Realistic strategies for improving your parenting skills.
By Isaac Weaver, Psy.D.
Have you ever met a Super Parent? The parent that is perfectly balanced, entirely composed, ever-instructive, always pushing (but not too hard), emotionally aware, eyes in the back of the head, arranging mini-adventures, making homemade healthy snacks, reading three books a day, and two books once the kids go down to sleep. You’ll find a lot of these parents on the ‘Gram, but not in real life.
If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear to parents, even those who are giving it an A+ effort, that perfection is out of reach. Many parents are feeling out of order and confused. They are failing to find (or teach) the lessons tucked away in life’s twists and turns. They are catching themselves being insensitive and missing the mark. Here is the good news—you don’t have to be a Super Parent to be exactly the parent your child needs right now during the pandemic.
But this must start with understanding the distinction between your role as a parent and the skills required of a parent. In other words, being a parent is a role, but parenting is comprised of a distinct set of skills. Here are 10 skills to help you parent through the pandemic, skills that may even inch you closer to Super Parent status, and earning that cape!
Skill #1—Exercise honesty: The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on our community. When traumatic events happen, it is healthy to acknowledge them openly rather than to avoid doing so. At the same time, kids need to hear information in a way that they can understand. For your teenage child, engage them by discussing the news. For your school-age child, explain that we are all taking steps to make sure people stay healthy. For your preschooler, make clear new boundaries, but assure them it won’t always be this way.
Skill #2—Engage your emotions: When faced with a great amount of stress, it is tempting to avoid our emotions through distraction. Instead of ignoring your emotions, make time to take inventory of what you are feeling. Ways to do this might include sorting things out through a daily walk, journaling, or sharing with a trusted other. Stress especially impacts the body, even when we are not thinking about it. Take time to care for your body. Take a walk, keep your meals regular and well-balanced, play sports with your kids, or even get out a musical instrument to get out of your head.
Skill #3—Practice expressing anger: When stress is high, anger is inevitable. When angry, the easy option is to power over others with aggressive communication or to undermine others with passive communication. Assertive communication is best: it is direct and it lays the groundwork for problem-solving. To use assertive communication: state what happened, state how it made you feel, and state what it made you think about the person with whom you are angry. Taking these steps opens the door for your child or partner to clarify their intentions, and for needed problem-solving.
Skill #4—Keep your rituals: Life really has changed, but work to keep regularly occurring activities during the pandemic. Examples might include waking at the same time of day, dressing for work (even from home), and even silly things like watching your favorite show with your kids on Wednesday night. Rituals have a way of grounding us, even when the future is uncertain.
Skill #5—Brush up on discipline: A trade secret shared by teachers and child psychologists to motivate children to achieve their best is the token economy. At its most basic, a token economy is a system that says: If you do X, you get Y. If you don’t do X, you don’t get Y. Sit down as a family and determine three expectations (X) you have of your child. Agree on what privileges your child could earn for meeting those expectations (Y). For more on the token economy, check out Your Defiant Child by child psychologist Dr. Russell Barkley.
Skill #6—Keep an eye on screen time: It is easy to be sucked into screen time during these isolating times. Managing children’s screen time can be difficult, mostly because we often use screen time to manage children’s behavior. However, screen time can have a negative effect on children at the level of the brain and through modeled inappropriate behavior. Three practical ways to moderate screen time include putting daily limits on screen time, planning pleasurable activities throughout the day, and watching something fun as a family.
Skill #7—Teach time management: One reality that has set in for parents of adolescents who are engaged in remote learning is that although adolescents are, by-and-large, much more adept with technology than their parents, they are much less skilled at managing their time than their parents. This can create major problems for the timely completion of schoolwork now that task completion is much more independent than in-classroom learning. Basic time management skills to teach teenagers include chunking (breaking large tasks into smaller tasks), time-blocking (setting similar tasks alongside each other), and the Pomodoro technique (engaging in twenty minutes of focused work and taking five minute breaks at intervals in between).
Skill #8—Watch for signs of stress: Some children will show resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, but some may benefit from meeting with a mental health specialist. When monitoring your child’s stress, ask yourself these three questions: Does my child’s behavior or mood seem to be unchanging? Does my child’s behavior or mood seem to be extreme? Does my child’s behavior or mood cause problems for them inside or outside the home? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” it may be helpful to reach out to a mental health specialist for extra support.
Dr. Isaac Weaver is a clinical psychologist and owner of Weaver Counseling and Assessment Services, LLC, a private practice based in Canton, Ohio. Dr. Weaver specializes in the assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and families. Dr. Weaver is active with the Ohio Psychological Association in his role as the President of Akron Area Professional Psychologists. He has been active throughout the Stark County community during his membership with the Multidisciplinary Team at Children’s Network of Stark County, in his previous role as an adjunct faculty at Malone University, and having been published by the Canton Repository.