COVID Parenting Tips For Parents of Special Needs Children
Life during COVID has been hard for everyone. But for parents and caregivers who have a child that requires “more” due to a disorder, high sensitivity, giftedness, a learning disability, or trauma, COVID has been a an even more difficult struggle.
You may be struggling with getting consistent support for your child, maintaining consistency, getting a solid break to breathe, job loss, financial uncertainty, health concerns and the list goes on. Life is rough for everyone right now, but we recognize the challenges you face on a day to day basis are even more overwhelming at times. We get it because we also parent a child who requires more.
It certainly is a tough time, but we are here to remind you that you don’t have to go it alone.
Here are 7 COVID parenting tips to help make life during the pandemic a little easier.
1. Adjust your expectations
You may feel completely powerless and frustrated right now. You’re not alone. While we may normally be able to better handle the challenges life throws our way, this time during the pandemic is different. The regular support structures that we have put into place both for ourselves and our children may no longer be there to help out, or maybe they changed in a way that causes you to have more work or figure out a new system. Either way, it’s hard. Adjusting your expectations about what is doable and setting new goals that are achievable for the current environment will help both you and your child feel more successful.
2. Help your child find some perspective
As parents, we often forget what it is like to think like a child. Because a child has limited experiences and developing cognitive ability, they are limited in their ability to predict the future based on the past or to know that challenges will not last forever. For a child, their life experience is so short and insulated to their immediate world that the worries, stress and challenges brought on by COVID may seem overwhelming and never ending.
As a parent or caregiver, you can help your child by giving them some perspective and assurances that these circumstances will not last forever. Talk about past events that you or they experienced that felt like they lasted a really long time, and how they ended. You can also talk about the 1918 flu pandemic as a way to explain the story a pandemic follows and to talk about where this pandemic is in the story line.
3. Name it to tame it
COVID is a time of many emotions. Most people would identify the emotions they are experiencing these days as overall “negative” emotions, which we as humans often struggle with expressing. Whether you tend to ignore negative emotions or push through them, it’s time to take a different approach.
Emotions are made to have a life cycle, but when we ignore the hard emotions that make us feel negatively we are actually causing those emotions to hang on in us and get stuck in the cycle. This means we feel hard emotions longer and can have a harder time transitioning to a different state of being.
The best way to solve this problem is to acknowledge the feelings you are feeling. By naming your emotions and allowing yourself to sit with it, whether it is sadness, anger, fear, frustration, etc. you can actually help bring yourself out of it faster. So the next time you or your child is having a tough time, name what you are feeling. Realize that children may need your help putting names to the strong emotions they are feeling.
Once named, acknowledge that you or your child are feeling the way you are feeling and tell yourself/your child that it is okay to feel that way, that a lot of people are feeling that way right now. You’ll be surprised how fast an emotional disposition can change once you actually start acknowledging your feelings.
4. Find the next best thing
Life can feel hard and sad when we take notice of all the things we are missing due to COVID. This can produce an even more pronounced emotional response in children who are still developing their coping techniques as well as their emotional intelligence and executive functioning. So in addition to naming your emotions (Tip 3), it is important to help your child figure out what the next best thing is.
In doing this, you are helping your child learn problem solving skills, acknowledge their options when circumstances are outside of their control, and build resiliency. It’s okay to say that it is not something you would have chosen, but that you are now doing the next best thing. Re-framing choices and circumstances in this light can help children, and adults, feel more control and power in their lives, which helps with overall mental health.
5. Get outside
There are plenty of sources that explain how beneficial the great outdoors can be for mental health. It has also been reported that COVID has increased a lot of mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. So even if you are not the outdoorsy type, try to get outside for a walk at least once a day for 15-20 minutes.
If you are looking for something a little more creative than a walk, try boot skating/ice skating, sledding, a nature scavenger hunt or check out your local nature centers for a list of outdoor activities. For kids, usually the hardest part is getting them out the door, but once they are out they generally find a plethora of things to do and play with.
If you have a hard time getting your child out the door, set up a consistent time everyday so that it becomes a part of their routine.
6. Get moving
On the days when it is too cold to go outside, or maybe you have just lost motivation to make it out the door (because let’s face it some days are just like that), make sure you and your child are getting some kind of physical movement during the day. Walk like a crab around the living room, better yet have a crab race with your child, walk like a bear, do some yoga or jumping jacks. Even 3 minutes of activity can get the heart rate up and can change the disposition of a child who is struggling.
7. Remember trauma can be triggered
COVID has brought illness and death to many people. For adults and children who have lived through a severe illness or death of a loved one, even if unrelated to COVID, the unknowns of COVID, the images spread in Social Media and the news, and the death of so many can trigger trauma responses.
If you or your child have trauma in your past it is important to open up communication and have age appropriate talks about COVID as well as the fear being felt. It is important to remember that trauma can be triggered in many different ways, but that when trauma is triggered, it needs be met with compassion and understanding.
Responding in anger, frustration or by withdrawing will worsen the trauma reaction and result in a more intense emotional response. Try to remember the person/child is coming from a place of fear and reflect back to them what they are expressing in their words and actions. Remember trauma can be triggered anytime and it takes time to process. Being willing to talk openly as many times as needed about a child or adult’s fears is one of the best ways you can support someone who has a history of trauma.
The above COVID parenting tips are meant to help the majority of parents. Parents and caregivers who love children who struggle with certain disorders, high sensitivity or trauma may need more support during this time that is individualized to their needs. If you would like to discuss personalized options for your child, we invite you to schedule a free 30 minute chat with us so we can tailor tips that would work best for your family.