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Parenting in a Pandemic

Mother and daughter wearing masks

Marin Mommies presents a sponsored article from MarinHealth Medical Center in Greenbrae.

A shy child becomes downright withdrawn. An outgoing youngster is suddenly loud and quick to anger. A four-year-old gets clingier and starts wetting the bed. Life’s just not the same during a pandemic and chances are, your kids are feeling it too. So how do you help them cope with their natural fear and anxiety?

  • Be honest. Answer their questions truthfully, in an age-appropriate way. Explain that while people are getting sick, safety measures like mask wearing will help your family stay healthy. Tell them that scientists have developed a vaccine and are working on ways to control the virus.
  • Acknowledge your child's feelings, whether it’s fear that a beloved grandparent may get sick, or disappointment at not being able to have sleepovers or play their favorite sport. Share some of your own feelings. You might tell your child you miss grandma too and make a plan to call her together.
  • When you go out without your child, reassure them that you will make sure to take safety precautions. Let them know when you’re leaving and give extra hugs and an extra “I love you.”
  • Encourage your children to express their feelings through creativity. Have them make a safety poster for the refrigerator reminding everyone to wear a mask and wash their hands or draw a picture of something fun your family can do once the pandemic is over. Build an indoor blanket fort to help their stuffed animals stay safe. Bake and decorate cookies to send to an elderly relative.

Stressed parents with wild children

While cabin fever may cause your child to act out more, that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be consequences. Use positive discipline to help them manage their emotions and behavior:

  • If the bad behavior is a bid for attention and isn’t dangerous or destructive, not responding may be the best way to make it stop. Conversely, when you see good behavior, be sure to praise your child’s efforts.
  • Is your child acting out because he or she is bored? Give them something useful to do. Ask for help and chat with them as you garden, cook, or clean together. Acting out and other mood and behavior issues in children are often exacerbated by not getting enough physical activity. Less activity can also have effects on sleep. Very few kids are getting as much exercise as they did pre-pandemic. It’s important to encourage kids to get up and move throughout the day, and maintain their bedtimes as much as you can.
  • If you are homeschooling, use rewards and privileges to motivate and reward your children. Praise their efforts at the family dinner table and be sure to spread the praise around so each child gets positive reinforcement.
  • Create some routines—kids are used to having routines at school and tend to thrive with some structure to their day. Establishing some routines for time at home will help them know what to expect and ease the transition from one activity to another.
  • Use time-outs. Start with a warning and then, if the behavior doesn’t stop, act. Calmly remind your child what they did wrong in as few words as possible and without nagging. Kids can be encouraged to come out of time-out when they are ready—when their bodies and brains feel calm and they are ready to behave as expected. This encourages them to have more self-control and self-awareness.
  • Avoid physical punishment—always. It can make children more aggressive toward others, including their siblings. This is a time when your children need to feel especially safe and secure, and your presence should be a comforting one.

As a parent, it’s important for you to take good care of yourself, too. Eating well, getting enough sleep, and finding a way to exercise are not enough: you also need to decompress. Take a little time to yourself, whether that means yoga, meditation, a nice warm bath, a hobby, or a home improvement project. And if yours is a two-parent household, do take turns watching the kids!

For pandemic parenting insight and tips from MarinHealth pediatricians, check out these episodes of The Healing Podcast:

Father helping sone with face mask