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How parents can deal with COVID-19 stress

With schools and many businesses closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, parents have been tasked with more than ever and many are dealing with COVID-19 stress. Their homes are now distance learning facilities, daycares, activity centers, remote offices and more.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urges parents during this uncertain and difficult time to practice self-care, ask others for help, and use healthy discipline techniques when necessary.

How parents can practice self-care

“It’s more important than ever for parents to take care of themselves first,” says Dr. Katherine Williamson, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician and president of the Orange County chapter of AAP. “Unless parents are themselves well nourished, well-rested and maintaining healthy relationships, they won’t be able to provide the care or environment their kids need right now.”

There are several ways for parents to practice self-care while juggling their added responsibilities:

  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Exercise
  • Get enough sleep
  • Maintain social connections with friends and family via phone or video chat. These relationships are an important source of support during trying times. Discussion forums and online communities of other parents can be especially helpful.
  • Use your helpers. If you have a new baby at home, older siblings can help in developmentally appropriate ways.
  • Speak with your healthcare provider about your mental health. Many doctors and mental health providers are offering telehealth visits.

Healthy discipline techniques

Children have also had their lives disrupted by COVID-19. Schools are closed, and they can’t have play dates with friends. When children are bored or frustrated, they are more likely to act out.

“When children misbehave, effective discipline teaches them to regulate their emotions and helps them gain a better understanding of rules and expectations,” Williamson says.

The AAP recommends the following techniques when children feel stressed:

  • Engage kids in constructive activities. Here’s a roundup of activities for kids during COVID-19.
  • Help kids sort through their fears. Kids old enough to understand the news may be scared someone they love will die. Acknowledge their fear and share all the things your family is doing to stay safe, like washing your hands and staying home. Here’s a pediatric psychologist’s advice on helping kids cope with COVID-19 anxiety.
  • Call a time-out. Warn children they will get a time-out if their current behavior continues. Remind them what they did wrong in as few words with as little emotion as possible. Remove them from the environment for a pre-set amount of time. One minute per year of age is a good guide.
  • Know when not to respond. If your child isn’t doing something dangerous and gets plenty of attention for good behavior, an effective way to stop bad behavior can be just ignoring it.
  • Catch them being good. Point out good behavior, and praise children for their good tries and success. This is especially important in the disruption of children’s normal routines and friends.
  • Give them your attention. The most powerful tool for effective discipline is attention—to reinforce good behaviors and discourage others. Remember, all children want their parent’s attention. When parents are trying to work at home, this can be particularly challenging. Clear communication and setting expectations can help, particularly with older children.

“Corporal punishment – like spanking or hitting – can harm children and hinder brain development long-term. It is also not effective in teaching kids self-control,” Williamson says.

The AAP also cautions caregivers never to shake or throw a child. Tips for calming a fussy baby:

  • Check to see if your baby’s diaper needs changing.
  • Swaddle your baby in a large, thin blanket. Your child’s pediatrician can show you how to do it correctly to help her feel secure.
  • Feed your baby slowly, stopping to burp often.
  • Offer your baby a pacifier.
  • Hold your baby against bare skin, like on your chest, or cheek-to-cheek.
  • Rock your baby using slow, rhythmic movements.
  • Sing to your baby or play soft, soothing music.
  • Take your baby for a walk in a stroller.
  • Go for a ride with your baby in the car (remember to always use a car seat).

Most babies get tired after crying for a long period of time and then fall asleep. If your child continues to cry, call your pediatrician to discuss your concerns and stress. There may be an underlying medical reason for your child’s tears.

This article was last updated on April 14, 2020.

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One thought on “How parents can deal with COVID-19 stress”

  1. Thank you for acknowledging the tremendous burden that COVID 19 is having on families. Local hotlines for parents may be of use such as:

    The OC (HCA) Parent Wellness Program for expecting parents up to 12 mos. postpartum (available for moms, dads, or any caregiver) 714-480-5160

    OC HCA Community Counseling & Supportive Services (available to support all ages) 714-645-8000

    The OC Warmline by NAMI Call or text: (714) 991-6412
    Toll Free 877-910-9276

    Postpartum Support International 800-944-9773

    Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor

    Thank you for all you are doing to support the pediatric community.

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