Eight Tips for Parenting at Home During COVID-19

by Michael S. Phillips, LMHC, NCC, CAMS-II, EMT-CC

I’d rather be at work! I’m ready to pull my hair out! I love my kids, but I don’t know what to do with them anymore! I just can’t stand this anymore!

If any of these statements sound familiar, it’s probably because you’re facing the same or similar feelings that other parents are facing. The COVID-19 crisis has put us in a situation that was never listed in the instruction manual for parents. In fact, even stay-at-home parents are encountering the overwhelming feelings of “what do I do next?” Our normal routines have been uprooted by the guidelines and recommendations handed down to us regarding sheltering-at-home, social distancing, and limited interactions. Despite these changes, there are positive ways to get through this in order to create a sense of progress while reducing pent up anxiety, worry, and frustration. Using some of the following tips can help:

1. Maintain Your Normal Routine

Most children are used to and succeed based on, schedules. Despite the fact that students are receiving their education at home, maintaining some organized routine will not only help them but allow you the opportunity to lighten the burden of keeping them occupied 24/7. Start by having them get up at a reasonable time, do their normal morning tasks such as bathing, brushing their teeth, eating breakfast, and even changing their clothes.

Dress for the day you’d like to have can set the stage to ‘act the part’. Although they may not be going to school, plan out activities that would occupy their time as if they were. Help them schedule their day like periods or subjects in school to get work done. This does not have to mirror the timing of a normal school day. You can abbreviate periods or subjects as you see fit to complete work that is assigned to them or that you come up with for them.

2. Use Available Resources

Many organizations have stepped up to try and make things easier for parents. Schools are using different platforms to structure online education. Educational websites are waiving fees in order to encourage and assist with learning. Museums and zoos have virtual tours that can be taken. Concerts, broadway shows, and even movies are now easily accessible online for free. “Good people bring out the good in people” (author unknown).

Check out YouTube; you can find fitness instructors recording themselves doing home workouts; dance teachers are setting up ‘Zoom’ groups in order to continue their former face-to-face dance classes; and if you talk to people you know or check social media, you’ll even find teachers who are willing to help out with a little extra help. If you’re not feeling well, don’t worry… doctors and mental health professionals are offering telehealth services through secure video or telephone.

3. Get Creative

In trying to plan activities, use your creativity. You can regress and do activities that your kids did when they were younger (ex: let your high school students do finger painting). Look around your house to see what you have that can make learning or playtime unique and entertaining. Some basic household items can be used to create safe at-home science experiments. Use chalk and random items you may have to create an obstacle course in your driveway or on the sidewalk for physical education or recreation. Set up a scavenger hunt to find (parent-placed) items that can go together to solve a problem, riddle or just to create an adventure. Design a stay-cation at home such as putting up a tent in your basement, illuminating the room with flashlights, and pretending it’s a camping trip. Options become unlimited if you take advantage of the things around you and think of something new. After all, when life gives you lemons…

4. Keeping in Touch

Just because you’re homeschooling and (hopefully) adhering to the recommendations of staying home and social distancing, doesn’t mean that you have to stay secluded or incommunicado. There are so many options for communication… take advantage of them. FaceTime or Skype with family. (Grandparents love to see and talk to their grandchildren- it’s good for all!) Use sites such as Zoom to reconnect with friends, set up class group get-togethers, take an online class (dance, fitness, yoga, etc.). Having an interpersonal connection with others (especially kids) is important and still possible even when staying at home. Doing this will not only benefit your kids but will allow you some relaxation time for yourself.

5. Downtime

Believe it or not, not every moment of the day needs to be filled. Everyone needs the opportunity to have some time to relax, decompress, or even take a “time out from life.” Take this opportunity, whether it be planned or spontaneously chosen. Your children can share this moment with you or do it on their own. Meditation, yoga, listening to some music, exercise, or even taking a nap are good ways to recharge your batteries in order to be able to continue on with anything you may be doing after.

Minimize downtime options that may have a negative effect on the situation. Sleeping the day away or (adults) having an alcoholic beverage may not be the best option while still focusing on different things that may need to be accomplished. We wouldn’t let our cell phone batteries get close to empty, so why would we let our personal batteries get close to empty? Find the best options to help you recharge, refresh, and feel good.

6. Independent time

Depending on the age of your child(ren), you may at times feel like they are attached to your leg. Where you go, they follow. Even using the bathroom doesn’t seem safe anymore. It’s important to create time and opportunity for independence and independent activities. Challenges sometimes serve the best way of doing this. “Let’s see who can clean their room first.” “Let’s make a card for Grandpa’s birthday.” Sometimes kids will find an activity that they become engaged in. Don’t interrupt them…take advantage of your free time. Let them play, as long as it’s safe. Teenagers, more often, will find their own independent activities but may need some guidance at times.

7. Teachable Moments

Every once a while, an opportunity presents itself to teach your child(ren) something new based on something that happens. Find these moments in your daily activities. While children are at home, try assigning them new chores or tasks to help you. They may be resistant at first but it will help them learn responsibility and teamwork. Make sure that you choose age-appropriate tasks and try to make it fun or exciting, not just ‘work’. For example having them help cook dinner allows them to learn decision-making skills in choosing what to make, kitchen skills while preparing the meal, and creativity in presenting it. You can even make it into a friendly competition between family members as to taste, creativity, and presentation. In addition to having them take part in some of the daily tasks, it may lighten the burden of what you do.

8. Remember… We’re All In This Together

Despite the fact that most of us have gone through different “adventures” in our lives, this crisis is something that we are all facing for the first time. The anxiety, worries, and uneasiness are easy to understand based on the questions that we don’t always have the answers to. Remember that children are affected by sudden changes in schedules, routines, and life. Therefore, it can be very helpful for all involved to maintain an open communication policy to share their feelings and work on plans to better the situations for your family and friends.

When talking to children about a crisis, it is important to follow a few simple suggestions. First, keep it simple! It’s not unusual to want to share everything you know, but everything may be too much to handle. Second, stay age-appropriate with vocabulary and content of what’s being shared. And last, it can be most beneficial to ask questions to help you identify what specifically want/need to know about.

In conclusion…

We all look forward to being able to get back to our previous schedules of work, school, and pleasure. Hopefully, these techniques will help you navigate these un-chartered waters with more comfort, clarity, and ease.

Michael S. Phillips is a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in working with children, adolescents, and adults dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, substance use, grief & loss, post-traumatic stress, medical problems, as well as the use of biofeedback therapy. Mr. Phillips holds certifications as a level two anger management specialist from the National Anger Management Association, and works with both mandated and voluntary clients, is trained in alcohol and substance abuse, and is a certified clinical traumatologist. Mr. Phillips is also the director of the Center for Coping Wellness Division. A certified instructor for numerous American Red Cross programs, and an expert in safety and wellness, he has presented programs throughout the New York metropolitan area as well as internationally. Mr. Phillips has been an Emergency Medical Technician – Critical Care for 28 years and is also certified in Comprehensive Acute Traumatic Stress Management.

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