Parenting can be hard, especially during these trying times, said clinical psychology scholars Leslie E. Roos and Jessica Flannery of The Conversation, a news and analysis website. Children can thrive in a variety of settings even if family life has been altered due to the pandemic. There is evidence that a little stress, specifically in the context of supportive parent-child relationship, can be beneficial as it helps build resilience when faced with future challenges.
Parents Reported Higher Levels of Stress During the Pandemic
A total of 562 adults participated in the survey, with 51% being parents of at least one child age 12 and below, according to Parenting In Context, a research lab that promotes family resiliency. 86% of participants said their children’s schools have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with parents spending more time with their kids.
Some of the activities parents engaged in with their parents were playing games (68%), participating in educational activities (63%), playing with toys (54%), eating meals (54%), reading books (52%), hugging/physical affection (50%), and cooking (47%). Other activities that parents have done with their kids included telling stories (43%), going for walks (41%), playing sports (33%), singing songs (31%), and putting children to bed (22%).
81% of parents said they praised or complimented their children very often while 88% said they and their kids have shown love to each other very often in the last two weeks. However, when asked about how the pandemic has affected their parenting, 28% of parents said they were worried about the financial concerns getting in the way of parenting (versus 21% who said often and 51% who said never).
34% said worries sometimes get in the way of parenting (versus 18% and 48%). 24% admitted that sadness makes it harder for them to care for their kids sometimes (versus 24% versus 65%), while 19% said loneliness sometimes gets in the way of taking care of their kids (versus 8% and 73%).
While parents reported higher levels of engagement in activities with their kids and closeness and warmth since the outbreak, they also reported high levels of discipline and verbal and physical punishment. 43% of parents took privileges away for a few times or more (versus 19% who answered once and 38% who said never) and 41% shouted, yelled, or screamed at their child a few times or more (versus 20% and 39%).
39% put their child in time-out a few times and more (versus 19% and 42%) and 12% spanked or slapped them (versus 8% and 80%). Since the pandemic, 25% of parents reported more conflicts, 19% yelled at/screamed at their kids more often, and 15% said they increased discipline. 9% said they used harsh words more often while 5% spanked or hit more often.
Since the data was gathered early during the lockdown (March 24, 2020), these rates will likely increase over time as economic conditions deteriorate and parents’ stress levels increase. Advocates for children should be concerned if these conditions will lead to higher rates of child physical abuse and emotional abuse.
How to Manage Parental Stress During the Pandemic
1. Acknowledge the Positive Sides
It’s easy to notice all the negative things occurring at home, which prompts your child to be more resistant to help you out. Setting that aside, it is recommended to praise them and let them know you appreciate their efforts. This pays off over time as it helps foster more positive behavior and strengthen parent-child bond. For example, you can say “Thank you for saying please when you asked for your snack” or “Nice job sitting so calmly.”
2. Establish A Routine
If you like creating a daily schedule, you can chat about any upcoming activities your child wants to engage in a few times a day. If a certain task includes schoolwork or a household chore, be sure to include child-chosen activities in between those tasks. You can also create incentives to prevent problems from arising.
3. Give Good Directions
Give good directions by getting close to your child and establishing eye contact. Ask them to complete a specific, time-limited task that contains no more than two or three steps. This depends on your child’s ability. For example, you can say, “I need to you put away this game then come to dinner.” Wait and count to 20 to ensure you receive a response. If not, you can say, “Can I get an ok to cleaning up the game? It’s dinner time.” The demand should be realistic, taking into consideration their mood and energy.
4. Find Some “Me” Time
“Me” time is important for everyone to practice, said Anne Nielsen of University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, a pediatric acute care academic children’s hospital. Dedicate a block of time for your child to do something for themselves or have quiet time in their rooms. During your child’s “me” time, you can use this period to pamper yourself by doing something relaxing. This may include a 30-minute yoga session, eating your favorite snack, or watching TV.
5. Cut Some Slack
Schedules and routines may go upside down during this uncertain time. No day is perfect so when this happens, your child may feel irritable or frustrated, making them cry more than usual. Remind yourself that there will be days when things are going to be harder than others. Avoid dwelling on the things you could have or should have done differently. Try to focus more on the positive moments.
6. Check In With Yourself and Your Partner
Take a step back and evaluate how you are handling COVID-19 stress. You can get your partner’s feedback whether you are losing your temper more often, raising your voice more than normal, or generally not acting like yourself. Keep communications lines open and honest.
If you think that the stress and worry of the pandemic are making you more irritable and angry with your child more than usual, try to take a break or consult your friends, loved ones, or mental health professionals for extra help. Communicate with your child about how you are feeling or struggling with frustration or stress and how the pandemic is making the two of you feel that way.
It’s important for parents to acknowledge their feelings, be it stress or frustration. They can ask feedback from their partners or other caregivers on their behavior. Most importantly, parents should also take time off from parenting and family life.