This series is authored by Shalyn Bravens (read part one here), Director of Family Connects Texas. Shalyn has been with United Way for Greater Austin for more than two years and launched the Family Connects Texas initiative in Austin. Shalyn received her MSSW from the University of Texas and has expertise in family support that spans beyond her time at United Way.
Shalyn is also a mom raising two young boys with her husband. Some of the tips referenced in this blog involve help from her husband and may not be applicable to everyone’s lifestyle. Take it away, Shalyn!
I want to acknowledge that my ability to transfer my job to an entirely work-from-home situation is an enormous privilege. If you have lost your job or income and are struggling to meet your family’s basic needs, that comes first before anything else. There are many people and organizations in our community that have stepped up to help, and you can find them by searching on ConnectATX.org or by calling 2-1-1.
Children don’t come with an instruction manual, and I think many fellow parents would agree when I say that parenting is challenging even on a normal day. And that during this COVID-19 pandemic it feels like all bets are off.
Some strategies that are helping me during this time center more around how we are parenting and less about work. I heard great advice recently that went something like, “There is a lot of parenting advice out there, and so much of it is conflicting. Find parents or parenting resources that match your values and your vision for how you want to raise your kids and ask for their advice.”
Feel free to take some or none of what my family is doing and know that you are doing the best you can – and that your best is good enough!
- Use screen time as a tool when needed, but be prepared for any consequences (ex. tantrums when it is time to turn it off). PBS has excellent resources around screen time!
- Get as much outside time as possible. Even in the rain. If you can’t get outside, find ways for kids to move their bodies. Family yoga, a dance party to fun music, or even a contest for how many jumping jacks you can do in a minute could be fun. Anything physical!
- Keep everyone hydrated (parents included)! Lots of water, all day long.
- Give each child individual, undivided attention. 15 minutes does wonders for everyone’s hearts. This article from Romper was really useful in helping me make this adjustment!
- Try toy rotation. This has been a game-changer for us. We actually started this in January, but I’m so glad we’re doing it! I split the kids’ toys up into four clear plastic boxes. We usually rotate out on Saturday mornings, but now we are also switching boxes out on Tuesdays. Some parents do it every day. At first, you think kids will get bored with only a few toys, but they actually play with them so much more! Even toddlers get overwhelmed when there are too many choices.
- Clean up as you go if you can, and ask the kids to help. Just making the beds helps to keep your stress level down and your mind clearer.
- Practice calming techniques for tantrums. Toddler tantrums seem to be stronger than ever. If you can teach kids calming techniques before they are upset, like singing songs out loud, you can help them focus and stay calm before the tantrum gets worse. It also helps to keep calm as the parent because they are looking to you for emotional regulation. @drbeckyathome on Instagram has so many useful tips!
- Prepare for the difficult hours. The evening time can be especially challenging. Everyone is just DONE. Be prepared for the hours of 5 – 7 p.m. to be challenging – keep some patience reserved for this time. I made the mistake of introducing a new toy to my kid right after dinner the other night and it was such a terrible idea! He was too excited, the kids ended up fighting, and there was a huge melt down. Lesson learned! Mornings are the best time to introduce something new for us.
- Start bedtime activities earlier than usual. It helps to put less pressure on getting everything done like bath, brushing teeth, reading books, etc. Plus, if you get the kids to sleep earlier, you get more time in the evening to catch up on work, connect with your partner or friends, or relax.
Parenting while under a shelter-in-place order is a completely new experience for all of us and is largely a mental game. Give yourself permission to not be great at everything right now, and have realistic expectations about what you can feasibly do.
Nobody is perfect! My work will not be the same with a three-year-old and an 18-month-old trying to touch every button on my laptop as it would have been sitting among adults at my office, but I can still get many things done. Remember, we got this!
Have tips for parenting while sheltering in place? Want to share what’s been working for you? Let us know in the comments.