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Parenting tips for COVID-19

Note: This article was last updated in May 2020. For the latest updates on COVID-19, see

Parenting can be tough even in the best times. Parenting during COVID-19 is a new responsibility altogether.

Whether you’re a single parent, juggling multiple kids, or dealing with anxious teens, you may find the crisis is challenging your patience.

“The biggest thing we’re running into is the disruption of routine,” says Mark Flanagan, LMSW, MPH, MA, a social worker at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont Fayette. With many schools using online learning for the foreseeable future, kids and parents alike are adjusting to new schedules and new realities.

Though you may feel isolated, you’re not the only parent struggling. Raising children during a pandemic is uncharted territory for everyone.

What’s more, you can still support your kids and take care of your own well-being, Flanagan says. It’s normal if you feel scared yourself at times, too.

“It’s OK to be open and honest with your kids,” he says, “as long as you’re doing it in a way that makes sense.”

Tips for parenting a younger child during COVID-19

Be clear and direct about what’s happening. Explain the situation to your kids in simple terms, Flanagan says, but don’t be misleading. You can validate their worries and explain the importance of staying home.

Recognize that younger kids may be more reactive. “Kids model our emotions and reactions, so it’s important to try to stay as calm as possible,” Flanagan says. If you feel stressed, that’s OK, but try not to snap in front of your kids.

Share a hopeful view, not an unrealistic one. “Don’t be dismissive of younger kids’ concerns about what’s going on,” Flanagan advises. Younger children may not understand how viruses work, but they know that much of their world has been disrupted.

Let your kids know that they can help. Remind kids that hand-washing, social distancing and other safety measures save lives. You could also participate in at-home activities to boost community morale, such as writing messages in sidewalk chalk or creating art to display in windows.

Tips for parenting an older child during COVID-19

Don’t overreact if your child bristles against new limits. It’s normal for older kids and teens to crave independence and time with their peers. When that’s suddenly lost, they may chafe under new rules, but Flanagan says it’s important not to overreact or shame them. “We want to shift from reacting to responding,” he adds.

Talk to your kids about what they’re going through. People may assume that because kids are tech-savvy, they’ll have a better time adjusting, but it’s not necessarily true. Flanagan says there’s evidence to suggest that kids may be taking the crisis harder, especially among older children with milestones like graduations nearing. 

Let kids take the lead (to an extent). When older children and teens feel they’ve lost control in their worlds, you can help them restore some of it. That’s not to say they should make all their own rules, but Flanagan suggests leeway in some areas, such as allowing a teen to set a slightly later bedtime. “It’s important to have grace with older kids,” he says.

Establish new routines. School and sports are out, but that doesn’t mean all routine is lost. If extracurricular activities prevented your family from eating dinner together before, why not start family dinners now?

Highlight responsibility to the community. Remind kids that even if they think they’re at lower risk for COVID-19, they could still spread the virus to more vulnerable people. That’s why it’s important to stay vigilant about safety measures and help the community where possible. 

Self-care tips for parents during COVID-19

Give yourself space. The ongoing pandemic is tough on adults, too. If you have a partner, talk about splitting up the day so that you each get time for yourselves. If you’re a single parent, engage your kids about what you need. Be open and honest – it’s OK to let them know you’re struggling. “It’s not just a luxury to take time for yourself,” Flanagan points out. “You’re actually helping your kids by taking time for yourself. When you are more centered, you provide a model of self-care and resiliency to your children.”

Remind yourself that you don’t have to be perfect. Parenting is intense right now, especially for single parents and frontline workers. It’s fine if you’re not getting everything right – no one is. “Be gentle with yourself,” Flanagan says.

Find joy in doing good. Just like you encourage your kids to help the community, remember the ways you can make a difference as well. Thinking about others’ needs engages the brain in a healthy way, Flanagan explains, and can help reinvigorate your mind and body.   

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