During the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents have had to balance the stresses of working from home and becoming full-time caretakers and teachers to their children.
Now, as the academic school year comes to an end and summer camps remain mostly closed, parents are wondering how they can continue to support their children’s development while keeping them safe and happy.
“Resetting the ‘new normal’ has become a moving target as things continue to shift from day to day. We are all having to pivot and make adjustments on the regular, especially parents,” said Victoria Gray, clinical instructor in the School of Social Work. “In working with parents over the years, one thing I have found to be true for most parents is that they are only one or two tweaks away from a better situation with their kids, no matter the age. This is also true during this time of COVID-19.”
To help parents make small adjustments that can have a big, positive impact on family life, Gray recommends “customized parenting during COVID-19—small changes that have big payoffs in parenting.” She’s developed the three-part approach below to help parents WIN.
Watch for opportunities
Parents are now in a unique position to observe their children throughout the day. Be proactive and find times to engage that will carry much more meaning for them and you.
“For example, rather than spending time with your child out of frustration because they are distracting you from working, which is really just their way of communicating their needs to spend time with you,” Grays says, “it is better to get ahead relationally and carve out time to be together before they (or you) have a meltdown.”
Involvement with purpose
Once you’ve figured out the opportune times to engage, choose the activity with purpose. It can be helpful to create a list together with your child. Letting children select the activity from that list can have even greater value for them.
“List activities along with realistic time investment, so that if you only have half an hour to spend with your child before your next Zoom meeting, you can give them options as to what they are most interested in that fits into the time you have,” Gray says.
Notice the impact
The focus here is on highlighting and celebrating that time together. “After the time spent together, observe the effect on you and your child. You and your child can comment on the benefits gained. For example, after playing with your toddler for 20 minutes you can say, ‘I love when we get to play together. You are so fun!’ Or, after shooting hoops with your teen for a half hour, ‘It’s great getting to hang out with you! Is this something we should do again?'”
Additionally, Gray recommends that parents use naturally occurring transition times throughout the day to connect meaningfully with their child, such as meal times, nap times and the end of the workday.
Also, Gray reminds parents that they can’t “win” them all.
“Be open to adjusting times and/or activities to fit yours and your child’s changing needs,” Gray says. “Just because we have more time together doesn’t automatically add value to the parent/child relationship. However, being intentional with creating moments of meaning is a win-win!”