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Parenting Through COVID-19

Many parents are confused regarding how to parent through COVID-19. This entry addresses  three qualifications, three guidelines and two common questions.

Three qualifications:

1.    Most children who were free of psychiatric problems prior to being exposed to a trauma do not develop a psychiatric condition after the exposure. Children can be surprisingly resilient.

2.    Advice from mental health professionals is most effective when it supports and informs, but does not supplant, your intuition. You are one of the world’s leading experts on your child. Suggestions from experts should be filtered through that lens.

3.    Some of the suggestions below would not apply for children who have become symptomatic; for such children it would be best to consult with a mental health professional in order to develop a tailored plan.

Three guidelines:

1.    Intermittently let your children know that you are available to talk but do not try to force a conversation. Children are like adults; sometimes we cope by trying to put something out of our mind. Assuming the topic has upset her, your child might not be in the mood to talk about such at the same time as you. Following your child’s lead can communicate that you are sensitive and respectful.

2.    Try to create a venue and manner that makes it easier for your child to communicate with you. For instance, some teens might find it easier to discuss difficult feelings and thoughts while not making eye contact (e.g., while driving) while younger children may communicate through their play. Regardless of the age range, though, it is important to not jump in too quickly with reassurances. Once we parents start self- disclosing, even if for the purpose of being reassuring, it can have a dampening effect on our child’s self-disclosure.

Once your child has finished with his or her initial statements reflect back what you’ve heard and provide empathy (e.g., “I understand why you could be african woman's half facefeeling more scared these days”). This will feel very difficult to do as your entire being wants to be reassuring, but suppress that urge initially. This may cause your child to tell you even more. When it seems that your child is finished that would be the time to offer your thoughts and feelings.

3.    Let your awareness of your child’s developmental level and/or vulnerabilities guide your self-disclosure. No matter your child’s age, it is important to not say things that you do not really believe. Doing so is often ineffective and may damage your credibility. Selective truth telling would seem to be advisable; selective based upon your child’s developmental level and vulnerabilities.

For younger or vulnerable children you may want to only share those thoughts and feelings that are positive. For older children, who are also doing well, you may choose to share some thoughts and feelings that are unpleasant. Sometimes life is painful; honestly acknowledging that, with an older child who can handle it, can be educative and facilitate a closer relationship.

Two common questions:

1. What do I say to my children about our safety?

Much of this will be determined by how you rationally answer this question for yourself. What do you believe are the odds that your family will experience significant physical or financial consequences from COVID-19? Once you have answered these questions for yourself, selective truth telling–based on the principles listed above–may be advisable.

2. Is there anything I can do to protect my children from all the fallout?

Any of the following may help:

• Aggressively pursue your own adjustment. If I am afflicted I will have a more difficult time helping my child. If I believe we are significant medical or financial risk, then it ‘s important to develop an action plan for coping with and responding to this. Consultation with a good psychologist or mental health professional can be very helpful in this regard. Many psychologists now offer video conferencing services.

line of kids• Try to maintain as many functional rituals and routines as you can. Few things give a child a clearer message that life is safe than adaptive routines and rituals (e.g., maintaining the same routines at meal time, bed time, birthdays).

• Keep your child’s developmental level and wellness in mind when deciding how much he or she should have access to ongoing developments in the news. A good guideline for anyone stressed by COVID-19 new stories is to limit the exposure to once a day or less.

• Try to turn a sense of passivity into an active plan for healing and helping. Your family may decide to pray for the suffering, make donations, write letters, create art, and join online efforts to heal and to help.

• Think of any self-quarantines as a welcomed staycation instead of an apocalyptic retreat. How many of we parents have had the thought, “when we get some extra time together we’ll…” There are so many possible ideas: have a family campout in the family room, play balloon baseball, have a bracketed gaming tournament (including making up new and fun games like who can balance a grape on their face the longest), view old family videos, have a cupcake baking contest or any one of a hundred other ideas you can get by doing an internet search for “staycation ideas.” Doing this well will cause your child or teen, 10-15 years from now, to reminisce with a warming smile, and say, “remember in 2020 when we…”

• Once every day or so do an internet search for “good news COVID-19.” In doing this I’vehappy hispanic family learned that new cases in China have dropped dramatically, that some of the first identified cases in the U.S. are now well and the early science out of China indicates that warmer weather slows the transmission of COVID-19 For teens, reviewing a graph like this may be helpful.

• Maintain a healthy lifestyle for the entire family. This would include things like maintaining good diets and schedules for physical activity and sleep. Social distancing does not require becoming shut-ins. Activities like walking in nature, biking and stargazing may be safe, practical and energizing.

• Manifest for your family the psychological truth: crisis = pain + opportunity. COVID-19, like all pain, is often akin to a dragon guarding treasure when it does not kill us. Yes, we need to experience the pain and give each other empathy for it. After all, denial can take a heavy toll when it’s the driver. But, then we can wonder where the treasure is. If your children can reach age 18 knowing this deep truth about suffering they will have a Captain America Shield against life’s slings and arrows.

• If you child seems to be having a hard time adjusting, or otherwise has changed for the worse, seek out a professional consultation. Doing so may improve your child’s adjustment. To find a psychologist click here.



