: Parenting Is Now More Stressful
Since the onset of “stay at home” orders, I’ve talked with many parents who are dealing with the stress of being cooped up inside with kids for a long time. We love our kids, but the usual activities that burn off energy and keep them busy are not available right now. Playground equipment is off limits, group activities with other kids are ill advised, and organized sports are on a long term hold. Kids are attempting to adapt to online school, or not in school at all. Many parents are all of a sudden faced with being 24 hr/day parenting. Most daycares are closed. Two parent families who are still working need to juggle schedules. Single parents face a greater challenge, especially because friends/family are often unavailable now to help. Grandparents are at greater risk if they are diagnosed with the virus, so most are steering clear of young children. People who are out of work face the additional stress of worrying about finances while taking care of kids.
Normal stress involved with parenting now is increased. Kids may seem more needy, and are not always happy, playful or cooperative. We also deal with trying to get other things done while also supervising kids – working online, taking care of the house, and attempting to get groceries. We face financial stress of not knowing how we are going to cope with a loss of income, or lost job. We worry about the economy as a whole, what will this do to the industry I work in? We worry about relatives who we can’t have contact with, especially the elderly. We attempt to cope with all of this stress and then we have kids screaming at us because they don’t like the food we cooked, or they are upset that their brother won’t share a toy. We try to complete tasks and then are interrupted by kids acting like normal kids – being noisy, making a mess, needing to eat.
Parenting is a challenge on a good day, but when we are dealing with all these different worries, and we don’t have time away from each other, then stress tends to build. Compounding it all, when parents get in a bad mood, it tends to affect the kids. We get stressed, they get stressed. We yell, they yell. We get frustrated, so do they. If we can focus on taking care of ourselves, and reduce our own stress level then it is easier for them to be calm. Here are some strategies for taking care of yourself while “parenting in place”. If one of these helps, you may find it easier to get through the day.
We all need a break from parenting once in a while. If your children are old enough to be by themselves for even 2 minutes, then try to leave the room, lock yourself in a bathroom, walk down the hall, etc. Take a short break. Sometimes the noise and chaos is too much. Sometimes it just gets tiring puting all that energy into paying attention to games or play activities. The 17th time you’ve played Hungry Hippo may be fun for them, but it is usually mind numbing for parents. Go be by yourself for a minute. If you can tag your significant other to step in, fantastic. If you are by yourself, then you need these little breaks even more. Of course, if you have an infant or a toddler, the only breaks you may get is while they nap. If so, then don’t spend all that sleep time doing chores, take a little time for yourself just to relax. Don’t feel guilty about taking a nap when they nap!
Next, try a relaxation breathing technique. Just focus on breathing as slowly as you can and try to breathe “from your stomach”. Of course, you are not breathing from your stomach, but you will feel your stomach moving in and out. Breathe slowly for a few minutes. Breathe as slowly on the out breath as on the in breath. Keep your shoulders still. If you practice this for 5 or 10 minutes a day when you’re not with kids, it will be easier for relaxation to kick in when you need it. You can also practice this with kids and they can learn to calm down too. Tell them “there is a Red Balloon in your stomach and we are going to blow it up slowly, and then let the air out slowly.” Make it a game.
Teach kids to be calm.
This is a great opportunity to be a teacher of good behavior. If kids are all talking at once, slow down and say quietly “Let’s all practice listening to each other. When I raise my hand it means be quiet.” The key is talking calmly yourself and modeling this for your child(ren). It may take practicing this a thousand times, but you can start. The most important part of this involves these three steps: a) Make contact at eye level b) speak softly c) talk slowly. Usually we are across the house, urgently yelling at kids to “BE QUIET”. We are often in a hurry. Slow Down. Funny how kids are not quiet when we are yelling our heads off…
Divide and Conquer.
When we have more than one kid at home all day, they get on each other’s nerves. Of course, totally reasonable after more than a few days! Help them find activities, games and projects they can do independently. With older kids this will be easier. It can also help to take turns doing a 1:1 activity with each child. Kids love the 1:1 attention, and it gives them a much needed break from each other. If nothing else, take them by the hand and walk them to a different area and encourage them to play by themselves for a few minutes. We all need our alone time, and kids can learn to enjoy this. Or give them each a job to do in a different room. Even just a few minutes can be enough to distract them and make them forget whatever conflict they were having.
Praise Good Behavior.
Not always, we don’t want to raise prima donnas! However, there are two situations where this can be especially helpful. When we are in the pressure cooker of parenting it is easy to get caught up in “stopping” bad behaviors, saying “NO” all the time. Without realizing it we are interrupting and intervening. You can wear yourself out trying to be the constant referee. Instead, when one child is acting out, see if you can ignore the bad behavior, and turn your attention toward the other child and praise them for something positive they are doing. Kids really just want attention, if they see their sibling getting attention for being good, then sometimes they will get the picture. Also, if a kid has had a rough day, if they have pushed you, try to keep an eye out for one positive moment. Pounce on that and try to reinforce it with a small amount of praise. Even if they’ve misbehaved 17 times, you can still pick out the one time they are being good, that can help turn things around.
