A Life Coach’s Advice on Parenting in the Time of COVID-19
As parents today, we are facing so many challenges because of the current global health crisis. Our kids are navigating the “new normal” of life while experiencing tremendous loss of not seeing their classmates, of their baseball season, their parks and playgrounds. Even if they don’t know someone who has passed away from COVID-19, there is still that constant fear.
My childhood routine wasn’t interrupted and reconfigured by a viral pandemic as my kids’ is; but that didn’t mean my sister and I weren’t safe from the trauma of loss. Our younger brother died in a tragic accident when he was just nine and losing him had a tremendous influence on my personal and professional life. I believe that his passing made me extremely attentive to the needs of children — my own and others’.
My father, who suffered so profoundly the loss of his only son, taught me a very valuable lesson that I believe is especially timely today. He explained that children need two things: love and discipline.
Kids need our attention; they need to feel heard and to hear grounding affirmations like “I believe in you” and “I love you.” This gives them a sense of security that helps them face any challenge, big or small — and that secure feeling is so important during times of crisis, when the world feels so scary and uncertain.
But equally important as kids feeling heard is their ability to respect authority figures, whether parents, grandparents, teachers, doctors or political leaders. Discipline is key to good parenting, as my dad, a Vietnam veteran, knew so well, and taught me.
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For me, the best kind of discipline is positive discipline: it’s the core of my family coaching practice, and the basis of author Jane Nelsen’s groundbreaking books for parents of toddlers through teenagers. Nelsen’s work offers practical, helpful advice on raising kids to be independent problem-solvers. These books became so valuable to me as a mom that I decided to get certification as a Positive Discipline Parent Educator; I am certified to give Nelsen’s workshops, and I use her tools all the time in my practice.
As parents, we want our kids to have a certain amount of creativity and freedom — always within reasonable boundaries. Kids don’t know why everyone is wearing masks and keeping away from others, so we have to make time for teaching what is expected of them, and why. They need to understand the reason behind keeping a safe, social distance. But it’s not enough to explain it — even some adults aren’t quite getting it — so we have to model the behavior by diligently practicing safety.
Speaking of social distancing, isn’t it interesting that it took a global pandemic to bring families closer together? I am truly touched by the amount of quality time that parents are spending with children, and siblings with each other. It’s beautiful. I’m an executive and lifestyle coach with many years of experience working from home with four children in the house. Now that all of us, all over the world, are working from home, it can be tough to stay sane through all this unexpected togetherness. But staying positive helps with this too.
Get into a rhythm
Rule No. 1: Setting a routine and sticking with it. My kids and I have been waking up at the same time, beginning our online learning between 9 and 10, then working until lunchtime, when we share meal together. Sometimes I cook, and sometimes, I’m delighted to report, the chef is my teenage son, who has really embraced his inner foodie by researching cool new recipes online, then taking it upon himself to prepare those recipes for the six of us. After lunch, we’ve carved out time for movement — sometimes family exercise in our yard, on our trampoline, or with a bike ride around the block.
Manage the shifting sand
As a coach, one of my mantras is: DO what works. What works best in uncertain times is not being too rigid in your routine. DO stay flexible because the sand will be shifting beneath your toes every day. That’s a certainly we can all count on in uncertain times — and a valuable life lesson we all need to learn.
To give each day direction, so we all stay on track, I ask myself — several times daily — “What am I DOing, teaching, or playing?”
Sometimes it’s laundry and dishes; other times, it might be doing a puzzle, or enjoying a round of Monopoly (our family’s current favorite board game). Don’t feel stuck if you can’t wangle a Wi-Fi signal or master a math problem; just keep moving forward.
Make time for mindfulness, at least an hour of each day. During that mindful hour, kids (and you!) can curl up with a book, bake cookies, try yoga and deep breathing … or any activity that stimulates the brain in ways that iPads and TVs just can’t. Support and encourage children any way you can and tell them — and yourself — that it’s going to be OK.
Even in a crisis, we have a choice: to live in fear and anger or hope and positivity. Staying hopeful and positive will always be my choice. It’s the best—indeed the only—way I know to find light during times of dark uncertainty. So, let’s choose to connect with our children and our partners.
Let’s work on working together and being a team.
Make home, work
OK, so maybe the kids aren’t learning that chapter they would’ve studied at school — but they’re learning other lessons that will stay with them for life. Last week, my son learned how to load the dishwasher (he crushed it, lining up those utensils like a boss), and my daughter asked if she could have a sewing machine.
In the old days, these skills were part of home economics — now, we’re all getting a crash course in home ec. Here are some topics we can all look forward to exploring as we navigate new ways to learn at home: grooming the family pet, planting an herb garden, ironing a shirt, making simple face coverings with bandanas, basic needlework (mending torn clothes, replacing buttons, maybe even knitting), and playing card games and backgammon/chess (my son has beat me five games straight).
So, let’s choose not to feel confined by our family’s presence at home. Now is a great time to embrace and appreciate all that togetherness. We are lucky to have each other. So, stay open to many different types of learning, and the possibilities they offer. There’s no need to feel limited by any established curriculum. Homework doesn’t have to be our top priority now; instead, let’s focus on making home, work.
For more crisis leadership stories like these check out the COVID-19: Leading Through Crisis page on YPO.org. All YPO members can find breaking news, offer insights and view current discussions happening about COVID-19 impact within the YPO community on the YPO member-only platform.