With more families staying socially distant because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many are staying home together more than usual. Because of this, some are finding family life is harder to navigate than ever.
In addition to dealing with the day-to-day responsibilities of raising children, parents have been dealing with stresses related to their families’ health, their jobs and more.
Dr. Heather Quagliana, professor of psychology and director of graduate programs in counseling at Lee University, knows this firsthand.
Quagliana has been giving advice to parents even as she has navigated new experiences like helping her children complete school work at home.
“I think parents’ stress levels are overall higher given the context of a pandemic and the uncertainty and fear that comes along with what we are all going through,” Quagliana said. “Stress is compounded based on so many things.”
She noted some parents have lost their jobs and are wondering how they will meet their children’s needs, in addition to having to “homeschool” their children.
Though parents often try to avoid talking with their children about what causes them stress, Quagliana said it can actually be good for children to see how their parents are working through their stress.
“It’s important to be age appropriate in discussions that children hear; but I think a beautiful opportunity exists for parents to model problem solving and coping for their children,” Quagliana said. “Parents can discuss their feelings and also offer potential solutions for the family. For example, acknowledging fear combined with positive coping can model emotion regulation for children.”
Because children look at their parents and caregivers for cues on how they should act during stressful moments, she said it is good for them to see a parent coping and regulating their emotions well.
However, parents should not beat themselves up if they are experiencing new feelings of anxiety or even anger during this time.
“We are in uncharted territory in how to do life,” Quagliana said. “Anger is often what is called a secondary emotion — meaning there’s more behind the anger. Often it’s grief, sadness, anxiety and it’s important for parents to acknowledge the depth of their emotions and think through some realistic coping strategies.”
She added parents are “at risk for burning out, especially with added stress and responsibilities.”
Anxiety is also an expected response to how things are going right now, Quagliana said.
“All of our emotional responses right now are normal reactions to a very abnormal event,” she said. “Parents should not judge themselves for having anxious reactions, but rather be curious about why they are anxious.
“Anxiety is often a response we have when we feel like things are out of our control,” she added. “Things are definitely out of our control right now, so those feelings are going to be heightened.”
When it comes to concerns about COVID-19 itself, Quagliana said parents should not be afraid to discuss the pandemic with their children — but keep the discussions age-appropriate.
Though many children are not privy to all the news headlines about the COVID-19 pandemic, parents should be aware of what their older children and teens may be reading online and through social media.
This is especially true on social media, where people are sharing their opinions along with articles which may not be from reputable sources.
Quagliana recommends talking with teens about their media exposure. “Remind kids that all media isn’t accurate media and as they feel anxious or worried to come to you to discuss it.”
While some parents may feel like they have everything under control, Quagliana stressed it is OK to be feeling unprepared.
“It’s important to exercise control where you have it, but surrender to the things we can’t control,” Quagliana added. “To help calm anxiety, it’s important to have someone to talk to, as well as think of ways that you can self-soothe.”
She advises parents to seek out moral support from family and friends and find a few minutes of alone time for themselves. Just a 5-minute phone call with someone or a 5-minute coffee break could help keep things in perspective.