Pandemic Parenting Tips

Pandemic, coronavirus, COVID-19. Regardless of what you choose to call it, this globally-impacting disease translates to one universal fact—these are challenging and unprecedented times for all. In the midst of a new normal, mental health is sacrificed while many scramble to establish structure in their daily lives. In other words, life doesn’t simply stop, even when it may feel like we’re in a perpetual state of limbo. With survival mode as our shield of armor, we learn to shift and adapt.

Now picture this: school is closed for the remainder of the academic year, and parents suddenly have to tackle new roles including teacher, tutor, therapist, mediator, and friend—just more skills to add to your repertoire as a parent. Children are ripped from their routine, and in turn, may be manifesting these sudden changes in the form of anxiety, depression, and developmental regression. You may find that your fiercely independent six-year-old is now begging you to let her sleep in your bed. Your sweet and shy four-year-old is kicking and screaming with every ounce of his being. Your Tic-Toking teen has officially locked herself in her room and is refusing to engage with the rest of her family. Here’s where the good news kicks in—you are not alone, and this is not your fault—nor your children’s.

Below are some tips and tricks to tackle common behavioral and emotional concerns that parents are facing today, and more importantly to start welcoming mental health back to the forefront of your mind.

1.     Gut over guilt: Parental guilt is inherent, and especially now can be at an all-time high. It’s understandable to feel upset that your child was robbed of the joys and benefits of school, yet your desire to fill the void and promote happiness may be hindering them. By needing to fulfill their every demand, wish, and desire, you are strengthening your child’s capacity to eventually push back against structure and defy your requests. Follow your parental gut, the one suppressed underneath the guilt, and follow accordingly when something isn’t sitting right. It’s okay to delete that extra toy out of your Amazon cart, or to have difficult conversations with your child, even if it may upset them.

2.     Establish structure: This is both to your benefit and theirs. Create a makeshift school or daycare, one where rules are written and verbalized. Sit down with your child and identify at least three rules or tasks to be followed daily. Including your children in this activity places the accountability in their court. Children thrive off structure, even when they crave chaos and spontaneity. Find a happy medium and attempt to create a weekly schedule to check off homework, meals, and playtime.

3.     Negative attention = attention: Highlight positive behaviors you are desiring more of, and practice selective ignoring when the negative behaviors are not posing a safety threat. This applies to children across all ages. Ignoring your child does not make you neglectful, so long as you are boosting their confidence and recognizing them for their polite manners, problem-solving skills, and following the rules. Replace words that are trigger points for children including “don’t” or “stop” with positive statements that promote the behaviors you are wanting to see in them (e.g. please use your inside voice; please keep your hands to yourself).

4.     Set consequences: This one is tough. Every family has a different tactic and strategy when it comes to discipline. However, removing desirable objects and activities from your child of any age when they are breaking important rules or acting defiantly is an effective measure to establish greater harmony at home. Sit down with your child and identify three consequences that can be enforced in a single day if a house rule is broken. These may include losing electronic privileges such as the television or cellphone for four hours after refusing to complete homework, or losing coloring time for 20 minutes after screaming at a sibling. Setting concrete consequences removes the power struggle and heated arguments by simply identifying and sticking to the structure. Selective ignoring will be a key player if your child attempts to refute.

5.     Spend quality time with your family:  You’re probably wondering why that would be a suggestion when you are with your loved ones more than ever, but there is a difference between physical presence and emotional connection. Go for walks as a unit, play board games, spend a few minutes each day letting your child pick the activity to build their confidence and assurance that their opinions matter, and remind every family member that you love and appreciate them. These are trying times, but your family will get through this as a team, one day at a time. Remember to prioritize your mental health—your silent, but efficient, captain chartering new territory in the right direction.

Dr. Bahar Rahnama obtained her Doctor of Clinical Psychology degree at the APA-accredited California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University, Los Angeles (CSPP-LA). Dr. Rahnama completed coursework and field-based training in congruence with her graduate specializations across family, child, and couple dynamics. Through both research and clinical practice, Dr. Rahnama’s interest encompasses the correlation between enactment of cultural norms and parent-child attachment styles. Her examination and focus on these factors have led to a multitude of clinical opportunities and advancements including her UC-Davis certification in Parent Child-Interaction Therapy (PCIT), an evidence-based model that meticulously targets disruptive behaviors in children between the ages of two and seven while enhancing a positive and healing bond between caregiver and child.

