Not to state the obvious, but as parents, we’re dealing with a situation we’ve never faced before. We’re in the midst of a huge health crisis, one that has us sequestered in our homes, with our children, for an indeterminate amount of time. Many of us are trying to work from home, and even homeschool, while dealing with our own anxieties about the future. Still others are on the front lines, either as health care workers or working in essential jobs like cashiers in grocery stores.
Stress is at an all-time high—and that’s a cause for serious concern, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). “Research has found that when families are stressed, children are at an increased risk of being abused,” noted the AAP in a press release.
The AAP urges caregivers to take care of themselves physically, by eating, exercising and getting enough sleep. They also note the importance of staying connected to friends, family and others by phone or video chat.
Of course, it’s not just parents who are stressed. Kids are dealing with a complete disruption to their routine and can also sense the anxiety of their parents. The AAP offers these tips for dealing with your kids during this challenging time:
Engage your children in constructive activities
Bored or frustrated children are more likely to act out. Many children have had their lives disrupted. They are out of school, and they can’t play with their friends.
Help them with their fears
Children who are old enough to follow the news may be afraid, for example, that they or their parents are going to die. You can acknowledge the fear, and discuss all the things you are doing to stay healthy, such as washing hands and staying home to avoid germs.
Call a time-out
This discipline tool works best by warning children they will get a time-out if they don’t stop, reminding them what they did wrong in as few words―and with as little emotion―as possible, and removing them from the situation for a pre-set length of time (1 minute per year of age is a good guide).
Know when not to respond
As long as your child isn’t doing something dangerous and gets plenty of attention for good behaviour, ignoring bad behaviour can be an effective way of stopping it. Ignoring bad behaviour also can teach children natural consequences of their actions. For example, if your child keeps dropping his food on purpose, he soon will have no more crackers left to eat.
Catch them being good
Children need to know when they do something bad—and when they do something good. Notice good behaviour and point it out, praising success and good tries. This is particularly important in these difficult times, when children are separated from their friends and usual routines.
Give them your attention
The most powerful tool for effective discipline is attention—to reinforce good behaviours and discourage others. Remember, all children want their parent’s attention. When parents are trying to work at home, this can be particularly challenging. Clear communication and setting expectations can help, particularly with older children.
Now, we know we’re all doing our best during this wild time, so be kind to yourself. But if you do find yourself on the brink with your kid’s behaviour, the AAP suggests asking yourself: Does the problem represent an immediate danger? How will I feel about this problem tomorrow? Is this situation permanent? “In many cases, the answers will deflate the panic and the impulse to lash out physically or verbally at children,” the release notes.
The AAP also suggests reaching out to friends, relatives or neighbours who may be in need of emotional support or practical tips at this time.