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03 · 22 · 20

Parenting Through the Storm of COVID-19

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(Guest Post by Dr. Paula Waisman)

In this uncertain time, parents are trying to figure out the best way to stay healthy and help stop the spread of COVID-19 in their families and communities. The cancellation of school and many other activities for children has parents worried about the ongoing health crisis, as well as how they will be keeping kids occupied at home.

Here are a few reminders of things you can do during this difficult period.

Help Regulate the Family Environment

To help regulate your family environment, keep calm and be a thermostat, not a thermometer. A thermometer rises in response to heat, a thermostat helps regulate the temperature to keep things comfortable. This refers to trying to stay centered and thoughtful rather than reactive during stressful situations.

Parents have the opportunity to help calm their children and explain the situation to them in terms that they can understand, but first this requires that they take steps to help manage their own fears and anxieties. It is understandable that we are all worried about the evolving nature of COVID-19, but we need to make sure that we are not discussing our anxieties and “worst case scenarios” in front of young children. While we all have questions and worries about how things will evolve during this crisis, there is one thing you can try and control – the emotional temperature in your home.

Here are some practical strategies for controlling the emotional temperature in your home:

1. Limit exposure to media and news about the outbreak in the home environment (check online sources or watch after the kids are asleep).

2. Be aware of conversations you are having with other adults about your fears and worries (little ears are always listening when parents seem distressed).

3. Help your kids have a conversation that they can understand about what is going on in the world. There are many online resources such as comics and podcast episodes on coronavirus just for kids as well as advice for talking to tweens and teens and helping teens manage anxiety related to coronavirus.

4. Make sure that you’re managing the psychological impact of COVID-19 and  getting your own needs met while social distancing. Talk with family, friends, or seek out professional support if needed.

Offer Structure and Support

In terms of navigating the school closures, your child may first be excited at the prospect of staying home. This will eventually wear off as social distancing and limited activities cut kids off from their friends and outside distractions. School closures will impact children in multiple ways including: a disruption of daily routines; lack of physical exercise and playing with peers; and a lack of social outlets.

There are several things you can do to help create a home environment that supports kids during this novel time of social distancing and continues to nurture their developmental needs.

Here are some ways to support children while schools are closed:

1. Create a daily schedule for your child to help maintain a routine while school is out.  Think about creating a schedule focused on their needs – focused time for learning, breaks from concentrated activity, need for physical activity, snacks, etc.

2. Try to establish and enforce rules around the use of screens and devices during schoolwork and focused activities. Build time into the schedule when kids can have access to their devices and screentime. Many schools are going online for instruction during this time, so it will be a challenge for parents to think about how to set boundaries while they are “in school.” If your school is phone-free during the day, consider setting similar rules at home for online school time.

3. If social distancing allows, find time to be outside and try to have children move around and work off some energy (exercise is essential for mental health and well-being). Kids yoga is another great way to support wellness and some yoga studios and websites have online classes that can be streamed.

4. See if you are able to help your kids use technology in a positive and supportive way. Have them start a book club with peers and meet via facetime to discuss a few chapters at a time; have them work together virtually on an assignment; or just have a few minutes to check in with each other in a supervised way.

5. Teens will require the support of their peer group during this time. Help them stay connected while also trying to help them take breaks from their phones, gaming consoles, and devices to participate in family time. They can also be recruited to help out more at home with younger siblings (helping with homework, etc).

Enjoy Extra Family Time

Lastly, we live in a fast-paced and overscheduled culture that often struggles to find the balance for time with family. Find the positive in being together and trying to enjoy time with our loved ones, while doing our part to help fight the spread of this virus.

  • Consider family activities such as games, puzzles, movies, audiobooks, arts and crafts
  • Learn something new as a family (there are a lot of online learning options that are being offered for free while schools are shut down)
  • Spend time preparing and eating meals as a family
  • Take walks together

Take a deep breath, wash hands and stay healthy!

Paula Waisman, Ph.D.

Clinical Psychologist


Author’s Bio

Paula Waisman, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist specializing in working with children, adolescents and young adults in private practice in San Diego, CA. Dr. Waisman works closely with parents, students and schools in the community, including local universities. She has additional training in psychoanalytic theory/psychodynamic psychotherapy, as well as a background in psychoeducational assessment of learning differences and ADHD. She is also the proud mother of two creative and energetic children.

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This is very helpful. I’m definitely more stressed because of the news and because the kids spend too much time on devices playing games with friends. I do love taking walks together and finally having time for things like eating meals together though. I’m going to keep working on being calm so that I can be a theromostat instead of a thermometer. Thanks for sharing this article.

So glad you found the article helpful, Melissa! It’s great that you can enjoy some extra family time!

Love these tips. My family and I are trying to limit watching the news and spending more time in nature. The weekends are actually great. Do you have any more tips for homeschooling?

Hi Allison. Great question! Here are a few general tips for parents who are suddenly finding themselves homeschooling at this time. 1. Try to have as much self-compassion as you can and set reasonable goals and expectations. 2. Prioritize mental health for the family. This isn’t the time to put too much stress on grades or performance. 3. If you have a child with special needs, try a few sessions of doing 20 minutes of work with 5 minute breaks and make sure that the work is still appropriately modified according to the child’s IEP. 4. If you’re working from home and homeschooling young or special needs children, it can be especially challenging. Give yourself as much grace as you can while you try to find a system that works for the weekdays and weekends. This might mean doing more work or schoolwork in small chunks, in the evenings, or during the weekends if necessary and possible. If things aren’t working out, perhaps you can communicate with teachers to find better solutions for your child.
Good luck! This is definitely a challenging adjustment for many of us!