Parenting is one of the most challenging roles a person will face, and no doubt the national shelter in place order is only adding to the stress. With the extension of the stay at home order, many parents are without work or working from home and now taking on the role of teacher, coach, and entertainment committee. It is normal to feel stressed and overwhelmed. I am going to be sharing 4 tips to help parents create healthy and meaningful interactions with their children during this time of confinement.
Create a flexible but consistent daily routine.
Our lives are filled with routine, but the stay at home order has turned work, home, and school routines upside down. This is not only hard for children and teenagers but for parents too. Let’s begin with the basics; sticking to a regular sleep and wake time is essential. Without enough rest, it’s challenging to tackle even the tiniest obstacles throughout the day.
For younger kids, create a daily schedule, including times for e learning, meals, physical activity, family time, and recreation.
For older elementary and middle schoolers, have them help plan the day’s activities. They will be more willing to follow the schedule if they have a hand in creating it. For high schoolers, have them create a daily schedule for themselves, and be sure to give them some constructive feedback.
For everyone, keep in mind, it’s important that we work to find a balance between work and play and additionally making sure the routine includes some sort of movement. Some ideas for movement include going on walks, playing catch, an online yoga class, or a jog around the neighborhood.
Keep discipline positive.
All kids misbehave, especially during times of transition, heightened stress levels, when they are tired, hungry, scared, or learning independence. It’s hard to feel hopeful and positive when our kids, teens, or partners are driving us crazy, and we don’t have the ability to get time away. It’s easy to get stuck in the “stop doing that” trap, but that trap really doesn’t tell them what we actually want them to do. I often say to the parents I work with, “whatever you pay attention to, grows”.
To put it simply, tell them what you want them to start doing instead of what you want them to stop doing. For example, instead of, “stop making a mess”, you could say, “please put away your clothes.” When kids and teens are not following instructions, that’s where consequences come into play. Give them a choice to follow directions before giving consequences. If you want to stay in the living room, “I need you to lower the TV volume, or you will lose screen time after dinner”. Consequences should be meaningful, time limited, and delivered when the parent is calm. It is important that you enforce the consequence and that the consequence fits the action.
Also, it is important that the consequence is not more of a punishment for the parent than then child. For example, taking away the car may make it difficult for the teen to drive themselves, making it such that the parent has to drive always, thus adding more work to their plate. Additionally, it’s very important to give positive praise about what they are doing well and when they are following expectations, showing kindness, or being responsible. Remember what we pay attention to grows.
Remember when you are giving instructions, it is important to be clear and specific too. For example, “clean your room” can have many different definitions. So instead, break it down into specific tasks (please pick up your floor; make your bed, and put away your toys).
Delivery matters too. Keep a neutral tone; make sure you have their attention, and give clear expectations including timelines. Also, make sure you have realistic expectations; can the child actually do what you are asking of them? Kids and even teenagers need to be taught how to do the tasks, even if it seems obvious; a refresher can’t hurt. Give your kids and teens simple tasks so they can build confidence and responsibility. Make sure to praise attempts and give helpful feedback instead of harsh correction.
Model healthy behavior.
Kids take cues from their parents on what is important, how to behave, and what to be worried about. Parents can model healthy communication. It’s ok to show some transparency, and say that you’re stressed and needing time to cool off if your temper flares. Or better yet, model a healthy apology if you get angry or frustrated, and give a meaningful apology. Parents can also model all of the things you’re asking your kids to do such as keeping a healthy sleep schedule, sticking to daily routines, having a positive attitude, exercising most days, and especially practicing self-care and connecting with others.
With social distancing, it can be hard to find connection with others outside of the home. Set up a virtual game night or face time grandparents. Also modeling keeping safe social distancing and hand washing- following the CDC guidelines. It’s important to set healthy boundaries with the news and limit what kids have exposure to, but also to not keep them in the dark. Set aside time to talk about COVID and quarantine, give them opportunities to ask questions, and if you don’t know the answer to a question, let them know you’ll find out and be sure to follow up with them.
It’s normal to feel stressed and overwhelmed with an extended quarantine and many have added stress of finances and job security. The added time together can be an opportunity to build stronger, more connected relationships with kids and teens. One on one time is free, and it creates feelings of love and security and shows kids that they are important. It can be for 20 minutes or longer but schedule it in so kids and teens can look forward to it. Get their input on what activity they want to do. You can have them be the expert and teach you something or learn something new together. Put away devices during one on one time. Listen to them; look at them. Give them your full attention.
I hope these tips help to create a positive structure and help with the challenges the quarantine is bringing to our lives. If you would like to learn more techniques for positive discipline or are having challenges with managing your children’s behavior, the OCD & Anxiety Center has a team of specialists that are ready to help provide skills to implement change in your home. We are currently offering secure video as well as in office appointments. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us at (630) 522-2134.