During this global crisis, we’ve seen many new themes show up in our work with parents, but none is more prevalent than the stress and guilt parents feel as they watch their kids turn into homebodies, spend more time on screens, do the bare minimum for school, or slowly withdraw from their friends. It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed and guilty about not doing more to set limits and support our kids. Parents share that they are struggling to make ends meet financially, emotionally, socially, and physically, and they’re exhausted.

Have you found yourself:

  • feeling anxious and overwhelmed by the news?
  • throwing up your hands at your child’s refusal to turn off the iPad?
  • yelling at kids about little things that never bothered you before?
  • making more bribes and threats?
  • losing focus on the family values you used to stand for?

If so, you are not alone.

Parents are constantly weighing whether to enforce house rules, or let things slide. Moment to moment, parents are running a cost-benefit analysis on how to keep their kids safe, healthy, educated, social, and thriving. The stress of living in pandemic times is building, and sometimes it feels that there’s no space to breathe.

And, as is often the case with parenting decisions, there are no clear answers.

The good news, however, is that there are some proven strategies to relieve these pressures.

1. Choose Peace

Let’s assume that living in a stressed-out family is actually worse for your child than allowing too much screen time. You’re better off prioritizing a peaceful home than prioritizing the AAP screen time guidelines, which were thankfully relaxed when we started sheltering in place. Acknowledge the added stress of balancing the demands of work, parenting, and children’s learning, and, when faced with a tough parenting decision, choose peace. Choose to put your relationship with your child ahead of your other agenda items, and see what happens. Don’t be surprised if your child cooperates in new ways. Incredible things happen when connection and relationships are solidly intact.

2. Find the Upsides

As you search for silver linings during these difficult days, remember that there are positive benefits from manageable levels of stress. Trauma specialist Dr. Bruce Perry, expert advisor to the Center for Children and Youth, reminds us not to fear stress—our brains are designed to handle it and bring us back to equilibrium. Dr. Perry said in a recent professional training, “Stress is essential to healthy development and building resilience.” Keep in mind, however, that the stress-response system needs time to recharge and return to equilibrium, or it becomes overly sensitive to smaller and smaller triggers. So, while there’s an upside to stress, it’s also important to give yourself a break from it when possible.

In addition, there may even be long-term benefits to your child’s extended time on screens. In fact, a recent New York Times article had the subject line, “The Upside to Screen Time.” Children may be learning online social skills that will serve them later in life. And the things they do online can be fodder for conversation and more communication with you, not less. So, look for opportunities to relax, reconnect with your child, and let go of the guilt.

3. Redirect Yourself First

Dr. Perry’s research also teaches us that “a dysregulated adult can never support a dysregulated child.” To reduce stress and guilt, take a moment to check in with your own emotions, before asking your child to do (or not do) something. If guilt creeps in, remind yourself that you are surviving a global pandemic. No, it’s probably not ideal for your child to binge watch Daniel Tiger or play Xbox for 4 consecutive hours, but they are safe and you are doing the best you can during these challenging times. Setting limits will be easier once  you’ve had a chance to care for your own big “no name” feelings and focus on the things you can control.

We urge parents to give themselves permission to be a good-enough parent. Be gentle, kind, and supportive to yourself, as you care for your family. It’s good for you, and good for your kids. If you need support or guidance, feel free to reach out to our experts anytime. We can help you develop strategies to find more harmony at home, even during a prolonged pandemic.

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