They Say Parenting is the Hardest Job. Just Try it During a Pandemic

Man and woman about to kiss each other with baby in arms.  Man is wearing a face mask.

Parenting can be tough at the best of times, but given how dramatically family life has changed in the past two months due to the COVID-19 crisis, both parents and children need extra help and attention. 

The good news? Most psychologists agree that kids can do well and even thrive in an incredible variety of settings, provided they have caring parents and family members.

But what about all the stress parents are experiencing? Worrying about jobs, home schooling, financial stresses, maybe caring for elderly parents? The list can seem endless for families that are juggling the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

So what can parents do to make sure that their children are getting what they need and continue to feel safe and secure in these difficult times?

Here are some research-based suggestions that can help parents right now and into the future as well:

Try not to sweat the small stuff

Living in close quarters, it’s easy to pay attention to all the things going wrong. Homework not getting done, dishes left in the sink, a squabble between siblings. Research shows that focusing on the things children are doing well and ignoring some of the little things, pays big dividends during times of stress. 

Plan stuff

During this challenging time, everyone benefits from having routines. Experts have been telling us for weeks that having things planned for the day can give us a sense of purpose and control, even if it as simple as scheduling a walk. And everyone benefits from knowing when Mom or Dad need some quiet time for work calls or handling other family tasks. 

Play

Playing with kids each day, even in short chunks of time, can help them manage their emotions and behavior. Playing can be a welcome escape for adults too.

Take breaks

Identify what you can do to take a break when you are feeling stress getting the better of you. If you can, hand off parenting to a partner, step outside, take some deep breaths, call a friend. All of these things can help parents tackle what comes next. 

Apologize

Um, we’re all human. If you lose it for a second and say something you regret, a brief apology to your child can be the best way to gently move on to some new activity. Experts also say it’s not a good idea to force an apology from your child; that can make things worse. So be the adult; say you’re sorry.

Be affectionate

Even animals benefit from physical contact to handle stressful events. So even though you feel like being together all the time is the same as giving kids and your partner a good hug, it’s not. So remember to reach out, hug, kiss, touch your family members. Sometimes those simple gestures are just what kids need to manage big emotions that are simmering under the surface.

And remember, we’re all doing our best. But there is help if you are feeling more overwhelmed than you can handle right now, ask for help. Mental health providers are available for telehealth sessions to ensure that you have the support that you need, while maintaining safety.

For more information, check out www.samhsa.gov/disaster-preparedness for links to SAMHSA's tip sheets on mental health during quarantine, disasters and working during these times. 

We are in this together and we will get through this together too.