Expert tips to help you deal with COVID-19 parenting challenges.
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has upended family life around the world. School closures, working remote, physical distancing — it's a lot to navigate for anyone, but especially for parents. Here are a set of handy tips for parents and caregivers to help manage this new (temporary) normal.
1. Talking about COVID-19
Be willing to talk. They will already have heard something. Silence and secrets do not protect our children. Honesty and openness do. Think about how much they will understand. You know them best.
Be open and listen. Allow your child to talk freely. Ask them open questions and find out how much they already know.
Be honest. Always answer their questions truthfully. Think about how old your child is and how much they can understand.
Be supportive. Your child may be scared or confused. Give them space to share how they are feeling and let them know you are there for them.
It is OK not to know the answers. It is fine to say “We don’t know, but we are working on it; or we don’t know, but we think.” Use this as an opportunity to learn something new with your child!
Heroes, not bullies. Explain that COVID-19 has nothing to do with the way someone looks, where they are from, or what language they speak. Tell your child that we can be compassionate to people who are sick and those who are caring for them. Look for stories of people who are working to stop the outbreak and are caring for sick people.
End on a good note. Check to see if your child is okay. Remind them that you care and that they can talk to you anytime. Then do something fun together!
2. One-on-one time during COVID-19
Can’t go to work? Schools closed? Worried about money? It is normal to feel stressed and overwhelmed. School shutdown is also a chance to make better relationships with our children and teenagers. One-on-One time is free and fun. It makes children feel loved and secure and shows them that they are important.
Set aside time to spend with each child. It can be for just 20 minutes, or longer – it’s up to us. It can be at the same time each day so children or teenagers can look forward to it.
Ask your child what they would like to do. Choosing builds their self-confidence. If they want to do something that isn’t OK with physical distancing, then this is a chance to talk with them about this.
Do a chore together – make cleaning and cooking a game.
Help with schoolwork.
3. Keeping it positive during the coronavirus outbreak
It‘s hard to feel positive when our kids or teenagers are driving us crazy. We often end up saying “Stop doing that!”. But children are much more likely to do what we ask if we give them positive instructions and lots of praise for what they do right.
Say the behaviour you want to see. Use positive words when telling your child what to do.
It’s all in the delivery. Shouting at your child will just make you and them more stressed and angrier. Get your child’s attention by using their name. Speak in a calm voice.
Praise your child when they are behaving well. Try praising your child or teenager for something they have done well. They may not show it, but you’ll see them doing that good thing again. It will also reassure them that you notice and care.
Get real. Can your child actually do what you are asking them? It is very hard for a child to keep quiet inside for a whole day but maybe they can keep quiet for 15 minutes while you are on a call.
Help your teen stay connected. Teens especially need to be able to communicate with their friends. Help your teen connect through social media and other safe distancing ways. This is something you can do together, too!
4. Get structured
COVID-19 has taken away our daily work, home and school routines. This is hard for children, teenagers and for you. Making new routines can help.
Create a flexible but consistent daily routine. Make a schedule for you and your children that has time for structured activities as well as free time. This can help children feel more secure and better behaved.
Children or teenagers can help plan the routine for the day – like making a school timetable. Children will follow this better if they help to make it.
Include exercise in each day - this helps with stress and kids with lots of energy at home.
- Teach your child about keeping safe distances. If it is OK in your country, get children outside.
- You can also write letters and draw pictures to share with people. Put them up outside your home for others to see!
- You can reassure your child by talking about how you are keeping safe.
- Listen to their suggestions and take them seriously.
- Make handwashing and hygiene fun
- Make a 20-second song for washing hands. Add actions!
- Give children points and praise for regular handwashing.
- Make a game to see how few times we can touch our faces with a reward for the least number of touches (you can count for each other).
You are a model for your child’s behaviour. If you practice keeping safe distances and hygiene yourself, and treat others with compassion, especially those who are sick or vulnerable – your children and teenagers will learn from you.
