Parenting through the pandemic


By Margaret W. Crane

Published On: Apr 3, 2020

Last Updated On: Nov 2, 2020

With the COVID-19 virus in our midst, the new normal bears little resemblance to life as we knew it just a few short weeks ago. The constraints of social distancing have affected every aspect of our lives. Our homes are now multi-purpose sites where many of us are working, teaching and maintaining our connection with others beyond physical walls.

But none of this is easy, said Jennifer LeBovidge, PhD, a psychologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and a member of the Harvard Medical School faculty. “It’s a process. We’re all learning as we go, and we’re all going to make mistakes.”

To maintain stability and continuity, families should hold on to the routines that have worked for them all along, she advised.

“Predictability is good for kids, especially when eczema is part of the family dynamic,” LeBovidge said. “Regular skincare routines should continue to be part of the mix.

“But parents who are working from home can also build in a little more flexibility when needed. For example, if your child is itchier than usual, you can move bath time to the middle of the day instead of waiting until evening.”

Predictable routines ground our lives at every stage, she said. At the same time, sheltering in place can give us the opportunity to build new habits that can be carried forward into the post-pandemic future — habits that boost our resilience as individuals and foster togetherness as families and communities.

Putting it together, piece by piece

Basic routines, such as regular wake time, bedtime and mealtimes, are the stuff of stability, said LeBovidge. But scheduling isn’t the same as micromanaging children’s lives.

“Consider involving your kids in creating their own schedules that include a variety of activities to choose from. Alternate schoolwork with exercise, fun activities and quiet time,” LeBovidge said.

“You can also ask your kids to help with household tasks, such as folding laundry or putting the dishes away. These activities can reinforce a feeling of self-worth, so even if your kids normally shy away from such tasks, they might feel differently about helping out during this extraordinary time.”

When you count up the hours spent traveling to and from work and school, as well as the full days spent in the classroom or at the workplace, you realize how much time you actually have now to pursue interests that typically get pushed to the margins. These might include learning to knit or repair things, do carpentry, make a collage or anything else you or your children would like to try.

Technology for learning, growth and connection

Our teenaged children tend to be the most tech-savvy members of the family. They know their way around social media and a range of video platforms that allow them to interact with their peers. LeBovidge suggested an expanded role for these media that goes beyond the usual texting and video chat.

“There are many ways to build community using Facetime, Zoom and Skype, among other platforms,” she said. “I recommend using these to strengthen intergenerational connectedness. Kids can reach out to their grandparents and other relatives, share photos and family news or just check in.”

Don’t hesitate to get creative, she added. Working parents can enjoy a virtual coffee break with their co-workers. Teens can get together for a Netflix party or a group Facetime session. Younger kids can engage in virtual play, from tea parties to shooting hoops or face-painting. And the entire extended family can come together online for Easter and Passover celebrations.

“If you aren’t comfortable with technology, LeBovidge said, “enlist the help of a young expert! It’s another opportunity for family connection, only the roles are reversed, with the young teaching the older family members.”

Technology is also a great tool for self-care. A wealth of meditation and relaxation apps are out there for the sampling. “Don’t just take breaks,” LeBovidge said. “Use them as deliberate ways to reduce the effects of stress on your body.”

And know yourself, she added. Know what helps you recharge, whether it’s a phone conversation with a friend, watching a movie or curling up with a good book.

Mindful parenting

When it comes to stress management, LeBovidge said parents should take a cue from the airline industry and “fasten your own seatbelt first” before tending to your children’s needs. Self-care is not an add-on; it’s fundamental to mindful parenting.

Limiting children’s exposure to all forms of media is another task requiring mindfulness.“Pay attention to what your kids are seeing about COVID-19,” she said, “and make sure to keep talking about it openly and honestly.”

Parents can protect their kids from too much of a good thing by searching —  a resource that contains reviews of movies, TV shows and apps based on a child’s age group.

Another key strategy is to become better and better at listening. To foster this skill, LeBovidge said to engage in a nightly check-in ritual—“a special time during which children can talk about something that happened during the day that was cool, or tough, or something they learned. The evening check-in is one new habit that could become a keeper.”

Our attitudes can also be a matter of habit, she added. “Try not to compare yourself to others too much,” she urged. “If you aren’t a teacher, no one expects you to be one. Just do your best.

“And try to avoid dwelling on worst-case scenarios, especially where COVID-19 is concerned. We can all try to give the situation a positive spin. We can tell our children that sheltering in place is a way for all of us to help doctors and nurses by doing what we can to limit the spread of the virus. And we can tell ourselves that too.”

Whatever the challenge of the moment, the main thing is to be there for our kids, she said. “Listen to their worries about the demands of future schoolwork and their anxieties about not spending time with their friends,” she said.

“It’s not about rushing to reassure them that everything’s hunky-dory. It’s about validating that the stress they’re feeling is real. If we all do that, children and grown-ups alike will know they’ll be able to bounce back once the pandemic is over. That’s what resilience is all about.”

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