“I really want to go back to school, but my mom is still all worried about corona,” I overheard a young teen tell a friend who nodded somberly. I felt badly for him because it’s true. Kids are at the mercy of their parents — whatever stuff their parents are made of. And as the pandemic drags on — and even with the good news of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — there’s still much uncertainty surrounding the months ahead. “Normal” is not returning any time soon and chatter about our fragile mental states is everywhere. We need day-to-day solutions.
According to a national survey conducted by Vanderbilt University Medical Center last summer and published in Pediatrics, parents sited worsening mental health for themselves and worsening behavioral health among their children. The researchers concluded what we all understand now: the pandemic has had a substantial tandem impact on parents and kids, increasing our needs for deliverance from this gloomy period in history.
And here we are. How do we move forward from here? And how can we fortify ourselves enough to successfully guide our kids into the new year with positivity and hope? Persevering through this strenuous time is as much about our kids’ lives as it is about our own.
Here are key ways to bolster your parenting efforts so your family emerges from the pandemic in due time, stronger, healthier, and hopefully, a little less worn for the wear.
EASE THE BAR, INCREASE YOUR FLEXIBILITY
Short of letting everything go to you-know-where in a handbag at this point, you can continue to ease up on all of the expectations you have for your kids right now — and that includes discipline. Kids have been through a lot too, says Tina Payne Bryson, co-author of No-Drama Discipline (Bantam; 2016). Kids often don’t know how to cope with dissatisfaction or unease and they may act out more, so you actually need to react less. Walk away and don’t micromanage so much. Look at the bright side: you are not driving carloads of kids to and fro like you used to and scrambling like a mad woman to get dinner into your family. You have more “chill” time and less “drill” time. The era of trophy kids is over, and the era of taking it easy and being kind to yourself is here. Whatever your kids have lost in development right now will be made up in time. Relax, let go, let live.
AIM FOR CONNECTIVITY
None of us are designed to be hermits. We are social creatures meant to be with each other, and kids thrive among friends and exploring life together. It’s important for you to model reaching out to your friends and to encourage your kids to do so for themselves as well, says Bryson. Have safe playdates at your home for your little ones if you can. Encourage your kids to Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime with pals. And as far as daily connectivity with your children goes (who may drive you batty from time to time), place an emphasis on being nonjudgmental so your kids will talk freely to you and not shut you out.
With all of the screen time we’re into now, it’s really important for kids to get exercise at home, in the neighborhood or at the gym. Yes, they should still social distance, and yes, it’s cold outside. But you are aiming to make a hard time better for them, remember? Being around other kids and adults is healthy for us, so bundle everybody up and go for walks. Turn up the music in your home and encourage your little ones to dance. Do online fitness classes as a family. Really.
LET YOURSELF PLAY
We’re looking for healthy ways to get through the continuing pandemic, right? So why playing may seem childish and silly, it also offers a reprieve from all of the worry and fear. Play helps to improve stress and also increases a sense of well-being. You don’t have to drop everything when your little one asks you to play, but you DO need to recognize that play is good for all ages of people and plan to be playful on purpose, especially if you’re not the playful type. Play family games. Build a fort (and don’t insist on cleaning it up so quickly); take small breaks from working to channel your inner child and to seek out a little bit of fun by getting down on the floor with your little one. If this all seems silly, that’s a good reason why you should try it, says Meredith Sinclair, author of Well Played: The Ultimate Guide to Awakening Your Family’s Playful Spirit (William Morrow; 2016).
“There is something innately whimsical about being spontaneous,” Sinclair says. Schedule blocks of time throughout the week for the possibility of random playful activities. “It sounds crazy, like you’re planning to be spontaneous,” Sinclair says. “But you kind of have to as an adult.”
BE POSITIVE, PROVIDE HOPE
The most important thing you can do for your kids may be the hardest of all during this time, experts say: stay positive. It’s not easy when life is tough, but try to look toward to the future and talk about it in a positive light. Aim to send your kids the message that everything will get better. Let them know that life is full of ups and downs and that it will be that way all of their lives. Emphasize the journey aspect of life. Ask your kids what they look forward to and tell them what you are looking forward to. Another way to bring out positivity at home is to look back together at hard events you’ve experienced individually and as a family, and to recognize that you’re still standing. Talk about obstacles and how you have overcome them.
Research shows that kids need hope, too — we all do. Hope helps us to believe in the days to come. Many parents bring hope to their children through faith, prayer, meditation and visualization. In short, the best way to teach hope is to live it. Hope is basically learned, says C.R. Snyder, author of The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There From Here (Free Press; 2003). “We have centuries of previous examples where humankind has been visited by disasters,” Snyder writes. What happens is that people find a way to come together to deal with the crisis at hand. That’s what you’re doing now at home. So whether it’s the current pandemic, something else or something yet to come, the past can give all of us hope for the future.