Auburn’s Polly Dunn: Parenting our way through a pandemic

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Dr. Polly Dunn is a child psychologist practicing at Dunn Psychological Services in Auburn, Alabama. She has been providing services for children and families in the East Alabama community for more than 20 years. For more information about Dr. Dunn, please visit www.dpsauburn.com.

A month ago, we were preparing for spring break, sports, and the last 9 weeks of school. Today, our schools are online through the end of the year, sports are canceled, and entertainment venues are closed. When things seem scary, children look to their parents for reassurance. But this is a situation none of us have been through before, which can leave us scrambling to provide the answers our children are craving. But guess what moms and dads? You are still exactly what your child needs! You can support them through this just like you’ve done time and time again with other challenges in parenting. Here are some ways we can all begin to navigate this uncharted territory.

C is for COVID-19. By now your family is familiar with the health recommendations to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Practice social distancing. Wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds. Don’t touch your face. Stay at home unless you are going out for something essential. Social distancing is the hardest one for kids (and some grownups too). They are out of school, the weather is nice, and they miss their friends! As parents we have to step up and enforce healthy choices. That means that this is not the time for playdates, sleepovers, or basketball games with friends. Along those lines, when you need to go shopping for groceries, you should leave your kids at home if at all possible. None of it is worth risking their exposure to COVID-19.

A is for Academics. Like it or not, our kids are home from school for the rest of the year. Schools and teachers are developing online teaching platforms with no lead time, and parents are serving as teachers while also managing the demands of home and work. Not to mention the kids, who are having to learn in virtual classrooms, use email, and work relatively independently. Everyone is new to this and no one has it figured out yet. Lower your expectation that the last 9 weeks will produce the same outcomes academically as it would have if they had finished the year at school. It won’t and that’s completely okay. Every child in every school across our country will have these same issues. Just do the best with what you have in this moment. Offer grace freely to yourself, your child, their teacher, and their school. We can and we will get through this together.

P is for People. Many children thrive on social contact. Even introverted kids enjoy time spent with others. COVID-19 canceled all social activities with no notice. Face-to-face gatherings with people outside of the home are not recommended, but our kids still desperately want to interact with others. Encourage them to FaceTime their friends, have a movie night using Netflix Party, teach their grandparents how to Zoom, or attend a church service online. Serving others is another way for children to feel united with others. Making cards for residents in nursing homes, learning to sew a mask, or praying for hospital workers are just a few examples of how kids can connect through service.

E is for Emotions. Both kids and adults are experiencing a range of emotions about COVID-19. It doesn’t take an expert to tell you that. As a parent, do your best to listen and respond to your child’s emotions. When they describe being upset by the loss of an activity, acknowledge that you recognize how hard it is for them. If they say they are sad because they miss baseball, try saying “That is sad. I hate that you are having to go through this.” Brainstorm some solutions if they are interested, for example go play baseball in the backyard; however, know that sometimes kids are just looking for someone to acknowledge their feelings, not necessarily solve their problems. And unfortunately there may not be solutions for some of their problems. If they are worried about things that are out of their control, try to provide them some routines and structure that bring order back to their world. Keep up your normal bedtime routine, go on a family walk at around the same time each day, or let them organize their study space. If their emotional response feels like more than you can handle, reach out to a therapist or their school counselor. Most are now offering video sessions to help children through this difficult time.

S is for Safety. With children at home at a time of year they are normally in school or at daycare, there are safety concerns that parents need to consider. Gates around pools should be locked, medications should be stored out of reach, and guns should be secured in a safe. If you are working from home, develop a schedule so that everyone knows who is supervising the children when you are trying to work. Kids may be spending more time online (and that’s perfectly okay), but it’s important that parents still monitor their online activity to make sure that they are not exposed to people or content that could be dangerous.

This is a lot for all of us, there’s no question about it. But guess what? Parents are superheroes. Whether parenting through a pandemic or just a normal day. And what do superheroes wear? CAPES! These ideas (COVID-19, Academics, People, Emotions, Safety) can help you parent through our new normal. You haven’t parented through this situation before. Well, no one else has either. The child rearing through a pandemic manual has not been written. We’re all just doing the best we can with changes coming at us every day. It’s not what we want, but we have the opportunity right now to make the best of what we have been given. Pause. Cherish. And do the best you can to even enjoy.

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