Your everyday parenting skills are what your child needs most

Time is a funny thing these days. I’ve lost count of how many weeks it has been since the Museum closed and social distancing became the new norm. 

As the Health and Wellness Educator, I’ve been part of many conversations about how to best support children’s mental health during this difficult time. Parents, caregivers, and even educators are desperate for tips to meet the social and emotional needs of their children, who are missing their friends, teachers, extended families, and everyday freedoms.

We, the adults, are very anxious about children being anxious. 

To some degree, worrying is perfectly normal and even expected. Parents and caregivers are built to want their children to thrive and succeed – and most importantly, just to be happy. Yet, it is hard to imagine a bright future in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. First, I want to say to the adults: pause for a moment, and take a deep breath. Think of what made you and your child smile today.  

No matter what I say, I know that your anxiety won’t just disappear and that a mere “good job” doesn’t mean much. Rather than giving out empty praise and reassurance, I’d like to provide an objective view on some of the tips and resources so many organizations have been sharing to help support children’s well-being during the pandemic. If you have been on the internet trying to find the magic trick to help ease your child’s stress, I bet some of these phrases have come up:

Listen to your child.

Show empathy.

Create and maintain routines.

Have clear boundaries and expectations.

Practice coping skills, such as taking breaks, stating emotions, and redirecting negative behaviors. 

Provide simple, honest information. 

…and the list goes on. If you step back and think about it, these are the very same tips that you would have seen in the pre-COVID-19 world to encourage healthy child development. This is good news! What you already know about being a good caregiver is what your child needs most in this crazy situation. Of all that parents and caregivers are managing right now, learning new parenting skills and child development knowledge should not add to the list.

What this means is that instead of thinking about new approaches, put a stronger emphasis on two or three things that you usually try to be mindful of when supporting your child’s social and emotional needs. For example, if you think listening is important for your child’s well-being, then take some extra time to listen to what your child has to say about their understanding of and feelings about the current situation. This is an opportunity to brainstorm together on how to cope with the difficulties.

I have a few additional reminders to help you get through your days:

1) Keep playing, because play is therapeutic for children (and adults too!). Children are great at coming up with their own ways to play, but you can also find ideas on the Museum’s website and social media 

2) Be silly and laugh to reset a negative mood after tense moments 

3) Trust that what you do for your child every day is what your child needs most. Normalcy combats crisis.

Now that you are done reading, stand up and stretch! I hope you have a nice day. 

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