There are times when parenting requires every bit of patience and godliness you may have acquired over the years. Being quarantined at home with your spouse, your kids and possibly random other people or animals…while at least one person is working from home and one of more of your kids is also schooling at home…let’s just say it may have created the Olympics of parenting for you.
Stressful times throw everything into at least a bit of chaos. Whether it’s COVID or a new baby, drastic changes in your family’s circumstances and lifestyle can bring a lot of extra confusion and stress to you and your kids. While your family adjusts to the larger issue, the changes in routines and other aspects of your family dynamics can be particularly upsetting to your kids.
They don’t have the life experience to understand what changes are temporary and which will be permanent. The people they normally count on to comfort them (you and your spouse) may be or at least seem to be unavailable to help them process anything. They may even be missing sleep or other basic needs as everyone scurries to cope.
Your kids may not have the vocabulary to express their emotions or frame their questions. Or they may be worried about making things worse by asking you to set aside time to help them. When young people are struggling with strong emotions, confusion, lack of sleep and major changes in routine, they often act out in some way.
While their misbehavior is understandable, you can’t afford to let it go totally unaddressed. Unfortunately, your own stress level can mean you over react in your initial response, your correction or the consequences you give. This only adds to the stress your kids are feeling.
When you find your family is entering a season of uncertainty, change or difficulties, establishing some consistent ways of dealing with the behavioral issues of your kids can help. Most families don’t have written rules with set consequences for disobeying them.
Written rules and set consequences can help your family in stressful times. Arguing and emotional blow ups can be easily minimized. The rules are posted for everyone to see and the consequences are set. It’s important to remember if you don’t calmly point to the rule and enforce the consequence consistently however, this method isn’t as effective.
Maintain your cool, no matter how upset and angry you are at your kids when they break a rule. The minute you lose your temper, they have “won”. Don’t allow them to create a power struggle either. You are the somewhat dispassionate creator, and reminder of the rules and enforcer of predetermined consequences. (This also means avoiding harsh words, name calling, cursing and screaming.)
To avoid creating the atmosphere of a mini police state in your home, make sure your kids understand this is a form of crisis management and a way they can be of help. Present this as a way of reminding your family you are a team working together to not just survive, but thrive during this season. You may even consider adding a couple of rules and consequences that include the parents.
If you feel your emotions beginning to take over when an infraction occurs, give yourself a quick time out. Tell your child to go to his or her room or that you need to step in another room for a minute to calm down before talking about what happened. While it may feel like your emotions are a bit out of control, modeling to your kids how to regain self control can actually help them when they struggle.
After you have corrected your kids and given consequences, it is more important than ever to reconnect with them. Give everyone some time to calm down from the incident. Then hug your child and have a chat.
Remember, much of this misbehavior is not as much from a rebellious spirit as a frightened child needing parental attention and reassurance. They need to know you still love them…especially if what they did made you really angry. They need you to remind them God is still there and still loves them. They need to know this season will pass.
Finally, do whatever you can to explain what is happening to your kids in age appropriate ways. Give them your best guess for how long this season might less or what your family is doing to survive and even thrive during it. If your kids are acting out from stress and fear, it can be in part because they have no idea what is really happening.
You don’t want to frighten them by giving them information they are too young to process. Leaving them in total ignorance though, can be even more stressful for some children. They may have imagined scenarios much worse than the reality.
Having a plan for when your kids misbehave in those chaotic times can take a lot of that parenting stress off of your emotional plate. This in turn can give you the mental, emotional and spiritual reserves you need to handle whatever caused the disruption.