700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

Reasonable Expectations for Parents and Children During a Pandemic

Apr 10, 2020
Mother and daughter using a white board

As if being a parent wasn’t hard enough - that title alone comes with so much that we were not prepared to take on. Now add in a nationwide health crisis and the additional roles of teacher, day time caregiver, coach, tutor and playmate… you may be approaching overload.

But you don’t have to.

In this time, we need to take a step back, acknowledge the impact of the stressful times and have reasonable expectations for our children and ourselves.

That starts with throwing your expectations out of the window – well, at least some of them.

Many of us have been thrown into new territory. Parents working at home or not all at, children unable to go to school and be taught by their skilled and trained teachers and young children who are unable to go their childcare programs where they can learn and play with their young peers. To maintain our relationships and well-being, we must make some adjustments.

Consider these things while adjusting expectations:

Expand how we look at emotions. When emotions are high it is often difficult for adults to express the range of feelings experienced each day with every new stressor. It’s even more challenging for children who are still developing their emotional intelligence and the language to express big emotions. It is important to allow children to see adults express a healthy range of emotions, including the not so pleasant ones. Shielding children from all of your feelings during this time can be very confusing when they can feel and sense the stress many of us are under. Acknowledging feelings of stress, frustration, sadness and even anger around some of our experiences allows us to model how to share these emotions that our children are likely also feeling. While it is important to share some of these feelings with our children and model appropriate expression, we as adults also need an outlet where we can unload our more intense feelings in a safe way.

Understand behavior differently. For children, times of stress and crisis can cause their behavior to regress, or act in a way that they have not in some time. For young children, this may mean an increase in whining or tantrums, an inability to use their words to describe how they feel, and possibly even an increase in impulsive physical aggression because of their limited abilities to think and use their problem solving skills.

As parents, we need to understand this is natural and will not last. It may mean we will have to be more patient in responding to our child whose previously small frustrations are now getting big reactions. Before providing support, take a deep breath and allow your child more time to calm down. You may need to give more reminders and offer to help them with the task at hand.

Be consistent, but kind. In unpredictable times, routines and consistency are key. They offer the safety and comfort of those things that are familiar. Morning and bedtime routines, planned meal times and a structure to the day with a mix of learning, downtime and fun can help children and parents feel more in control when things feel so out of control. It can help you and your child to discuss what the day holds. For older children, write a schedule and for younger children, prepare them with information about the day by using pictures instead of words. However, be kind to yourself and to your children by allowing some flexibility in the consistency you provide. Don’t be so tied to your schedule that you pass up great opportunities to share wonderful moments with them. If the weather is nice, take a break outside before the rain comes. Sometimes, a break in the middle of day is what you need to reset and refresh!

Finally, remember these other roles – teacher, coach, full time care provider, tutor - will eventually return to the folks best suited for those jobs. Luckily, your most important role and most long lasting role will remain the same – being the best parent you can to your child!

Our community partners are offering free online parenting support through the Positive Parenting Program (Triple P).
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Lisa Golden
Behavioral Health

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Pediatric News You Can Use From America’s Largest Pediatric Hospital and Research Center

700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.