Let It Go.
You are a superstar parent. You want to enforce limits. You want your kids to be well rounded, eat only healthy snacks, only have 30 minutes of screen time per day, always be respectful… Great, those are all good goals. In reality, we have to be flexible when the circumstances are different. It is stressful for kids to have their entire schedule changed, to be isolated from friends, to get less exercise. Cut them some slack. Maybe an extra video game or movie isn’t going to hurt. Maybe ignoring them when they are creating a huge noisy ruckus is ok – or maybe you can even join in with them. Maybe bouncing the ball inside the house (?!) is ok for now. Dial it back a little on all the rules and constraints. When we are under stress, there is the unconscious tendency to become more strict, but kids really need the opposite. Chillax a little, let kids be kids.
This of course will seem like the opposite of #6. That’s ok. There is a balance here that is necessary. Structure is calming for kids -especially when they sense that life is not “normal” right now. A schedule gives a sense that there is continuity and this helps kids feel more at ease. If Mom or Dad is always making lunch at the same time, this routine is calming. If even though there is no school, you can still go to bed at a regular time, it just feels better. If you let everything go willy-nilly then kids get more anxious, because they don’t know what to expect. Even if your home is usually un-structured, school is not. Kids are used to that 6 + hours/day where EVERYTHING is structured. You don’t have to schedule every minute, but plan things, have a time for certain things. Keep your bedtime routine, keep your bath schedule, wake up at the same time, keep brushing teeth. Do this for yourself too. Take a shower, keep getting dressed, do the normal things that you can do. These are all nonverbal cues to your kids that “this household is stable, things outside may have changed, but we are good.” Plan events. “Board game time at 3pm”. It doesn’t have to be chores every 15 minutes, just plan some things, have a little bit of a schedule, stick to routines that you had before if you can.
Create New Activities.
Now is a good opportunity to try new things, create new fun time! 1-1:30 is dance time. Or every day lets make up a new song! Or every day come up with a riddle and then we’ll call Grandma and tell it to her. Or, each day let’s see how many push ups we can do. Yoga time. Dog photo contest of the day. Try a new tv show every day. Read together hour. Try a new recipe – kids always help. Go on a walk. Plan an imaginary vacation. Write a story together. Make noise for 10 minutes. Learn how to juggle together. Move the furniture around. Watch a youtube video together (you know you have no idea what they are watching by themselves). Play one of their video games with them for 10 minutes. Invent a game. Play indoor olympics. Play basketball with a trash can and crumpled paper. You don’t have to play with them or entertain them all day, but if you try a new activity everyday it creates something to look forward to. Do something you wouldn’t normally do. Finding time to do new things can make this strange, crazy time into something special. “We can’t leave the house, but we can still have fun.”
Use your Support Network.
You need support – you support your kids nonstop. Call an old friend. Talk to a neighbor from 10 feet away. Video chat with a family member. Email a co-worker and rant. Connect on social media (if you’re not getting bogged down by pandemic news articles and memes). Re-connect with people you haven’t had contact with in a long time. Commiserate. Ask what other parents are doing. Laugh. Cry. Give support. Lean on each other. We need to know that we are not in this alone. We may not be able to go to dinner, drinks or coffee, but we can still be there for each other. Talk to parents, aunts, cousins – older relatives often have good input on how to get through tough times.
Have a Sense of Humor.
Kids like to be funny, they like to laugh, they are playful. They will respond occasionally to the “stern parent” approach if they seriously misbehaved or did something dangerous. However, if you are always serious, intense or confrontational, then kids will gradually start to rebel. They can see that half of what we get upset about is normal kids stuff. To kids, life is a game, life is imagination, life is a fantastical adventure, life is funny. Go there to that place with them. Give yourself permission to be silly. Crack stupid jokes and do your own drum roll. Talk in cartoon voices. If you spill something in the kitchen, laugh at yourself instead of stomping around like a maniac. If you forget what you were doing or what you were about to say, make fun of yourself in a light hearted way (don’t make fun of your kids). Make up goofy rhymes. Use nonsense words. Or use humor when you are confronting your kids about not picking up the toys – sometimes they will react better to being confronted if you are good spirited and gently confront them with humor. You are going to be parenting like this for a while, might as well make the best of it. Our global situation is not funny, but you can allow yourself to enjoy the moment. Your kids are already pretty good at this, they will join right in.
You Can Do This!
If you can do any of these 10 things during the 16 hours of parenting in place, then you will get through the day a little easier! If you can’t sleep, can’t get out of bed, can’t stop worrying, don’t feel like you can pay attention to your kids, then you may be struggling with Depression or Anxiety. If so, most therapists are now offering therapy services online, or on the phone. Don’t hesitate to ask for help if you are feeling hopeless. These days are not easy and sometimes “self-help” is not enough.