The challenges of parenting during the pandemic are daunting: trying to keep everyone safe and healthy, managing online schooling, curtailing children’s social activities, and keeping harmony as everyone’s patience is being tested. And it’s going to get harder before it gets easier: the weather has gotten colder, new restrictions have been imposed, and the holiday season is approaching. The Front Porch asked two experts for advice on coping.
Helping young children
Stick to a routine, says Rachel Averch, who has more than 30 years of experience working with young children and is currently CEO of Montessori Children’s House of Denver. “Having as little change as possible with things that we can control helps the rest feel more manageable.” That includes getting enough sleep and exercise and eating healthy foods.
If children talk frequently about their fears of the pandemic, parents should be honest about its seriousness, but reassure them there are things they can do to stay safe. Watch for signs of anxiety, such as a regression in bed wetting, nail biting, or crying. “Young children don’t always have the words to articulate how they are feeling, so those can be clues that they’re having a tough time.” Averch suggests making a list and hanging it on a wall to remind children of fun activities that make them feel better, whether it’s coloring, making crafts, doing puzzles, or reading.
When it comes to planning for the holidays, it’s critical to bring children into the conversation early says Averch. “Let them know that it will be different this year but that it doesn’t mean we can’t have fun.” Perhaps it means baking cookies and dropping them off on friends’ porches or using an online tool such as Elfster.com that facilitates Secret Santa gift exchanges. And make sure to involve them in your traditions of cooking special foods or decorating the house. “Kids are resilient. They will think of new possibilities. Sometimes they’re better at that than we adults are,” says Averch.
Helping tweens and teens
For older children, it’s important to validate their feelings about how unfair this whole situation is says Amy Lopez, a licensed clinical social worker at the Johnson Depression Center at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “The pandemic has brought a lot of loss for teenagers. They maybe missed out on prom or football games—parents should treat those as losses and let their children grieve a bit.”
Lopez says what teenagers miss the most is hanging out with their friends, so this is not the time to put strict limits on gaming or screen time since that may be the only way they can connect. Teens should be encouraged to find new ways to use technology such as Zoom trivia games or watching online movies live together.
“Having fun is really important. Fun is where we build resiliency. It gives us a break from the stress of the pandemic.” She encourages parents to get their teens to play board games with them, take an online Zumba class together, or go to the Dairy Queen drive-through. Things that perhaps no teen would be caught dead doing with their parents before the pandemic now can be an appealing diversion.
Parents should lower expectations about the holidays but involve their teens in deciding how they can still make the season meaningful. Families can still undertake volunteer activities together as long as Covid-19 precautions are observed. She suggests adopting a family in need, making gift bags for residents in nursing homes, or assembling care packages for healthcare workers or teachers.
Both Lopez and Averch say parents can find additional online resources at websites for the Colorado Depression Center, the Mayo Clinic, and the CDC. If a child is experiencing severe anxiety, contact mental health experts.