8 ways to make changes for lasting improvements
Published: March 1, 2021
By: Tyler Drouet, MA, Ed.S.
Author Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
No one ever claimed parenting was easy, but throw in a worldwide pandemic, and what may have been a small hitch before feels like an epic challenge now. We can no longer keep on doing what we’ve always done and get the results we want. School closures, work changes, and social distancing, and more combine to make parenting one of the areas most impacted by the gravity of these unprecedented times.
But, what if instead of derailing our parenting, the pandemic could prompt us to make key choices that will not only benefit us in the short term but actually yield meaningful and lasting changes in our relationship with our children? Read on to find out the crucial changes you can make for lasting improvements.
Acknowledge feelings and fears.
It can be tempting to want to gloss over children’s fears, but moving quickly past them won’t make them magically disappear. While you may be able to shield your children from some aspects of COVID-19, the pervasiveness of the current world climate means even young children are aware of how dramatically their world has changed. Masks, social distancing, hybrid or virtual school, quarantining and more can have a big impact on everyone. Children’s fears may manifest in different ways, including anger, clinginess, or displaced anxiety. Address fears by having an open, age-appropriate dialogue with your child about things he or she may be seeing and hearing. His disappointment about no birthday parties or missing Grandma is just as big in his world as your adult worries are to you. Just conveying that his concerns are heard by you can go a long way in allaying those concerns. You can also help by dispelling any misinformation or misunderstandings and by empowering him with the things he does have control over such as washing hands and connecting through video chats. Finally, remember that you don’t have to have perfect words nor pat solutions to your child’s fears: just feeling listened to and heard will go far in relieving any worries she may be experiencing.
Open and honest dialogue with your child will help build a trusting and open relationship that will be a solid foundation when other fears and feelings come up down the road.
Fix your focus on the positive.
With so much negative news out there, making your home a positive place can help your children regard home as their haven. Being positive doesn’t mean sugar-coating things, but rather purposefully keeping your eyes trained to find the positive things, big or small.
Children will take your lead when it comes to their outlook, so your good attitude will go a long way in creating an overall positive atmosphere for your home (plus, training your mind to find the good things can actually help to rewire your brain and reduce negative thoughts). Establish your home as their safe escape when the world feels cold.
Create rhythm and routine.
When school is virtual, work at home is the norm, and activities are canceled indefinitely, it can be tempting to toss routine out the window. The truth is both you and your kids need it more than ever. The predictability of a daily schedule actually helps to soothe the anxiety caused by the world’s unpredictability. Though the routine may look different than pre-pandemic times, you can still infuse your days with structure. Follow a general order each day to give your day the guardrails we are all designed to crave. For even more benefit, let kids weigh in on the daily structure to give them an added sense of responsibility and ownership. Implementing rhythm and routine teaches kids to be motivated and disciplined regardless of circumstances. Implementing rhythm and routine teaches kids to be self-motivated and disciplined regardless of circumstances.
Put on your own oxygen mask.
Self-care has become a buzzword, but despite the trendiness, the concept is crucial. Just like you are advised on airplanes (or were when flying was more commonplace!) you are only able to help others when you can function at your best. By taking measures to create a margin for yourself, you increase your ability to respond to your children with patience and grace. Caring for yourself can be hard in normal times; add the challenges of a pandemic and it can feel impossible. Despite how challenging self-care may feel, a little creativity can help you fill your tank so that you in turn can pour into others.
Ask yourself what activities make you feel more like you. Carve out time for those activities, even if they may not look exactly the way they used to. Taking intentional time to do little things for yourself can go a long way in recharging your battery. And lastly, remember self-care includes not only the inclusion of energizing activities but also the removal of unnecessary draining activities. Practicing self-care not only gives you the fuel you need to keep going but also models an invaluable life skill for your kids.
Make discipline positive.
When circumstances feel out of control, our natural inclination can be to overexert control anywhere we feel we can. The problem is hyper-controlling our kids can lead to more harm than good. While you may get compliance in the moment, the results are short-term at best, and may ultimately result in long-term relational damage as well an underdeveloped sense of personal responsibility in your child.
The added together time brought by the pandemic makes it a perfect time to work together with your kids to brainstorm solutions to discipline problems without relying on control, nagging, and punishment. Strategies to employ include setting clear expectations and letting kids face natural consequences. Creating positive discipline patterns, rather than punishment-based models, will transform your relationship with your child and offer much more effective results in meeting your goals.
Create a Sense of Accomplishment.
Who among us doesn’t need some wins? For the same reasons you enjoy crossing items off your to-do list, your kids also crave a feeling of accomplishment. With some of the usual kid-centric wins of classroom accomplishments, sports victories, and extracurricular efforts currently on hold, experiencing these wins at home becomes even more important. Give your child responsibilities at home that he or she can check off each day. It doesn’t have to be big or glamorous to help them feel a sense of achievement. Help your kids set goals they can work towards with small steps each day. Consider making a chart to mark an achievement or make a habit of highlighting some victories each family member has had at dinner every night. The feeling of accomplishment builds self-esteem and personal responsibility.
Sharing a burden is the single best way to reduce its weight. Open yourself by sharing your struggles with friends. Sometimes simply knowing you aren’t alone in your struggles can give you a mental boost. In addition to talking with friends, seeking out the help of a professional counselor or coach can be one of the most valuable things you do for yourself as a parent. In stressful times, having a professional on your team can equip you with an invaluable toolset. Furthermore, studies have shown that children of anxious parents are more likely to suffer from anxiety themselves, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
By working on your own mental health, you can help reduce your child’s likelihood of suffering from anxiety. Having a supportive team around you helps in pretty much any situation that comes your way.
Let Grace Abound for All.
If there was ever a time to dole out grace with reckless abandon, it is certainly now. We are all dealing with shorter fuses. Just as stress levels can cause your own behavior to be less than ideal, stress can cause your children to act out as well. Keep this in the forefront of your mind as you deal with your children and yourself. We will make mistakes on a daily basis during a pandemic and during ordinary times. Apologize freely, give and receive grace, and fix your eyes on moving forward. Mistakes are going to happen. Homes, where grace abounds, give kids (and parents) a safe place to get back up after those inevitable falls.
Tyler Drouet, MA, Ed.S. is a parenting coach with Simplify Atlanta where she works with parents children from birth through high school.