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Coronavirus Parenting

Child Mind Institute

Parents everywhere are losing their temper and yelling at their kids. How to maintain your cool under stress.


We know we’re not supposed to yell at our children. But parents are very stressed at the moment, and frustration and anger are inevitable. Overwhelmed with everything you’ve been asked to do, you find yourself losing your temper at kids who aren’t on their best behavior either. But when your circumstances aren’t normal, your parenting won’t be normal.

Right after many schools and workplaces were closed, there was a push for parents to see the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity, not to waste this extra time with their kids, says Stephanie Lee, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. “Parents were encouraged to organize their kids’ closets, work on their math skills, etc., but realistically, that’s just absurd. It’s more important to just get through this and manage the best you can in a less-than-ideal situation.”


It’s time to lower our expectations. You won’t be able to do as much as you usually can as a parent, employee or partner. Instead, experts recommend focusing on your and your children’s emotional state and strive to maintain positive family dynamics.


“If you do nothing academically and just focus on your relationship with your children, then it will be time well spent,” explains Rebecca Schrag Hershberg, PhD, a clinical psychologist and parenting coach. “Kids can’t learn if they’re not feeling safe and loved. If there’s a strain in the connections at home, and it feels very tense and miserable, your child’s brain isn’t going to take in what they’re learning because they’re stressed and angry. Your relationship is the precursor for everything else falling into place.”


There are so many parenting struggles at the moment, and staying calm isn’t always easy. Here are ways to manage some of the most challenging issues.


You’re doing a lot of yelling

My kids were at each other’s throats all day. Around 3:00 p.m., they were screaming at each other again, and it hit my Very. Last. Nerve. With my palms pressed tight to my ears and angry tears, I started screaming at them!


“Let’s be honest,” says Dr. Lee. “It’s not as though parents didn’t yell at their kids before. But since things are more stressful right now, parents need to be extra conscious of their own big three: diet/nutrition, activity level and sleep. They impact our mood, as well as our ability to problem solve, stay calm, concentrate and focus. If any of those things are really off, which is likely right now, it can have a major impact on your ability to be your best self.”


When you do lose your cool, Michelle Kaplan, LCSW, a clinical social worker at the Child Mind Institute, advises that you wait to apologize until everyone has calmed down. Be honest with your kids and tell them if you’re tired, hungry, struggling or overwhelmed. Apologize for your bad language and let them know you will work hard to do better. You can even involve your kids in some problem solving about what can be done differently next time.


Everyone needs your help at the same time

I feel like I’m a teacher, principal, cruise director, laundress, janitor, chef and servant all at the same time.


What parents are being asked to do is impossible, so you need to prioritize. Most importantly, make sure everyone is safe and their basic needs are met. Next, determine what you and your children can realistically accomplish daily, and then try to structure everyone’s days so you’re not overwhelmed. This may mean that each child eats and/or does their schoolwork at different times.


“A lot of schools are giving work that’s unrealistic — it’s just not going to happen, and that’s okay,” says Kaplan. “Teachers understand. Every family has to determine what is actually possible today. If it’s only one out of the five things on the list, then that’s fine. There will be a lot of trial and error as you learn what your kids need and how much you can help them.”


Click here to see all resources related to the coronavirus crisis.


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