The Most Obvious Pandemic Parenting Advice You May Not Be Following
“Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and flour feel essential, but the thing our kids need most right now is something well within reach: our presence.”
Parents around the world are grappling with the same hard truth: There is no playbook for parenting through a global pandemic. Routines are upside down, anxiety is high, emotions tumultuous. For our differently wired children, the dysregulation is often especially marked.
I hear from parents who are struggling to give their children what they need while also coping with their own stressors. Many feel ill-equipped to fill the roles of parent, teacher, coach, playmate, and everything else — all at once and all at the same time. But while toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and flour may feel essential, the thing our kids need most right now is something well within reach: our presence.
Here are four rules to keep in mind as we navigate the “Global Pause” with our children:
1. Practice Self-Compassion
In navigating this crisis, our kids are demanding more of us, even as we’re juggling more than our fair share of roles and responsibilities. We won’t balance and execute it all perfectly, but we can help ourselves by tending to our emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing — and prioritizing self-care, even (or perhaps especially) when things feel so messy.
The truth? There is no “right way” to get through this pandemic. We don’t have to be productive, or revisit an old hobby, or even change out of our pajamas (unless we want to). Instead, let’s aim for 1) doing our best every day, and 2) practicing relentless self-compassion. This is not only how we’ll best support our kids; it is also how we powerfully model how to get through hard things. I can’t think of a better takeaway.
2. Keep Yourself Emotionally Present
We may be physically sharing space with our kids all day every day, but that doesn’t automatically translate to emotional presence. And regardless of how they’re coping — shutting us out, distracting themselves with technology, immersing themselves in a project — there will be times when they need us to be all there to listen, play, process, and support.
What this looks like will depend on your child: It could be an invitation to play a game or a philosophical conversation started just after the lights go out. It might even be an offer to help cook dinner, garden, or clean (hey, a girl can dream, right?). Regardless, we want our response to be the same: prioritize family over everything else and be present. Our kids are going to need us when they need us. By being emotionally present for them, we’re contributing to their sense of safety.
3. Choose Your Words Carefully
It’s important that parents have honest, age-appropriate conversations with their kids about what’s happening in the world, but it’s important that we do so from a place of calm. Our kids need to know that they’re safe and that we are here to take care of them; that they don’t need to take on worries that are beyond their control.
Still, we may not be feeling safe ourselves, and it’s important for us to acknowledge those feelings, too… just not to or around our kids. My husband and I have a rule that we talk about our end-of-days irrational fears, worries over health, and concerns about the economy and jobs during our daily couple-only walks or runs, never in front of our son.
4. Listen, Empathize, and Listen Some More
Processing complicated feelings like sadness, disappointment, or fear is likely going to happen out loud for our kids in the form of grumbling, complaining, whining, catastrophizing, raging. Sound familiar? Because our own current stressors feel much more immediate and critical, our knee-jerk reaction to our kids’ venting might be to get annoyed, minimize their experience, or shut them down.
Safely expressing those big, hard feelings to us is exactly what they need. Our job right now is to listen and empathize with their experience: “You are really having a hard time right now. You’re really missing your friends. It’s hard when you can’t do the things you enjoy doing the most”). And be sure they know we’re always available to listen some more.
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Updated on May 6, 2020