In this unique time of a threatening health crisis due to the coronavirus CoVID-19, we are being asked to do something that goes against our very human nature. We are by design social creatures. That’s how we have thrived for thousands. But now in 2020, we are asked to literally stay away from other people. No more shaking hands. No more hugs. Unless you live in the same house you are not to touch someone else.
As difficult as that is, we are also now asked to stay in our own homes. Stay away from public places. Get your groceries and that is it. While these restrictions are meant to help us stay physically healthy, they do not help us stay mentally healthy. Now layer on the challenges of parenting young kids during this time. Children are not in school. Young children are not in day care. Many parents are expected to work from home while keeping an eye on their children. Many parents are expected to help their children get schoolwork done while schools are closed. Many parents have no one else to take care of the children so that parents can get away for a break. The “village” that used to exist to help parents is no longer concretely visible for so many.
This “village” is part of the five Protective Factors that help parents be the best they can be. These include 1) parental resilience, 2) social connection, 3) concrete support in times of need, 4) knowledge of parenting and child development, and 5) social and emotional competence of children. Let’s take a look at these factors within our current situation of social distancing to slow the spread of the virus.
Parental Resilience: Resilience refers to the strategies we all have to help us cope with daily life and with any curveballs that are thrown our way. Right now we’re experiencing a huge curveball not in existence for decades. Thus, it is really important for parents to take some moments to reflect on how they are doing emotionally and physically. It’s important to give yourself quite a bit of slack knowing that the stress you are facing right now is greater than normal, the demands are higher than normal, and the worry is more serious than normal. Find the things that make you happy and allow yourself to indulge a bit. Call or text a friend. Get outside and take deep breaths of fresh air. Watch a movie. Find activities that are relaxing for you and that bring you joy. Within the chaos, we need moments of joy that may continue to build our resilience.
Social Connection: Since the beginning of March, we’ve been hearing about the concept of “social distancing” as a way to slow down and limit the spread of the coronavirus. Soon, a new insight arose. What is important in fighting this virus is “physical distancing” and staying at least 6 feet away from anyone not in our family unit. But “social connection” is more important than ever. We need to realize that we are in this together. As a community, as a state, as a country, we need to be in this together. And as parents, we need to have social connection. We need to be connected with other people so we can talk about our fears and concerns and worries. We need to connect so we can ask questions and get answers and support one another.
And we also need to make sure we are staying socially connected to our children. Sometimes our brains get so wrapped up in stress and worry that it changes the way with interact with our children. We are less patient and more negative. We also know that children can sense our stress and they are likely stressed themselves by the sudden change in their lives and the fact that they don’t have the same social connection with other children in their classes or neighborhood. As parents, we can help keep them connected to their friends remotely if possible or just by continuing to talk about some of their favorite friends.
Concrete Support in Times of Need: When businesses are shut down, when cities and countries are under “shelter in place” direction, it is a very difficult time in terms of getting needs met. In many places, the shelves are bare and it is too difficult to travel around to find items you might need. Closed businesses might change people employment causing financial stress. Services that are generally available may have limited hours or capacity. It is important to know that even though it seems that the world has kind of shut down, there still are services to meet the need. And it is important to ask for help if needed and persist in getting that help. And for those people who are doing okay in terms of getting the needs of their family met, this is a great time to reach out and find ways to help others for whom life is really challenging right now.
Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development: No child ever came with a “how-to” manual when they were born and no parent suddenly acquired all the skills and knowledge of “how to” be a good parent the moment they started to parent. We all are learning every single day more about our children and more about ourselves. The key to this parenting gig is maintaining a “growth mindset.” Understand that your children are constantly growing and changing and something that works one day will suddenly not work another day. Understand that your parenting skills are also able to grow and change and improve. Understand that we are all going to make mistakes. We all make mistakes. So we learn from them and adapt. And we learn from others. Part of that “village” and that “social connection” that we all need is the chance to talk about children and their behaviors and get other ideas about how to parent. We learn from each other. We learn from reading about children and parenting. And we learn from doing it.
Social and Emotional Competence of Children: Every single child is completely different than any other child. Just like each child learns to crawl or walk at a different time, they learn to understand and manage their emotions at a different rate as well. Some kids are very in tune with their emotions. Some kids never seem to talk about their emotions. But in this time of coronavirus, it is likely that every child is feeling some type of stress. That stress might just come from the fact that so much changed in their lives in terms of being home all day now with the family. For school age children, they are no longer sitting in classes with friends and teachers. For some older children, they may be hearing about the virus or reading about it and are scared and worried about the health of themselves or family members.
This is a time for us parents to make sure that we are connecting with children on the emotional level. For younger kids that means lots of physical contact of hugs and cuddles to help them feel loved and safe. For children who are older and can talk and understand, it means letting them know that you as a parent are doing everything you can to keep them safe and healthy. It means talking about emotions more. It means reading books that help kids understand emotions. It means understanding that sometimes when the kids are “acting out” or “being bad” or making a total mess, it is merely an expression of the stress that they are feeling within. It is so, so hard as a parent to take a breath at this time, give the kid a hug, and say “I know you’re feeling confused, scared, sad, lonely, worried (whatever emotion you think they are dealing with), but I’m here for you.” It is hard some times, but it is also so helpful to the child. And it might be so helpful to you too to speak these emotions out loud.
There’s no manual for any of us parents to cope with the CoVID-19 virus. There’s no one alive who has ever experienced such a pandemic and would be able to offer us concrete guidance. It is a new and very unusual time for absolutely every single person in the world, so all we can do is try our best. But we humans can find within us an inner strength to cope and to adapt and to figure out what we need to do to survive this and thrive. We can find what brings us joy and love. We can share our love to our children, our families, our friends and neighbors and to others in different ways now, but it still has the same power.
Be gentle to yourself. Be connected to your family. Love yourself and share your love. And always have Hope, knowing that we will come through this and hopefully will learn so much about true love.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746
- National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) or text 1-800-422-4453
- United Way in SW PA: Call 2-1-1 or text your zipcode to 898-211
- Healthy Children resource from the American Academy of Pediatrics
- Audiobooks at the Carnegie Library using Overdrive or Hoopla app.