Parenting is tough during the best of times but particularly challenging during times of health and economic uncertainty. Children and teens are feeling the stress of social distancing, health safeguards, and activity disruption. Many feel afraid and anxious about the future. Parents can help safeguard their child’s mental and physical health by creating a safe, positive home environment. Here are some tips based on healthy parenting recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO):
#1. Spend one-on-one time with each child. Spend time with each child individually every day. Aim for 20 minutes or longer, but even 10 minutes is better than nothing. Schedule it at the same time each day so that you don’t forget. Consistency is important. Your child will begin to look forward to this special time.
Set a timer before the session. Say “I’m looking forward to our 20 minutes together. What would you like to do?” Resist the temptation to spend unlimited time. You may have enough time in your schedule today, but you may not tomorrow. If one-on-one time takes an hour each day, you’ll end up not doing it at all.
During the one-on-one time, focus on your child. Give her your full attention. Put away phones and electronic devices; turn off the TV. Let your child select the activity. Legos, blocks, or coloring pages work well for younger children. Games, walks, and bike rides are other options. Teenagers may just want to talk. The purpose of this time is to enjoy your child and strengthen the bond between you.
#2. Give clear directions. It is easy to become frustrated and shout at your child for not doing a task correctly. Give clear, positive directions. State specifically what you want your child to do. Instead of “get ready for bed”, say, “please get your pajamas out of the drawer and put them on.” Instead of “clean up that mess”, say, “it is time for you to pick up your art supplies and put them back in the art box.”
#3. Praise positive behavior and ignore negative behavior. Shift your focus from complaining about negative behaviors to praising positive behaviors. Ignore as much negative behavior as possible. Praise your child at every opportunity. “I really like how quietly you played while I was on my conference call.” “Good job putting your socks and shoes on without being told.” “You did a great job explaining why you are upset.”
#4. Manage bad behavior strategically. Here are some commonly recommended methods:
- Try to catch bad behavior early and redirect your child. “I can see that you’re feeling frustrated. Let’s leave it for now and go outside for a minute.”
- Use logical consequences. Match the punishment to the crime. For not complying with a request to get off the device, the child might lose access for a few hours. If she was looking at inappropriate online content, you might want to restrict access for a week or more.
- Plan consequences for specific bad behaviors and discuss them with your child ahead of time. “In our family we want everyone to always be safe. We will ask you to sit quietly in the time-out corner for a 5-minute pause if you hit or kick your sister.”
- Be consistent. Give the same consequences for the same bad behaviors every time. Children become agitated and confused if bad behavior is okay one day, but they get in trouble for it the next.
- Don’t hold grudges. Once the bad behavior is over and the consequence has been applied, move forward with a positive attitude. Help your child get involved in an alternate activity. Don’t keep talking to the child about the incident.
#5. Create daily routines. Children feel more secure with calm, predictable routines. A consistent bedtime routine is particularly important for healthy sleep. Beyond sleep, a bedtime routine has many benefits to both the child and family. Research has shown that activities such as hygiene (bathing, teeth brushing), communication (reading, singing), and physical contact (cuddling, rocking, massaging) contribute to a child’s social and emotional development. Teaching your child how to fall asleep will benefit her throughout life. When a child has the ability to fall asleep on her own, parents get the opportunity to relax and reconnect. This helps strengthen the marriage and reduces stress in the family.
Everyone in the family benefits from an exercise routine. It could be as simple as a walk together. Don’t leave exercise to chance. If you don’t plan for it, other activities will get in the way.
#6. Model good behavior. Model behavior that will keep your child safe during the pandemic. Wear a mask when you go out. Practice social distancing. Wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds. Manage your own stress by exercise, deep breathing, meditation, or mindfulness.
Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer based in Austin, Texas.