Managing Family Stress During Coronavirus
Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore
If you missed the live session here is a recap of the talk.
I. Pandemic has turned life upside down
– Big worries and major problems: Death, illness, reduced income or job loss, or going to work and being afraid of getting sick
– Everything is harder now
– Uncertainty about when it will end, what’s next
– New challenges and enduring strain mean we’re not at our best
– Some signs of distress in kids: Extra clingy, resist bedtime, repeatedly seek reassurance, nervous habits, regress (things used to be able to do independently,
now can’t), tantrums/overreact
II. The standard advice: healthy food, sleep, exercise (outside if poss.), reach out virtually
III. Top 5 day-to-day concerns of parents
1) “My kid is anxious. (And so am I!)”
– Ask, “What have you heard?” Limit media exposure/hypervigilance.
– Show layers of safety. “Who’s in charge of keeping you safe?”
– Create comfort with predictability and control: routines, choices (not too many)
– Take action: Cheering medical workers, neighborhood chalk walks, sewing masks, donating food or money, sending food, drawings, or notes.
2) “My kid is sad and lonely.”
– Express empathy through reflection: Describe the feelings you see “You’re feeling X because Y.” “It’s hard for you when…” “It bothers you when…” “You wish…”
– Feelings cards
– Touch more, follow your child’s lead about how
– Play games with friends online: battleship, scavenger hunt, guess who, scribbl.io
– Family fun
3) “My kid won’t listen / is uncooperative.”
– Have reasonable expectations
– Make it easier to listen: Say what should do (avoid no/stop/don’t), Be physically close, When/then, State brief, impersonal, law of the universe, Be playful, “Let’s do it together.”
– Collaborative problem solving (Ross Greene): “I’ve noticed…What’s going on?” “On the one hand… & on the other hand…” “What can we do to solve this?” “Well, that’s one option, but it doesn’t take care of… What else could we do?”
4) “My kid is glued to screens all day!”
– This is the main way for kids to connect outside the family—Don’t cut them off
– Set a good example.
– Steer toward interactive/creative/learning but just fun is okay, too
– Teach safety and netiquette: No digital communication is private!
– Discuss limits. Decide when can/can’t rather than counting minutes. What works now doesn’t have to be forever.
– No gadgets in bedrooms at night!
– Offer fun alternatives
5) “My kids are constantly squabbling!”
– Safety is first concern. “It’s not safe for you two to be together right now!”
– Mediate rather than arbitrate. Both tell their side. “What would be fair to everyone?”
– Stay out of minor squabbles. “Do you need a hug?”
– Coach a response to teasing. “I know what’s true, so I won’t listen to you.” “Congratulations.” “I didn’t know you liked dollies!”
– Encourage shared fun and acts of kindness.
IV. “Am I a bad parent if…?”
– Don’t aim for Instagram perfection.
– If you end the day with the same number of kids you started with, you’re doing OK.
– Try to be extra gentle with yourself and your kids
– When, not if, you mess up, say you’re sorry, make a plan, see it as an opportunity to teach about relationship repair. Love means trying again.
Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD, is an author, clinical psychologist, and mom of four, based in Princeton, NJ. Her newest book for children is Growing Friendships: A Kid’s Guide to Making and Keeping Friends. She has also written four books for parents, Kid Confidence, Smart Parenting for Smart Kids and The Unwritten Rules of Friendship, and What’s My Child Thinking? A trusted expert on parenting and child development, Dr. Kennedy-Moore is a professor for The Great Courses audio-video series, Raising Emotionally and Socially Healthy Kids. She serves on the advisory board for Parents magazine, and her blog on Psychology Today, GrowingFriendshipBlog.com, has over 3.8 million views. Learn more at EileenKennedyMoore.com and check out her friendship advice for kids at DrFriendtastic.com.