Popes, Gay Marriage & The Bible: Talking To Your Kid About Spirituality and Values

spiritual manBetween the new Pope, the Supreme Court case on gay marriage and attention being garnered by the TV series, The Bible, there is an abundance of media attention being given to stories that reflect on values and spirituality. This entry is meant to offer a few suggestions for engaging your child on these issues. (By the way, when I say “spirituality” I mean the entire spectrum, including atheism.)

• As is a theme in this blog, set aside regular time with your child to see if s/he has any thoughts or perspectives on any of these issues (s/he may not, especially if s/he is young, but it’s always good to check). Allow your child to say his or her piece first, providing doses of empathy, before sharing your perspective.

• Let your child know what your spirituality is, using the principle of selective truth telling, to guide the breath and depth of your coverage (i.e., you share more or less based on your child’s age and wellness; see this blog entry for an elaboration on that principle).

• Empower your child to see the definition of a personal spirituality and personal values as a life-long journey that often includes confusing and mysterious segments, and that doubt is often sprinkled along the way (e.g., Mother Teresa’s cheerful familydiary included expressions of doubt about God’s existence).

• Keep in mind that the active practice of a spirituality can be associated with many important psychological and health benefits. The research supporting this assertion is compelling. (See Chapter Four, on rituals, in my parenting book for a review.)

• Ask your child to always consider some guiding principles:

√ That which is loving should always be prioritized over that which is not.

√ All people deserve to have their spirituality and values respected, as long as they do not hurt others, no matter how much we may personally look at things differently.

child hand cuts out adult hand sky√ One group’s spirituality should not be codified into laws that infringe on the civil rights of another group.

√ Learning about other people’s spirituality and values can be a fascinating and enriching enterprise, no matter how much we may personally look at things differently. (For my blog entry on talking about diversity with kids, click here.)

√ Using a spiritual model to hurt people is always wrong.

√ Humility in the quest for truth can leave one open to developing a spirituality that is beautiful, wise, uplifting and meaningful.

In closing I’d like to thank my wife Lia for her help with this entry 😉

Can parents trust movie, television and gaming ratings?

The short answer is “sort of.” I find it best to think of movie, television and gaming ratings as rough guidelines for your child or teen. Consider these tips:
√ I wouldn’t allow your progeny to view material rated for older youth unless you know the material well and have good cause to judge it’s okay for your child. I’ve found that ratings are more likely to be too loose than too restrictive. So, if they err, it is usually not in the direction of blocking your child from viewing material that would be suitable for him or her. That said, there are exceptions (e.g., in my parenting book I describe why I found the M rated video game Halo okay for me and my son to play together when he was ten years old).
√ Keep in mind that material rated as being suitable for children your child’s age may not be suitable for your child. For example, if your 10 year-old child has an anxious temperament, a PG ghost movie may be overwhelming.
√ Of course, the ratings do not account for your values. A movie that is rated as being appropriate for children your child’s age may endorse values that you find to be objectionable. This is not to say that it’s advisable to cocoon your child. But, you may decide that you want your child to become more attuned to your values before allowing such exposures.
√ If your child is struggling in some significant way (e.g., controlling anger, struggling with anxiety), it’s advisable to consider whether certain media could stress the problem. For example, it may not be a good idea to allow a child who is struggling with aggression to play video games that celebrate violence, even if the game is rated to be appropriate for kids her or his age.
√ It’s typically advisable to limit sedentary electronic pleasures to two hours a day.
√ It’s a good idea to become familiar with media your child wishes to consumer. Fortunately, there are plenty of allies willing to help. Here are a few examples: www.tvguidelines.org, www.esrb.org/about/resources.jsp, www.kidsinmind.com
√ Keep in mind that while a theatre may stick to the age guidelines when your child purchases a ticket, most do not enforce which show s/he actually views (i.e., in the case of complexes, where multiple movies are played at the same time, kids are typically not restricted from going to whatever show they want once they’ve purchased their ticket).
√ It is advisable to confirm that your media rules are consistent with the guidelines that will be enforced (or not) when your child visits someone else’s home. If another parent balked at your guidelines that gives you information about whether a visit there is a good fit.
√ Make sure you have sufficient controls in place for your child’s access to media in your home. For specific strategies for pulling this off, see Chapter Three in my parenting book. For internet resources that can help, click here (scroll down to the resources for Chapter Three).
√ It is normal, and even healthy, for your child to push back against your restrictions. Actually, I would worry about a parent-child relationship that did not include such at least some of the time. So, keep that in mind as your child howls about your unfairness and how no other child in your geographic region is required to endure such poorly conceived restrictions.
√ It’s a good idea to consume media together as much as you can. (Though I draw the line at Wizards of Waverly Place, which I’m convinced wilts least at least 200 brain cells, for anyone over the age of 25, for each minute viewed.) This is twice as true when your child is watching media representing themes that are on the cutting edge of your teaching. For instance, maybe you and your 13 year old have just watched a movie that portrays an abortion. You might deconstruct it by asking your teen questions about her or his take on what you’ve just watched. (Keep in mind that a child is much more likely to internalize a lesson if the truth first comes out of her or his mouth in response to a non-leading question that you’ve asked.)
Here are some related blog entries that you might find helpful:
10 Tips for Parenting Your Progeny’s Online Life
Recent Research: Teens Need Parents to Monitor Them
10 Strategies if Your Chlid is Addicted to World of Warcraft (WOW)

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