Parenting During Coronavirus: Help Your Family Stick Together and Work Through Tough Emotions

By Yolanda Brown

Before we could set goals, routines, and fun activities for the weeks ahead, we needed to unpack the burdens of our hearts. We needed to remind each other that we are going to make it. My family is, and so is yours.

When COVID-19 (coronavirus) first ramped up, two weeks at home with my husband and children sounded exciting, cozy — a great way to reconnect. But now that the timeline is extending, it just seems like an overwhelming challenge. One question seems to be at the top of our minds for adults and children: How are we going to make it?

As a mum and licensed counsellor, I get it. That first weekend, my family came through the door weighed down with schoolwork and work-from-home tools; we were ready to put on our game faces and get busy. But one honest look into each other’s eyes told the real story: The truly heavy loads in our backpacks and briefcases were questions, worries, and unfamiliar feelings.

Before we could set goals, routines, and fun activities for the weeks ahead, we needed to unpack the burdens of our hearts. We needed to remind each other that we are going to make it. My family is, and so is yours.

The main message every family member needs to hear right now is simple: You’re not alone. We’ll get through this together and we can come out the other side even stronger than when we went in.

Give the following suggestions some thought as you parent during coronavirus,  navigate uncharted territory, and nurture peaceful, unified hearts.

Activity: Stick Together

  1. Have everyone race out to the garden and choose a small tree stick or twig. (No garden? Bamboo chopsticks, wooden popsicle sticks, or blunt-tipped satay skewers will work!)
  2. Come back in and sit around the table or in a circle on the floor. Ask each person to break their stick into as many pieces as they want, then set the pieces in the middle of the circle. (Help your smallest children so that splinters don’t spoil the fun.)
  3. Have Mum or Dad bundle all the pieces and tie them together with string, yarn, ribbon, craft pipe cleaner — whatever you have on hand.
  4. Starting with the youngest, let each family member try to break the bundle into smaller pieces.

It’s nearly impossible, right? The analogy is obvious: Alone, you can easily break. Together, you’re stronger. Stick together.

Children (and adults!) benefit from tangible reminders of abstract ideas, especially in times of stress and anxiety. You might even consider repeating the activity so every person in your household has a stick bundle reminder.

Guide Your Children’s Emotions

As a counsellor, I can say with absolute certainty that children experience a wide range of emotions that require caring, careful attention — and that’s on a “normal” day. Add in media hype and misinformation, long-term separation from friends, possible illness, fear about Mum or Dad’s job and parents could be in for a rough ride.

What can you do as a parent during coronavirus? Yes, talk to your children about the coronavirus calmly and with age-appropriate facts. More importantly, listen.

Ask them what they’re experiencing, what they’ve heard, what they’re feeling inside, and try to see it from their perspective — especially young children. Young children are gonna really feed off your own emotions. 

DANNY HUERTA, FOCUS ON THE FAMILY’S VICE PRESIDENT OF PARENTING AND YOUTH

Some children, whether 4 or 14, worry that a question is “dumb” or that Mum or Dad will think less of them or make fun of them for asking. Make sure your children understand that they can talk to you about anything. Keep an open-door policy and prioritise their questions and feelings. If you can’t talk right away, schedule a time with them later that day — and make sure you keep the appointment! This is key as you try to parent during coronavirus.

Remember, too, that children need help to interpret and handle their feelings; it’s a learned skill. Looking for some pointers?

Stay Connected With Your Spouse

My husband and I realised that an open-door policy wasn’t just good for the children; we needed it for us, too.

Check-in with your spouse every day. Maybe it’s first thing in the morning before you log in to work and set up the children for learning. Or maybe it’s at the end of the day. Maybe it’s during the baby’s nap. It might be a long discussion about finances, or it might be a quick, kind word and caress as you pass in the kitchen. Just make the time to connect.

Give each other space and grace, to be honest about emotions and questions. See this season as an opportunity to grow closer to your spouse.

Guide Your Own Emotions

Let’s be realistic. How can we help our children control their emotions and reactions if we’re not paying attention to ours?

It’s like the airline attendants direct us: If oxygen masks become necessary during a flight, put on your own before helping others. Why? Without oxygen, we would quickly lose consciousness. So if we don’t make our own mask the priority, we’re no good to anyone else.

Mum and Dad, you’re in a unique position: You’re trying your best to protect and shepherd your children while battling your own fear and anxiety. It’s important that you identify and work through your emotions in a healthy way so you’ll be prepared to walk with your children through their feelings.

You don’t have to parent during coronavirus alone. Name one or two friends you can reach out to. My husband benefited from calling a male friend for accountability and support as he leads our family during this time. And that convinced me to make a go-to list of fellow mums who I call and text for shared advice and empathy. 

© 2020 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published at focusonthefamily.com.

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