by Mary L.Pulido, Ph.D. The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
It appears that many families are going to be spending a lot of time together, possibly mandated, due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Corona Virus. Even the most patient parent can be pushed to their limits. It’s a very stressful time, particularly as the news is dire, social media is alarming and the stock markets are on a roller coaster ride. Pair those worries with income loss and school shutdowns, any parent can be at their wits end. Tempers can be short and it can be easy to lash out at your children. The key to surviving and thriving is to take care of yourself. As they say on the airplane, put your own oxygen mask on first, then assist your children. Too often, self-care for parents is the first thing to go. So, here are a few tips to help you keep your calm, balance the competing priorities that this outbreak brings.
1. “Make time for “me” time.” This means take time to care for yourself physically and emotionally. Take time to exercise, read, nap or work on a home project to recharge your batteries. Your role as a parent can be overwhelming. Sometimes just having an hour to go to the gym or walk outside can lift your spirits and can change your perspective immediately. Simply having a cup of coffee with a friend can help you unwind.
2. “Cut yourself some slack.” There may be days where you get everything done on your “to do” list. But, some days (maybe even most days) everything that you have planned to do may just not get done. It’s okay to leave the laundry for another day, or skip the vacuuming. This is particularly true for new parents, who are finding their routines turned upside down. Abolish the word “guilt” from your vocabulary. Think about all of the wonderful things you do for your child each day.
3. “Shore up your support system and don’t be afraid to ask for help.” Many parents are not use to asking for help. Sometimes they think “I should be able to manage this infant/child on my own.” This is not necessarily the way to go. Often, people will be happy to help out. But if they don’t offer, please make your needs known. Ask your spouse, significant other, friend or neighbor for help. You’d be surprised — I know I’d enjoy the chance to watch a baby while the Mom tries to find a store that isn’t sold out of toilet paper!
4. “Get the sleep and nutrition you need.” Sleep deprivation makes all problems loom large. Health experts recommend at least seven hours a night. This is probably hard if you have infants or small children, but grab sleep when you can. Naps revitalize too. Remember to eat healthy meals; you’ll feel more energized. Pack a nutritious lunch for work the night before so you’re not depending on fast food. Do the same for your children. Planning meals and grocery shopping out for the week can be a real time saver.
5. “Realize that on some days parenting will be more challenging.” If the baby won’t stop crying and you are exhausted and feel like crying too, put the baby in a safe and secure place and leave the room for a few minutes. As long as you’re sure it’s not a medical emergency, the baby will stop crying, truly, they will. Your older children may simply not listen to you at all or break the rules you’ve established. The NYSPCC encourages the use of effective discipline techniques with children. Discipline is more effective and more nurturing when parents know how to set and enforce limits and when they encourage appropriate behaviors based on their child’s age and level of development. To be effective, discipline needs to be consistent, perceived as “fair” by the child, age-appropriate, and should teach the child how to act in the future.
6. “Make friends with other parents.” It’s good to have other parents to commiserate with as well as share the happy stories about your children. It also helps to break the isolation that new parents can feel as their “old” lifestyle disappears with their new 24 hour responsibility as a parent. Set up a regular “get together” and perhaps a time to watch each other’s children too.
7. “Limit your time on social media and watching the news”. There was a great article in The New York Times, “Getting a Handle on Worry, Stress and Anxiety” that is very timely. The worry, anxiety and stress that Covid-19 is creating can be harmful. Put a limit on the time you spend learning the latest updates, perhaps 15 minutes in the morning and evening. I am also in the camp that children under the age of six or seven should be monitored, very, very closely. They should not be exposed to social media without parental controls, as developmentally, they are not be ready to comprehend what may pop up, and the news may scare them. . I recommend that parents diligently monitor the TV, computer, newspapers, etc. to make sure that children are not exposed to the alarming videos and photos. You can’t “unsee” something. Once they view it, it is in their brain forever.
8. “Make time for your spouse or partner.” Just as you need to make time for your children, you need to make time for your parenting partner. Nurture this relationship too. “Date nights” should be scheduled — or any time that works for you both. Hire a sitter. Spend time talking to each other — about each other! Keeping the bond strong will benefit your entire family in the long run. On the flip side, if you are single, try not to depend on your children for your emotional needs or companionship; children simply do not have that capacity to act as substitute partners. It’s best to seek out other adults.
8. “Have an emergency support plan.” If you think you are going to “lose it” and find yourself getting angry or frustrated with your baby or child, reach out for help. Ask your spouse, friend or neighbor to take care of them while you regroup. If you think you are depressed, and it’s quite common during times like these, talk to your doctor about what can help. The demands of parenting can be fierce and draining, but they pass. Call the parent-helpline at 1–800- CHILDREN (1–800–244–5373).
For additional information on parenting and keeping your child safe visit www.nyspcc.org.