Sheltering in place during the COVID-19 global pandemic has many parents partnering with their child’s school by using remote learning. Working parents have the added responsibility of managing their children’s schoolwork on top of their own job duties. In a GALLUP survey, 42 percent of parents with K-12 students expressed concern that the coronavirus situation will have a negative impact on their child’s education. The impact goes beyond education.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists Wendy Gutierrez and Karina Ramos of Five Acres, a foster care/adoption and mental health provider, offer five tips for parents during the pandemic.
Have Structure — Simple things like making sure children have a routine is important. Young children don’t understand what is happening so having a structure at home helps them make sense to the world. Kids may wonder, “‘why is mommy home?’ ‘Why can’t I go outside?’ ‘Why can’t I see my friends at school?’” Wendy said, adding that not being able to go outside can be a dysregulating idea.
Staying at home makes it easier to stay in pajamas, yet “making sure children are changing out of their pajamas (as it is available to families and their resources) is part of having a consistent schedule and a routine.” Wendy also suggests setting school time and meal time, so they have consistency and predictability are crucial to young children and their mental health.
Have Transitions —What Wendy experiences with Five Acres families is that culturally, the parent may say “I am the adult, you respect me.” Parents often struggle transitioning their children, however it is important to give them time to emotionally end whatever they were connected or engaged with. One tip includes giving children 5 to 10 minutes before you ask them to move onto a new task. Allowing children the opportunity to know they have 3 more minutes to finish their game or television is important. “Negative interactions are unintentional and our parents are doing the best they can,” said Wendy.
Praise Your Child — Who doesn’t like to hear an acknowledgement? “Giving a label to praise let’s your child know exactly what behaviors you want them to continue, and gives them credit for the work they are doing,” said Wendy. One example Wendy said is to say “‘Thank you for picking up your toys and putting them away’ versus ‘Good job.’ Children are not going to school and getting validated by their teachers and their peers. Children don’t know to tell their parents that it’s missing.”
“When we praise our children it also helps us feel good also because we see the smiles on their faces, and maybe we share a hug, a kiss on the cheek, or a pat on the back,” said Wendy.
Practice Self-Care — “Many parents have adapted to working remotely, scheduling breaks in between your remote work can be helpful,” said Karina. Create breaks to disconnect for a bit. Karina recognizes that most parents are exhausted and have no separation of work and home. Taking small breaks to practice self-care activities like taking a walk or reading a chapter in a book can help you rest and recover from the daily stress.
The Centers for Disease Control suggests ways to cope with stress and anxiety during this pandemic: take care of your body by eating healthy meals and exercising regularly; make time to unwind by doing enjoyable activities; and take breaks from watching, listening, and hearing the news stories.
Get Support — Parents are experiencing stress and anxiety due to unemployment, food insecurity, and financial obligations. These feelings also trickle down to the children. Reach out and let mental health providers know if you are struggling and or are in need of resources. We can assist and help you navigate these challenging circumstances, suggests Karina.
To support parents and other individuals who find themselves struggling with their mental health or managing the added responsibilities presented during this time, Five Acres offers mental health support through the HOPE line and telehealth services at 800-696-6793 or HOPE@5acres.org. To find a mental health provider near you, contact 211 LA County at https://www.211la.org/ or SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
The trauma of this pandemic will be long-lasting. With the support of mental health providers like Five Acres, children and families can be assured that they are not alone.
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