Covid-19 has turned many of our homes inside-out. From working at home, to managing anxiety about catching COVID-19, to dealing with the death of a family member from the virus…the global pandemic has posed several challenges. One such challenge is schooling.
Although some school systems have opened in person, others have chosen to open entirely online For those school districts that have remained virtual, many parents are struggling with how to balance being a working parent with parenting and having an at-home student. Below we outline some tips for parents who are attempting to juggle this new responsibility.
#1 Good Enough is Great
The concept of “good enough” parenting was first introduced by Winnicott who found that mothers who were able to meet most of their children’s needs, but who also allowed for some failures (like cooking dinners that the children don’t like, or owning up to little mistakes) had better-adjusted children. Although this concept was initially applied to only mothers the concept was extended to fathers and any primary caregiver as well.
Good enough parenting suggests that you don’t need to be a perfect parent. Instead, you can focus on being good enough. Failing to meet some needs and demands of your children helps them deal with disappointment and learn that they are a part of a family system as opposed to the center of the family system.
This concept is essential while parenting during the pandemic because it is impossible to meet the many demands and needs of your child at home while simultaneously meeting the needs of your supervisor and your personal needs. Thus, parents should focus on developing realistic expectations for themselves and their children. These expectations should be anchored in being “good enough” as opposed to perfect.
Keys to being a good enough parent include:
- Recognizing your own limitations
- Recognizing your child’s limitations
- Feeling competent while acknowledging limitations
- Respecting and communicating boundaries
- Being flexible
#2 Good Expectations
Healthy expectations are those that feel comfortable and are motivating as opposed to ones that are anxiety provoking. When you set a realistic expectation, you can develop a tangible plan that includes resources (people, objects, and time) that are readily accessible. If you expect your child to behave as if they are in school despite not having the same resources—teachers, teaching aids, peers, and classroom setting, your expectations may be too lofty. A good expectation for you and your child may sound like this:
“My child is going to do the best they can adjusting to this virtual learning. They may need some support from me and I will attempt to provide support within reason. If they need a support outside of my competency, I will help my child and teacher develop an expectation that is within their reach. We will feel good, learn, and do the best we can.”
This expectation acknowledges that each child is the center of the learning experience and that they may have some difficulty adjusting. The expectation also highlights that parents are a support for the child and encourages parents to readjust expectations based upon the child’s abilities and needs. It also affirms that the parent has some competencies but may not have every competency their child may need. Remember, it is unfair to think you will become a principal, teacher, janitor, teacher aid, school chef, and school counselor while maintaining your prior responsibilities.
Keys to making good expectations include the following:
- Use positive words
- Use resources that are readily available
- Are based in positive beliefs about yourself and others
- Allow for flexibility
#3 Good Bodies support Good Minds
Researchers highlight the role of healthy bodies in promoting learning. To develop healthy bodies, families may try to incorporate exercise and balance meals to feel good through these changing times. Taking morning, afternoon, or evening walks are a great way to incorporate exercise. Remembering that giving your child time to run around (or in place) or be active can help them relieve their own stress while providing them with exercise.
Because online classes are increasing screen time, it is important to feed your children meals with high nutrients to support eye health and brain functioning during long periods of focus. Researchers suggests that children should fill half of their plate with servings of veggies and fruit. If you let children experiment with the type of veggies they like and the way they like them prepared (steamed, roasted, raw) you may find a signature veggie that they love.
It is also important to ensure that your child is getting enough sleep. If your child wakes up cranky or has difficulty waking up, try pushing back their bedtime by thirty minutes or an hour to help them get the rest they may need.
Keys to making good bodies:
- Incorporate movement and exercise throughout the day
- Make exercise fun (dancing, scavenger hunt, or races)
- Incorporate deep breathing
- Eat your fruit and veggies
- Get some rest
#4 Good Rewards
Everyone needs positive reinforcement, including children. If your child is displaying problematic behaviors such as whining or temper tantrums, you may want to think about your reward system. Are you rewarding a problem behavior? Do you let them watch tv if they whine or give them a lot of hugs and kisses when they cry? If this is the case, you may want to think about how you can reward them when they do a desired behavior as opposed to a problematic behavior.
Take a moment to reflect on your child’s needs. What do they like? What do they ask you for? These answers are the things you can use to reward the child for good behavior. Researchers have demonstrated that rewarding good behavior is better than punishing bad behavior. Thus, try to give lots of praise, attention, and affection for good behaviors.
Keys to Good Rewards:
- Focus on something the child likes
- Easy and accessible
- Can include hugs, affection, and verbal praise
- Can be given multiple times a day (tv time, play with favorite toy, etc)
#5 Good Conversation
Children are experiencing a lot of different emotions during this pandemic. It is important that you set aside time to listen to them express how they are feeling. Some questions to ask are: How are you feeling? What is something you miss about going to school? What is something that you like about being home? What can we do differently to help you adjust? What would you like to do differently tomorrow? What did you do today that made you proud of yourself?
Families may consider setting aside 15 to 30 minutes to talk about feelings. This can be while the child is doing their chores or taking their bath. These conversations can also occur over a meal. By touching base with your child and listening to their feelings, you can help them understand and process their feelings. These conversations may help parents feel more connected to their children as well.
Keys to Good Conversation:
- Listen more than you speak
- Listen without judgment
- Ask open questions (as opposed to “yes or no” questions)
- Thank them for sharing
- Acknowledge that you heard them
#6 Good Times
Most adults recognize that life can be hard, but they assume that life is easy for children because children get their basic needs taken care of by adults. However, life can be hard for children too because children have very little control of their daily routines or the power to create fun times. Thus, parents may want to ensure that children have ample time to have fun.
Luckily, playing with you, building blocks, watching their favorite show, or coloring are simple ways that children have fun. As you make your new schedules ensure that you are leaving time for fun. Ask them what they like to do for fun and schedule plenty of fun times.
Parents should make sure they are leaving time for their own good times as well. Ensure that you try to set aside small blocks throughout the day to unwind and relax. These moments can include deep breathing, listening to your favorite song, or a 30-minute nap.
Frequently, parents try to have “big breaks” that may require too many resources, but frequent smaller breaks may be easier to implement and provide the same level of relaxation. If you find ways throughout the day to have a good time, you may feel less overwhelmed and more effective throughout this pandemic.
Keys to Good Times:
- Something the child enjoys
- Not physically dangerous
- Easily accessible
- Something that can happen everyday
- Frequent small breaks
- Makes you and/or the child smile
Counseling psychology students, researchers, practitioners, professors, and people from a variety of disciplines are facing the prospect of home schooling/working/learning for the unforeseeable future. As life shifts in directions we never expected, it is easy to yearn for a perfect world…but there is healing in the good…and in the good enough.
Shareefah Al’Uqdah PhD, Assistant Professor and Director of Training, Howard University Counseling Psychology ProgramTags: children, COVID-19, pandemic, parents, school