Parenting Strategies for the Pandemic (or any Major Life Change)

Submitted by Traci Richards, Ph.D. on May 18, 2020

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Compassion for yourself, and your child, will get you through anything.

Parenting is a lot of work on a normal day. During uncertain times, like the pandemic, when our plates are spilling over, a bit of thoughtful preparation can help keep your head above water and your mind in a positive space. 

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Practice self-compassion. 

Permit yourself to make mistakes and then forgive yourself when they happen. Accept that you won't have all the answers or do all the right things at the right time. Remember, you're doing your best! 

Recognize that your children are also adjusting to a new norm. 

When things change suddenly, it can be unsettling. Structure and routine provide a sense of safety and predictability to life. Give them space to have their feelings and be a little discombobulated.  

Create a “new” routine and schedule.

This doesn't have to be anything fancy! No need to pressure yourself into a 9:25am art time and an 11:45am sing-along time. Plan the most important things first: wake-up time, meal times and bedtimes. It's ok to incorporate plenty of unstructured time, and feel free to allot screen time. Pro tip: schedule the television or nap times to coincide with your work-at-home tasks. 

Keep them fed and rested.

The number one cause of irritability (in humans of all ages) is hunger. Keep regularly scheduled meals, snacks and bedtimes to mitigate any temper tantrums and melt-downs. Pro tip: preventing a meltdown is easier than trying to make one stop. 

Be a source of warmth.

Children and teens need to feel connected to their parent(s). Make a pointed effort to incorporate one-on-one time with each child daily. Reading a 3 minute bedtime story with a quick bedtime song each night, or a 5 minute structured chat (e.g. 3 things your grateful for today) with your teen can go a long way. These little traditions not only create connection, but also routine.

If you’re having behavior concerns or questions, here are a few tips:

Reduce the use of punishment to spur behavior change.

For one, it doesn't work, and, if it does work, it’s probably not teaching the lesson you're intending to teach.

Consider positive parenting or values-based techniques.

If you want your child/adolescent to START doing something (e.g. brush teeth, load dishwasher), consider positive parenting or values-based parenting techniques. For example: "We are a family and we all work together. Let’s all clean up this kitchen-- you get the dishes and your brother can get the cups." Though not my favorite, some families have found a token system helpful in motivating behaviors. The trick is to be sure that whatever you are using to incentivize actually motivates the child. Don’t underestimate what your child will do for a sticker or lollipop! 

If you want your child/adolescent to STOP doing something (e.g. throwing items, making a mess, etc.), there are so many resources to assist you with creating a discipline (not punishment) approach that works for your family. I, personally, used and recommend the 1,2,3 Magic method. There are also other techniques and resources through Painless Parenting and Positive Parenting. 

If you find that you cannot manage your child's behaviors without threats or punishment, please contact a counselor or family therapist. ​

Compassion for yourself, and your child, in combination with these techniques, will get you through anything and build a stronger family foundation in the long-run. 

Traci Richards, Ph.D. is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Virginia. She is responsible for the Behavioral Health programs at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center and also serves as an adjunct professor for Old Dominion University’s graduate counseling program. Dr. Richards has worked in various mental health settings, including private practice, and has extensive experience working with a broad range of mental health issues across the lifespan.