I authored part of a Blog post/ answer to a clinician Quandry for Psychotherapy Networker about how to help with parenting during school shutdowns and COVID mandates.

October Quandary: A therapist had been working with a parent on implementing a kinder, gentler style of interaction with her boisterous kids for over a year. But the pandemic is creating so much stress and so little breathing room in her family that she’s reverted to yelling and doling out harsh punishments. She’s heartbroken but also convinced she can’t do better right now. What are some practical tips and guidance to offer?

Take Your Foot Off the Gas

I can certainly relate to this Quandary. As the mother of a talkative, energetic, third grader with both mild autism and ADHD, his high-energy days are my low-energy ones. Since my husband works outside the home, it’s hard to find time where I can work uninterrupted. Sometimes, I feel like I’m losing control. A feeling of helplessness washes over me whenever I can’t get my own work done. Meanwhile, it’s been tough to help my son get all his work done, and his assignments are often late. A feeling of not being able to get enough done in every part of my life prevails.

Still, I do my best. And there’s an upside: I now often find myself better able to relate to clients who are working mothers. They share their stories with me about struggling with their kids’ online schooling. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear my son say “Mom. Mom. Mom!” over and over again, so I can empathize with all those moms who are thinking right now, If I hear “mom” one more time, I’m going to lose it.

So how do we help parents manage this stress without screaming and harsh parenting? There are a few helpful strategies I’m trying to master myself that I think could help this mom as well.

First, I’d recommend she let go of deadlines for homework. Personally, I’ve let my child’s teachers know that while we’re doing the best we can, not all deadlines are going to be realistic. I encourage other moms to do set similar boundaries. After all, being a de facto teacher’s aide isn’t a job we signed up for, nor is this is our homework. If your child needs homework help, do the best you can when you can. And it if can’t all get done within a certain timeframe because you’re busy with your own work, let it go. It’s more important to get through the day without yelling at your child than it is to make sure he or she gets homework turned in on time.

Second, I’d recommend to this mom that she try to spend some quality time with her children each day. If our kids don’t get tender loving care from us, they’re more likely to have behavior problems—and those take more time to deal with (and are a lot less fun) than dancing in the living room or playing a game of Trouble or Uno, even if it’s for the 15th time this week. I let my child have 20 to 30 minutes each day where he gets to choose an activity for us to do together, whether it’s a game, going for a walk, or baking something together.

Since children react more when a parent seems out of control, learning to not yell and lecture is key. When parents are calm and in control, children tend to follow rules and directives better. In my own work, I teach parents to practice the ABC method from play therapy to set limits: Acknowledge the child’s feelings, set Boundaries by saying “If you choose to do this, then you’re choosing this consequence,” and describe the Consequence and follow through if misbehavior continues.

Still, it’s important to cut our children some slack. Right now, it’s easy for kids to get behind in school. It’s understandable that they might sometimes run around the house like the Energizer bunny. Right now, nothing is normal and your child knows it. They likely miss school and friends and going to the store without a mask on. Sometimes, we just need to take a deep breath and allow our children to be silly without correction.

Last, I’d advise that if this mom continues to have trouble with the kids, she gets some help. It could be from a psychologist who works with parents and children, or even a close friend who watches the kids for an hour so she can run an errand by herself or fit in some exercise. Moms need a little time without hearing “Mom! Mom! Mom!” constantly during parenting during school shutdowns.

These strange times are but one season of our life, a season where we can practice love, patience, and new ways of dealing with our anger and helplessness. Parenting during the pandemic hasn’t been easy. But now’s the time for us to learn to let go of some of the deadlines, burdens, and expectations we set for ourselves.

There are other ideas for Parenting During Stressful Times and Parenting During School Shutdowns at Psychotherapy Networker!

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