COVID-19: How to parent kids who grew up in a pandemic

Here are seven changes you should make as a parent to accommodate your child growing up in a worldwide pandemic.

 A child and his brother are with their parent, one playing a video game on a phone and the other having a temper tantrum (Illustrative) (photo credit: Direct Media/Stocksnap)
A child and his brother are with their parent, one playing a video game on a phone and the other having a temper tantrum (Illustrative)
(photo credit: Direct Media/Stocksnap)

Coronavirus has transformed parents from what is known as "complementary" to "fan" – spending much more time with their children than ever before. These seven principles for parents will improve everyone’s experience.

Since March 2020, the role of “parent” has changed dramatically, going from "complementary" – in which parents spend as much as three-to-four hours with their children per day – to "fan," spanning nearly all hours of the day.

Along the way, with the shift in parenting, many decided that they want and need more tools to adjust to this change, to find the way to a warm, close, and balanced connection with their kids, a more pleasant home-atmosphere, and most importantly, to stay sane.

With the pandemic, the closures and isolations, the concept that family members make up one complete system in and of themselves has greatly sharpened. People engaged and balanced work, studies, household management, friends, hobbies, caring for older parents, etc. and have experienced how deeply one of these structures affects the others.

This seems obvious, but it is not always easy to understand. 

A family is like a car: Every member of it is a wheel and in order to move forward, everyone has to be properly filled with air. However, like new tires that have just been installed in a garage and need adjustment so that the car drives smoothly, parents need to find the right balance: to give, to contain, to listen and to protect. 

 Parents with their child (Illustrative) (credit: Wikimedia Commons) Parents with their child (Illustrative) (credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Independence and separation vs. anxiety

In order to form a personal identity and enjoy a balanced, anxiety-free "intergenerational" emotional life that is passed on as an "inheritance" parents need "self-differentiation.”

Self-differentiation is the concept in which people are autonomous and confident in themselves. They get this confidence from their environment, which enables them to make objective decisions based on intentions, not in a reactive way that is influenced by external pressures.

People who are at the bottom of what is known as the separation scale will usually have a tendency to emotionally identify with and be easily affected by the anxiety states of other family members. They will experience difficulty acting on their own beliefs. 

If individual family members are emotionally fused to and dependent on others, the overall anxiety level of the entire family will rise. 

How to be attentive parents

Accept the imperfect

Psychoanalyst Donald Wincott calmed many a parent’s guilty feelings with the phrase "Good enough mother." If he were alive today, I’d imagine he’d stand by that phrase. 

This clever phrase reminds parents that there is no such thing as perfect and that when parents are "good enough," that’s the best way to function. 

The “good enough parent” accepts an infant’s complete dependence at the beginning of their life, but makes changes over the years according to the child’s developmental needs. They will stand back at the right moments and support the child's gradual steps towards an autonomous life.

Encourage confidence

At the age of two to three, children begin to move freely. 

They start to use the toilet, speak clearly with their parents and siblings and begin to recognize that they have ability, power and independence. This is why they will insist on doing everything "alone.” 

When parents encourage them to, safely, do things independently, encourage them to try on their own, give positive feedback on effort and success, and highlight their strengths, they will go through this developmental stage with a sense of ability and free will.

Create room for disagreement

Teenagers, who once adored their parents, don’t want to be like them. They strive to increase the autonomy they have already built by challenging the values that are important to their parents and testing family boundaries to form a separate identity. 

At this point, it is important to allow them to express themselves freely and show their uniqueness to those around while still remaining adamant about respectful boundaries. 

At this stage, parents need to perfect their listening abilities, encourage authenticity, accept opinions that are different than their own and not rush to reconcile or agree with each other.

Don’t identify with, rather show empathy

It’s easy and natural for parents to feel the pain of their children, and sometimes, they can find themselves emotionally invested in things that happen to their kids. 

In order to be there for them, parents need to show empathy. Meaning, parents need to put themselves in their children’s shoes, metaphorically. 

Yet it is equally as important to remember that parents aren’t their children. Kids grow up in a different reality, in a different family, in another era, with unique skills and the job of parents is to be there for them and help them perfect their perceptions towards themselves and the world.

Cut out being overprotective

The love and warm connection that exists between parents and children is the foundation of the family. But, when worrying about the physical and emotional needs of each family member becomes a “chronic” worry and manifests as overprotection, what can happen is that kids can instead get a sense that the world is more dangerous than it is. 

Instead, parents need to lead the home with support, empowerment and growth, to raise children who can handle frustration, who can overcome challenges and pain, who can reject gratification and integrate well into society.

Remember to take care of yourself

Parents can pass on our anxieties to their kids if anxiety exists in the home. In order to cut this chain of anxiety, find ways to make parenting as balanced as possible. This includes therapy. 

Sometimes, the very realization that parents’ conduct is affecting their children and their future can push them to make meaningful changes.

Build a “life” for yourself

For years, parents have been "treating" their children: feeding, dressing, teaching them to behave at home, in school and with friends.  

They get so used to being around them, to regulating them, that sometimes it’s hard to separate between the lives of parents and the lives of children.

Then what happens is that the children can’t separate from their parents and function as independent adults. 

Shoot for independence: sign up for classes or continue your studies; meet more with friends or invest in a new hobby; sleep more or read and spend time with your partner. If parents invest in themselves, that’s also investing in a higher-quality relationship with their kids. 

Keren Artzi is a parent and family instructor.