Coping Styles and Infertility

Receiving a diagnosis of infertility can be incredibly stressful for couples. Often couples report changes in the quality of their emotional and sexual relationships (Schmidt, 2005a; Peterson et al., 2007). Other stressors include alterations in relationships with family, friends and coworkers and interactions with a complex medical system. Infertility may call into question your life expectations and deeply impact the way you see yourself, your relationship, the future and the world around you. Because the diagnosis of infertility often comes out of the blue, couples may find themselves unprepared to cope with the multiple stressors that accompany it.

How one copes with the unanticipated stressor of infertility can significantly impact the level of distress one experiences. Researchers studying the effects of infertility have identified four basic coping styles and analyses have revealed the impact that these styles have on stress levels. It can be helpful to reflect on your own coping style and assess whether there are changes you might make to help you get through this difficult time with appropriate levels of support.

One coping method commonly used is active avoidance. This may include avoiding pregnant women and children, keeping feelings related to infertility to themselves and engaging in outside activities to avoid thoughts of infertility. People who are high utilizers of this form of coping report higher levels of personal, marital and social distress (Schmidt et al., 2005a; Peterson et al., 2006a; Peterson et al., 2008). One reason for this may be that avoiding infertility related thoughts and activities may lead to social isolation and lack of support.

The passive avoidance coping style is characterized by hoping for a miracle and feeling that all one can do is wait. This coping style is also found to be linked with greater psychological distress and infertility stress (Terry and Hynes, 1998). A recent study found that when both members of a couple are high utilizers of this coping style they report higher levels of distress (Peterson et al., 2008).

A coping style that has been linked with more positive outcomes is active confronting. Active confronting is characterized by sharing feelings about infertility and actively trying to find solutions to the problem. This coping style has been linked with improved short and long-term adaptation (Vershaak and Hammer Burns, 2006). People using this coping style avail themselves of greater sources of support and feel an increased sense of control over their situation.

Meaning-based coping is a style that has been linked with more positive outcomes (Vershaak and Hammer Burns, 2006). People engaging in this coping style redefine the meaning and implications of infertility. They often report that the experience of infertility has helped them grow as a person. Many apply themselves to other life goals after they have accepted the reality of infertility.

Though you may be reeling from a recent diagnosis of infertility, it is important to be mindful about the coping strategies you use. While avoidance may bring temporary relief from the tempest of feelings that infertility elicits, it has been linked with greater distress in the long-term. Openly communicating to your partner and trusted others about your thoughts and feelings related to infertility can go a long way in establishing a robust support system. Also, working collaboratively with your partner to address problems related to infertility will help you regain a sense of control over the aspects of the situation that you can impact. If you are feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope with your situation it may be helpful to seek out additional support. RESOLVE(www.resolve.org) is a national resource community that provides information about infertility as well as online support groups.

Dr. Angela Williams is a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in cognitive-behavioral and humanistic/existential approaches to therapy. She has extensive training in Brief Crisis Intervention, which she uses in the treatment of patients who are struggling with infertility. Her therapeutic style blends strength-based acceptance with practical skill development. Incorporating mindfulness-based interventions, she helps her clients move through difficult experiences and be more present in their lives.

 REFERENCES

Peterson, B. D., Pirratano, M., Christensen, U., & Schmidt, L. (2008). The impact of partner coping in couples experiencing infertility. Human Reproduction, 23(5), 1128-1137.

Peterson, B. D., Newton, C. R., & Feingold, T. (2007). Anxiety and sexual stress in men and women undergoing infertility treatment. Fertility and Sterility, 88, 911–914.

Peterson, B. D., Newton, C. R., Rosen, K. H., & Skaggs, G. E. (2006a) Gender differences in how men and women referred with in vitro fertilization cope with infertility stress. Human Reproduction, 21, 2443–2449.

Schmidt L., Holstein B. E., Christensen, U., & Boivin, J. (2005a). Communication and coping as predictors of fertility problem stress: Cohort study of 816 participants who did not achieve a delivery after 12 months of fertility treatment. Human Reproduction, 20, 3248–3256.

Terry, D. J. & Hynes, G. J. (1998). Adjustment to a low-control situation: Reexaming the role of coping responses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74,1078–1092.

Verhaak, C. & Hammer Burns, L. (2006). Behavioral medicine approaches to infertility counseling. In: Covington SN, Hammer Burns L (eds). Infertility Counseling: A Comprehensive Handbook for Clinicians, 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press,169–195.

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