At the end of each day, take a minute to think about the day. Tell your child about one positive or fun thing they did. Praise yourself for what you did well today. You are a star!
5. Keeping children safe online during COVID-19
Children and teens are now spending a lot more time online. Being connected helps them reduce the impact of COVID-19 and encourages them to continue with their lives…but it also presents risks and dangers.
- Adults targeting children for sexual purposes on social media, gaming, and messaging platforms.
- Harmful content – violence, misogyny, xenophobia, inciting suicide and self-harm, misinformation, etc.
- Teens sharing personal information and sexual photos or videos of themselves.
- Cyberbullying from peers and strangers.
Tech fixes to protect your children online.
- Set up parental controls.
- Turn on SafeSearch on your browser.
- Set up strict privacy settings on online apps and games.
- Cover webcams when not in use.
Create healthy and safe online habits.
- Involve your child or teen in creating family tech agreements about healthy device use.
- Create device-free spaces and times in your house (eating, sleeping, and playing, schoolwork).
- Help your children learn how to keep personal information private, especially from strangers – some people are not who they say they are!
- Remind your children that what goes online stays online (messages, photos, and videos).
- Spend time with your child or teen online.
- Explore websites, social media, games, and apps together.
- Talk to your teen on how to report inappropriate.
Keep your children safe with open communication.
Tell your children that if they experience something online that makes them feel upset, uncomfortable, or scared, they can talk to you and you will not get mad or punish them.
Be alert to signs of distress. Notice if your child is being withdrawn, upset, secretive, or obsessed with online activities.
Create trusting relationships and open communication through positive support and encouragement.
Note that every child is unique and may use different ways to communicate. Take time to adjust your message for your child's needs. For example, children with learning disabilities, may require information in simple format.
6. Family harmony at home
When we model peaceful and loving relationships, our children feel more secure and loved. Positive language, active listening and empathy help maintain a peaceful and happy family environment during these stressful times.
We are models for our kids. How we talk and behave in front of others is a big influence on how they behave too!
- Try to talk kindly to everyone in the family, adults and children.
- Bad communication between adults in the household can have a negative impact on our children.
- The more we practice modelling peaceful, loving relationships for our children the more secure and loved they will feel.
- Use positive language. It works!
Tell others what you want them to do instead of what you don’t want them to do: Instead of “Stop shouting,” try “Please speak more quietly”. Praise makes others feel appreciated and good about themselves. Simple words like, “Thank you for clearing the dinner,” or “Thank you for watching the baby” can make a big difference.
Nice things to do together as a family.
- Let each family member take turns to choose a whole-family activity each day.
- Find ways to spend quality time with your partner and other adults in your home, too!
- Be an empathetic active listener
- Listen to others when they are talking with you.
- Be open and show them that you hear what they are saying.
- It can help to even summarize what you have heard before responding: “What I hear you saying is…”.
Share the load. Looking after children and other family members is difficult, but it’s much easier when responsibilities are shared. Try to share household chores, childcare, and other tasks equally among family members. Create a schedule for time “on” and time “off” with other adults in your household. It is okay to ask for help when you are feeling tired or stressed, so that you can take a break.
Feeling stressed or angry?
Give yourself a 10-second pause. Breathe in and out slowly five times. Then try to respond in a calmer way. Millions of parents say this helps - A LOT!
Call a truce when you can see arguments building up and go into another room or outside if you can.
7. Keep calm and manage stress from COVID-19
This is a stressful time. Take care of yourself, so you can support your children.
You are not alone. Millions of people have the same fears as us. Find someone who you can talk to about how you are feeling. Listen to them. Avoid social media that makes you feel panicked.
Take a break. We all need a break sometimes. When your children are asleep, do something fun or relaxing for yourself. Make a list of healthy activities that YOU like to do. You deserve it!
Listen to your kids. Be open and listen to your children. Your children will look to you for support and reassurance. Listen to your children when they share how they are feeling. Accept how they feel and give them comfort.
Take a pause. Here's a one-minute relaxation activity that you can do whenever you are feeling stressed or worried.