The COVID-19 pandemic is giving parents more time than ever to spend with their kids. Many parents are taking advantage of the time to enjoy some much-needed quality time and using this situation as a time to create stronger bonds and improve communication with their kids.
This pandemic is a great opportunity to teach your kids the emotional skills that will help them over a lifetime.
There are a few simple things that parents can do to help their kids develop good coping skills that will empower them over a lifetime and help them grow into resilient adults.
Model the Behavior You Want Them to Show
The most important part of teaching any behavior is modeling it. Whether that is dealing with conflict, apologizing, or treating people with respect, the most important thing a parent can do is model the behavior they want their kids to use.
So, what does that look like for good coping skills during COVID-19?
It is a good idea to first let your kids know that it feels scary right now (to an appropriate level to their age). When your child tells you they are feeling anxious about COVID-19, validate those feelings and show them that those feelings are okay, but make it a point to remain level-headed and calm in front of your kids.
The best ways to cope with stress are to focus on the facts and have a plan. So, when you are talking with your kids or if you are chatting over the dinner table, talk about how you are dealing with the situation.
Focus on the Facts
Anxiety naturally increases in the face of uncertainty, and it's easy to listen to too much news and too many opinions from podcasters and YouTube. The massive influx of information, conflicting options, and misinformation only increases the anxiety of the situation.
When you are discussing COVID-19 in front of your children, or if they ask you about it, it is good to focus only on the facts and not on the chatter.
What parents can do:
- Use a calm voice when discussing the situation.
- Talk about the “positive news” coming out about COVID-19.
- Remind your kids not to believe everything thing they hear.
Take A Breath
One of the best coping skills for dealing with stress is breathing exercises. Here’s how it works: when your body experiences stress (mental or physical), it releases stress hormones that increases your heart rate and decreases your cognitive function (your ability to reason). One of the best skills you can teach your kids is to take deep breaths and give themselves some space during a stressful situation, like a fight or a heated discussion.
We call this “square breathing.” The idea behind square breathing is very simple. Sit still in a comfortable spot. You can do anywhere, but it is most effective in a quiet place.
Take a big deep breath in to the count of four. Hold the breath to the count of four. Exhale slowly, counting to four. Hold for the count of four before starting again. Do this 5–6 times.
This process combines intentional breathing with deep breathing, giving you the opportunity to calm down. The long holds help slow down your heart rate and allows your body to regulate itself.
You can use this skill any time you are stressed as a parent and you can also teach your children to use it.
If you are working with a younger child, you can modify this technique into “bubble breathing”:
Hold your hands in front of your child’s face like as in a pose for prayer. Tell your child to blow into your hands like they are trying to blow a bubble. If they blow hard, open your hands a small amount. As they take longer and deeper breaths, open your hands wider and wider into an imaginary bubble. When your small child is visibly calm, invite them to pop the imaginary bubble, and then use a calm voice to talk about why they are upset.
You can use these techniques any time, but especially during COVID-19. When you feel stressed or overwhelmed, you can use square breathing and explain it to your kids. When they see you taking a breath, they will learn from your example.
Practice Radical Acceptance
Radical acceptance is about accepting life on life’s terms and not resisting what you cannot or choose not to change. Radical acceptance is about saying yes to life, just as it is.
This is especially important during COVID-19.
It is unfair that kids don’t get to finish the school year. It is unfair that many people have lost their jobs. It is unfair that high school seniors won’t get their graduation ceremonies.
COVID-19 has been responsible for bringing a lot of pain. However, how we chose to react to that pain is entirely up to us. Modeling this skill is all about accepting the things you cannot change and controlling the things you can.
You can go for a walk when you are feeling overwhelmed. You can eat a family dinner together.
People often say, “I can’t stand this,” “This isn’t fair,” “This can’t be true,” and, “It shouldn’t be this way.” It’s almost as if we think refusing to accept the truth will keep it from being true, or that accepting means agreeing. Accepting does not mean agreeing.
It is important to teach your kids that unfair things can and will happen in life. What matters is how we choose to pivot in the face of adversity.
Modeling Radical Acceptance:
- When you encounter something that is difficult or unfair—a loss of income because of COVID-19, struggling to balance working from home and teaching, or added pressure—let your kids see you accept the situation and adapt. Ask them what they would do or if they have any ideas.
- If your kids are struggling with a situation, don’t try to fix it for them. Rather, listen and empathize with their feelings and ask them what they can do to ease the problem. Help them accept the situation as it is, even if you don’t like it.
Ask for Help
One of the best ways you can help children build resilience is by letting them know it is okay to ask for help.
As parents, there are some great ways to model this and some very practical ways you can bring it to life.
The key to this strategy is having intentional time with your kids and creating a space where you can have a real conversation. For parents working from home during COVID-19, kids are seeing their parents “at work” for the first time. They can see your struggles and challenges.
When you are talking about your day with your kids, make a point to occasionally share a problem you are having and ask them what they might do in that situation.
You can also tell your children how you were struggling with a problem and you asked a friend or co-worker for advice and how that helped.
The goal is to show that it is okay to not have all the answers.
Here are a few practical things parents can do to encourage their children to ask for help:
- Validate their feelings. It is very easy for parents to “correct” their kids’ feelings or minimize them when a child comes for help. It is important to let them speak their mind and feel what they feel. Your job is not to make them feel good or bad; your job is to help them navigate their emotions in healthy ways.
- This is not the time for discipline. If your child comes to you with a problem and they have been acting irritably or emotionally, this is not the time to bring that up. If you get them in trouble for something they confessed to you when they needed help, it’s likely they won’t come back.
- Make it about them. Spend five minutes twice a day focused entirely on your child. Show them you are interested in their life and ask them about what they think about everything going on. Keeping the lines of communication open is very important.
Don’t Rush to the Rescue
One of the hardest things about being a parent is watching a child fail. As a culture, we have an aversion to failure. On top of that, no parent wants their child to hurt or struggle.
Here’s the thing, though. Stress and failure are two of the most powerful, resilience-building parts of life when they are managed well.
Shielding your kids from the world will only make them unprepared for it when it comes. Exposure to stressors and challenges that they can handle teaches them how to deal with conflict, stress, adversity, and pain in an environment where you, the parent, can “pull the plug” or step in if you need to. Giving your child the chance to speak into their own solutions tells them you trust their choices and you value their ideas.
Like a virus, exposure to small, managed “doses” of stress helps your child build up an immunity to it.
It does not mean to let your child deal with everything alone. The goal is to stand beside them and ask them to solve their problem. You are there to help if they need it, not to solve the problem for them.
How do you do this during COVID-19?
- Ask your child what they think their daily schedule and responsibilities should be.
- Struggling with procrastination? Ask them what they think is a good timeline to get things done and hold them to it.
- Give them options you are already okay with. For example, “Hey, do you want to take out the trash before or after dinner?” You’ve told them they are taking out the trash, but you let them set the terms.
- Let them fail. We don’t mean don’t take an interest. It’s more about letting them live with the natural consequences. Did someone stay up until 3 a.m. playing Fortnight? Guess what, you still have to get up in the morning at 7 a.m. Did you forget to turn in your assignment? You get to call the teacher and ask for an extension. Making them deal with their own consequences helps build resilience and helps them learn to manage stressful situations better in the future.
Looking for more help? We are here for you during these difficult times. Contact Idaho Youth Ranch to learn how we help families.