No one imagined the changes we would have to make and the challenges we would have to face when the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the spread of the corona virus had officially become a pandemic on March 11, 2020. This is not the first time humanity has been threatened by a pandemic. However, unlike other types of natural disasters such as an earthquake or fire, a pandemic is a concept that is foreign to the general public, and even to first responders and health-care providers.
First we learned about COVID-19, then we learned about social distancing. Day by day, we realized that social distancing involves major readjustment to not only parents’ schedules, but our children’s as well. Our children’s daily routines and social lives changed as they no longer had access to school, group/physical activities and their friends. This sudden adjustment can have a major effect on the parent–child dynamic. This is especially challenging for essential personnel like you, who are expected to be there for the community’s safety day in and day out while still being able to manage your family’s compliance with the social distancing rules.
First responder parents, and all parents, must now juggle more roles in the parent–child dynamic. Parents are figuring out ways to protect their children from the corona virus outbreak, as well as facing the challenge of educating them and keeping them active and happy while stuck at home. If you and your spouse are in this situation, here are some parenting tips from WHO and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that could be helpful to you.
1. One-on-one time: Set aside time to spend with each child. It can be just 20 minutes, or longer. It can be at the same time each day so children or teenagers can look forward to it. Listen to them, look at them and give them your full attention.
2. Keep it positive: It’s hard to feel positive when our kids 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 use positive words when telling them what to do and giving them lots of praise for what they do right.
3. Structure up: 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 be better behaved. Let your children help when planning the routine; they will follow it better if they help create it.
4. Manage bad behavior:
a. Redirect: Catch bad behavior early and redirect your kids’ attention to positive behavior.
b. Take a pause: Give yourself a 10-second pause. Breathe in and out slowly five times. Then try to respond in a calmer way.
c. Use consequences: Consequences help teach our children responsibility for what they do. They also allow discipline that is controlled.
5. Keep calm and manage stress: Take care of yourself, so you can support your children. Find someone who you can talk to about how you are feeling. Take a break.
6. Talk about COVID-19: Be willing to talk. 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. Be open and listen. Allow your child to talk freely. Be supportive. Ask them open questions and find out how much they already know. Always answer their questions truthfully, keeping in mind how old your child is and how much they can understand.
It takes time to adjust to new schedules. Be patient, tolerant and reassuring, especially during this time when children are separated from their friends, group activities, sports and usual routines. This time can be daunting and unfamiliar. If handled well, it can give you a chance to have a better relationship with your children. Handling it well means letting your children be part of the decision-making and recognizing that your children of different ages have different needs. These tips will make for a healthy parent–child dynamic during the time of COVID-19.
If you’d like to obtain additional information regarding healthy parenting during COVID-19 or how to interact constructively with your children in general, please contact Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500 to learn more about our services or to schedule a counseling appointment. Your appointment is free and confidential. To obtain additional information, you may visit our intranet site (http://intranet/intranet/ESS/Index.htm).