Parenting in a pandemic: a child psychologist’s 5 top tips

Parenting in a pandemic: a child psychologist’s 5 top tips

With all that’s going on, it’s hard enough to stay calm and happy. But if you’re juggling work and caring for kids, home schooling or holidays locked in, then happiness might seem like a distant memory.

Parenting is hard enough at the best of times and raising happy children is always a challenge; but at the moment, all things happiness and even health and wellbeing, whether for yourself or for your children, probably seem near impossible.

But the good news is there are experts out there sharing wonderful advice; and here are some great parenting tips from some very smart people at the University of NSW…

I am a researcher and clinical psychologist specialising in childhood disruptive behaviour problems and when I first heard that schools in some parts of the country were closing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, my first thought was “oh man, what about the parents?”.

As part of my clinical research, I’ve spent the last six years in weekly sessions with families, helping parents develop strategies to more effectively manage their kid’s defiance and aggression. Parenting is hard. But parenting in a pandemic? Well, that’s next level.

This is because widespread closures of school and business mean that children will be spending more time at home with their parents, who are now not only responsible for parenting but also teaching. And all this is happening without reductions in parents’ own workload and with considerably fewer opportunities and outlets for self-care. Ultimately, the combination of increased parenting time and responsibilities and less self-care almost guarantees that parents will experience huge blows to their frustration tolerance alongside heightened feelings of stress and anxiety.

Parents experiencing these kinds of emotions are  likely to become less patient, more punitive, or more withdrawn. Essentially, parenting is going to become less effective. And what we know from the science is that ineffective parenting can play a big role in creating and exacerbating behaviour problems in kids.

So that’s the bad news. There is good news, though. There are practical strategies that parents can use to stop their household descending into a Lord of the Flies-esque scenario where the kids are in charge and it’s your head on the stick.

But I’m going to level with you: the strategies that I’m suggesting are simple to write about but can be a lot harder to implement in Real Life. This is a Super Parenting approach that takes time and effort but is worth it because it works.   

1. Do Special Play every day.

Special Play is a particular kind of play with your child. Special Play should be:

  • Child-led. This means following your child’s lead in the play: they’re in charge! You can follow your child’s lead by avoiding asking lots of questions, making suggestions, or giving directions (e.g., “why don’t we colour her hair in rainbow?”). Instead, you can reflect your child’s speech, describe their play aloud (e.g., “you’ve collected all the blue blocks”), and give them compliments on their ideas and behaviour (e.g., “you’ve built an amazing rocket!”).
  • One-on-one. This means no distractions (e.g., phone, news), no siblings, and only one parent at a time (if this applies to your household).
  • Creative. This means doing activities that don’t have rules like colouring, Lego, and kitchen or train sets.

You can learn more about doing Special Play on our website. Special Play doesn’t have to be long—five minutes with young kids is enough to have an impact—but it does to happen regularly. Daily, if you can manage it.

Daily Special Play will do a couple of important things. It will help maintain your parent-child relationship at a time when it’s harder than usual to like your kid because they’re more disruptive and you’re less patient. It’s five minutes everyday without disobedience and back-chat, filled instead with all of their good qualities. Daily Special Play can also help with some of that non-compliance because your kid gets reminded of all the great things about you, and when we like someone, we’re more likely to respect their expectations. The other thing daily Special Play does is help regulate big feelings. This pandemic is scary. For kids, daily Special Play provides unfettered access to the person most helpful for sorting out their big feelings: you. For parents, it’s five minutes without worry and uncertainty, filled instead with fun and laughter.

2. Use lots of praise.

Praise can be very powerful for changing behaviour. When a behaviour is followed by a good outcome like praise, that behaviour tends to become more frequent. There are a few things that can increase the likelihood that praise will lead to change:

  • Make your praises specific. Specific praise tells your child exactly what you liked about their behaviour. For example, “you did so well playing by yourself while daddy finished his work call” lets your kid know that the specific behaviour you liked was ‘playing by yourself’. A “good job” might feel nice, but it doesn’t increase specific behaviours.
  • Praise the positive opposites of the undesirable behaviours. When parents ‘catch’ their kid doing something, it’s usually the not-so-nice behaviours. Praising the positive opposite flips this around by ‘catching’ the good stuff. Do you hate it when your kids fight with each other? Ask yourself what is the ‘opposite’ of this behaviour. Is it using kind words with one another? Is it taking turns? Is it using words instead of fists? Whatever that behaviour is, whenever it happens, catch it and praise it. For example, “I just heard the best sharing happening in here” gives your kids positive attention for the behaviour you want to see more often: sharing.
  • Make your praise emotional. Kids tend to get our emotions when they have let us down, especially at a time like this when patience is low. But at the heart of the parent-child attachment relationship is emotional connection and this makes emotional exchanges meaningful and motivating for kids. To reduce the chances that they seek out emotional exchanges with you using undesirable behaviours, make sure your kid is getting your emotion when the good stuff happens. This can mean pairing your praise with smiles, affection, and changes in your tone and face.

… keep reading the full & original article HERE