Distress, fear, and being told to stay at home to flatten the curve of Covid-19 has shown to be making it extremely tough for families to maintain routine and a sense of calm. No matter what, it’s times like these that children rely on their parents for safety, both physical and emotional.
We spoke with Sarah Chana Radcliffe, an expert on parenting, to break down the 5 most important things parents should keep in mind during this time.
1. You Have a Powerful Opportunity for Nurturing
Your children are seeing you a lot. You can create an enduring experience of love and attachment, one that your family will look back upon fondly for the rest of their lives, drawing upon the closeness that you were able to instill in this special period (if you weren’t yelling at them the whole time – see below). Although kids WANT constant attention, they’re not going to get it – there are many other people and activities that a parent has to attend to. However, just being in the proximity of a parent for such an extended period of time provides tremendous security and comfort. If your energies are not turned asunder through grief or overwhelming financial stress, then just relax into this unique gift of time to be with your children. Hopefully, it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, something that they will treasure for the rest of their lives.
2. You Have a Powerful Opportunity for Modeling
Your children are seeing you a lot. Therefore you can be conscious of lessons you’d like to teach through your example – things they may not have had an opportunity to witness since their preschool days. Many kids have no idea of what their parents do during the day. Now is your chance to show them. And because you’re doing it consciously, you can also EXPLAIN what you’re doing. “Mommy is taking her break right now so that she will have energy for you guys. Please go play, while Mommy has a coffee and reads for a few minutes.” “Mommy needs to organize her day to get everything done, so no, Mommy can’t just play right now. Mommy has work to do for the office and dinner to make. When Mommy is finished with her work, she’ll be able to play and when YOU’RE finished with your school work, then YOU can play too!” You can demonstrate household organization and skills (unless you are lacking them – see below) and help the children practice on their own level. This is a great time to teach practical life skills.
3. You Have a Powerful Opportunity to Support Your Children’s Mental Health
Your children will be seeing you a lot. Therefore, the way you are handling the stress of Covid-19 will be a powerful model for them. Are you watching updates constantly? Are you speaking out loud about sad, scary and negative topics? Or are you conveying strength and faith during these troubling times? You have the opportunity to measure your words and actions so that they convey the skills you would like your kids to have during times of stress. You can show what you DO to maintain a positive mindset (unless you don’t do anything – see below). For example, don’t just quietly say tehillim; tell your children that you ARE saying tehillim in order to help the situation. Don’t just listen to shiurim and read books – tell the kids what you are doing to strengthen your mindset and fortify yourself spiritually. In this way, they can learn from you what a person is supposed to do during times of uncertainty.
4. You Have a Powerful Opportunity to Build Your Children’s Characters
Your children will be under your care a lot. You have a unique opportunity to influence their characters right now. Character is the result of behaviors that repeated again and again. A child who hits his siblings again and again is “aggressive.” A child who has a meltdown when things don’t go her way is “intense” and/or “strong willed.” A child who does everything possible to be first, win every game and demand recognition may be very “competitive.” Now that you’re home, you can help your children ACT differently in order to BECOME different (better) people. Change a “rude” child into a “respectful” one by teaching her how to speak differently when she’s frustrated. Change an “impatient” youngster into a “patient” one by teaching him how to go do something else while you’re busy and come back in a little while. Change a “messy” child into a “tidy” one by teaching her how to put her things away. As your children change their actions each day, their behavior will change. Learn how to do all this by reading my book Better Behavior Now! (Menucha Publishers).
5. You Have a Powerful Opportunity to Grow Personally
Your children will be under your care a lot. This will reveal some of your personal weak points (which you may have noted above). The intensity of the challenge may make you aware of areas in which you could use some improvement. Perhaps you are falling apart and wish you were stronger. Perhaps you are losing it all day and wish you were calmer. Perhaps you are overwhelmed, exhausted, and depleted and realize you need to learn how to nurture yourself better. Maybe now you realize that you MUST establish boundaries, improve the behavior of your kids, enlist the help of your spouse, strengthen your faith and trust in Hashem – or otherwise improve in areas that you knew you were a bit weak but you never fully addressed because you didn’t have the time or motivation. NOW is the time, because improvement will lift your suffering and ease your way through this challenge of all challenges. Join my weekly Family Circle at dailyparentingposts.com/family-circle and we can work on this together!
So there you have it. You’re ready to do pandemic parenting. May your efforts bring you and your family peace and arouse Hashem’s mercy to bring a quick end to this painful period.
Sarah Chana Radcliffe is a psychologist in private practice and the author of Better Behavior Now! She is the creator of the Daily Parenting Post email list (dailyparentingposts.com). Sarah Chana is a weekly columnist for the Family First section of Mishpacha Magazine and conducts a weekly live webinar through Jewish Workshops called “The Family Circle.” Follow her on Instagram @SarahChanaRadcliffe.