I am Dr. Sarah Rose, Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Child Development, and Course Leader for our BSc Undergraduate course in Psychology and Child Development. Also, I am mum to a 4- and 6-year-old, who knows that parenting is hard. Especially, in the time of a pandemic when usual routines and support networks are suddenly taken away.
Although this has been going on for several weeks now and it looks like restrictions are beginning to relax, possibly even with some children going back to school next month, this is not necessarily making the strain on families any easier.
So, I am going to give you six tips based on psychology evidence and theory.
They won’t necessarily make parenting any easier, but I hope they may give you something useful to think about – and maybe make you feel a little more confident about some of the decisions that you make as a parent.
Tip 1: Show connection
A large body of evidence suggests that feeling “securely attached”, connected and loved is important for children’s development and wellbeing.
For young children, physical touch is very important and can reduce stress. Furthermore, there is no evidence that being more affectionate with your children will make them clingy, in fact to the contrary it will help them feel safe and build their emotional resilience.
Older children may not want you to show them physical affection, but it is important to still find time to connect with them. Maybe making some time to exercise together, or sitting down to watch a film as family, may provide an opportunity for this.
Tip 2: Be a balanced parent
While it is important that we listen to and respond to our children’s needs it is also important that we place reasonable, age appropriate demands on them. Psychology evidence suggests that we should aim to be an “authoritative” parent who sets the boundaries and has clear expectations of our children while also being supportive and responsive to our children.
Tip 3: Manage anger (own, child and between children!)
It is completely normal for both us and our children to feel angry sometimes, especially during the stress of a pandemic. Remember that anger is often a symptom of stress and the demands of the environment we find ourselves in.
This means that you should not feel cross with yourself, or your child for showing signs of anger. Instead see it as a symptom, a sign that you, or your child, need to try and take some time to calm down and reduce your stress levels. Maybe now would be a good time to go outside and run around the garden (whatever your age) or lock yourself in the toilet (maybe just for adults this one!).
Tip 4: Develop routine
This pandemic is affecting everybody, but it is affecting people in different ways.
- You might be at home trying to work or worrying about whether you will have a job to go back to after furlough while also feeling pressured to entertain your children and support their learning.
- Or you might be a key worker, working extra hours, feeling stressed about the risks to yourself and your family as you drop your child off at school or nursery.
Whatever your circumstances, all our experiences, both as parents and as children, are likely to be very different to what they were. This can be very unsettling for everyone. However, routines can help to give us a sense of control and a sense of predictability within our lives. So, try and develop a routine that works for your family.
There may have to be adjustments and flexibility but knowing that there are certain times during the day when parents will focus on work, children will focus on school work, entertain themselves or everyone will focus on having fun, or maybe exercising together, can be very reassuring for everyone. This can also help with those feelings of parent guilt as you try and meet the demands of working and meeting your children’s needs.
Tip 5: Manage screen time
Something that you may be worrying about is the amount of time that your child is spending in front of a screen, especially as more and more providers are making educational resources available online for free.
Evidence suggests that screen time can be part of a balanced childhood, and indeed it may be very useful to make it part of your daily routine.
I have heard some lovely stories of extended family and friends interacting with children over screens, for example helping out with some schoolwork or reading a story, and evidence suggest that connecting with others in this way is very positive for children.
Furthermore, evidence suggests that although children learn best through interacting with others screen content can support their development. So do not feel guilty about using screen time within your daily routine. With children and young people spending more time online, many parents may be worried about their online safety. Through talking to your child, voicing your concerns and regularly checking in with them when they are online you can support them through promoting dialogue about online safety and what they should do if they feel unsure or threatened.
Tip 6: Build “emotional resilience”
It is a fact of life that things are not always easy, we want to try and develop our children so that they have the inner strength to cope with this, I think my dad would have called this having a thick skin!
The suggestions that I have given already will help your child to develop this emotional resilience, or thick skin. Other things that are important are talking to your child, try and let them know what to expect:
- Talk about times of change that they have experienced – explain that this will be a time of change.
- Provide clear answers to questions, that are as truthful and as age appropriate as possible.
- It is okay to tell them that you are worried too, or that you do not know when the virus will end or when they will be able to see Nana and Grandad again.
- But also reassure them that you will look after them and help them feel safe and help them to keep perspective, for example by shifting beyond the current situation to a time when families will be able to be together again.
Of course, talking may not be easy, but try and open conversations and look for opportunities when your child may feel under less pressure, for example maybe while you are watching TV, taking some exercise together or engaging in a craft activity. Ask them their opinion about what is happening and listen to their answer.
Parenting is hard and I certainly make lots of mistakes. But do not be hard on yourself, try and praise yourself and your children when things are going well. Notice and remember the good times as evidence suggests that praise and positive memories are much better for promoting good behaviour than punishment.
Here are some resources that you might find useful:
- Talking to your child about coronavirus
- For parents who are key workers
- Online safety – parentzone
- Online safety – saferinternet
The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.
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