself and laid the foundation of trust, aka connection. This graphic below emphasizes the patience one develops as a parent to manage your own emotions while creating realistic expectations for your child.
That is empowerment… having the safe space to grow and learn.
Pandemic Parenting Tips:
Prioritize relationships and harmony in your home. These are the important things. Do not believe the message that everything is equally important right now. I recently saw a post about a lecture someone went to where the speaker talked about all the balls everyone juggles every day. Everything you have on your list as your own person, as well as what you are balancing for your kids and partner are different balls. Some of these balls are plastic and some are glass. This means, you can drop a plastic one- it can bounce and survive a ding or two. Other balls are glass and will shatter if dropped. Your glass ball is your connection with your child. The pandemic has caused a reality where you are home more often and for longer periods of time with your child and family. Make a resolution to spend the time you have at home to connect as a family. Eat dinner screen free. Play a physical board game or complete a puzzle. Join your kid in playing their favorite activity or with their favorite toy, that is not technology based. (See my theme here?)
Can Dos vs. Must Dos. Find ways to let go of the things you cannot do. School is the hot button topic right now with feelings of pressure to have your child attend every single call, complete every single assignment, and do all those things well… whether you are in virtual school at home or on-campus. Help your child prioritize the work that is a must do and the work that is a can do. Focus on what has to be done and stop there if your kid is at their capacity. Give everyone grace here. Everyone is doing the best that they can. Your child is still learning and engaging while remaining within their capacity to cope, thus retaining information. If we push past that, they will not store the information as well and your arguments or tantrums are for naught. Find ways to let go of the things you cannot do.
Create a Schedule and Stick to It! Children like structure and knowing what to expect, even if it seems like they are fighting it. Knowing your child and their triggers will help you create a schedule to accommodate your child. If you have a child you know will be demanding of your attention as soon as you are in that important work meeting, ensure you have scheduled an engaging activity for the child, and if possible schedule your work meeting to be during times the child is engaged in school, lunch, nap, etc. Focus should also be put on your child’s sleep schedule. A bedtime routine that has clear expectations and is the same each night will help those bedtimes go smoother. Ensuring your child’s bedtime is the same and early enough to allow for quality sleep (and enough of it!) will help those morning routines more pleasant too!
Communication is Key. Create communication strategies that can include passwords, signs, and/or signals for your child to communicate to you that they need your attention if you are both working or schooling from home, as well as to know when you cannot be disturbed. Set up the environment to minimize interruptions, as well. If you have a child who likes to interrupt to ask for food, have set mealtimes throughout the day(schedules!) and a snack station with healthy, filling options the child an access without disturbing you. Creating these non-verbal communication strategies can also help your child practice delayed gratification!
Use your Coping Skills! Give yourself permission to feel grief, happiness, and everything else that may come up. That is it. This time has been stressful with an unclear end in sight. Be kind to yourself and start these parenting strategies now so you are prepared for the upcoming usual demands of the holiday season, plus the new pandemic demands to ensure everyone you care about remains safe, healthy, and connected in safe and healthy ways.
Stay tuned for more parenting tips using the core principles from TBRI in future blogs!
Kamini Verma, LCSW-S, RPT-S is a therapist in Texas who is passionate about assisting children and their families through periods of healing, development and growth. She has 10+ years of experience working with children, adolescents and their families on topics related to healing from trauma and abuse, crisis intervention, creating home stability, adoption, attachment, grief and loss, mindfulness and questions of sexuality. Kamini is a Registered Play Therapist and Trust Based Relational Intervention ® Certified Educator. She enjoys crafting, cookie decorating and spending time with loved ones.