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Woman in Mask and Gloves Delivering food to a neighbor

Helping Parents During Pandemic Protects At-Risk Kids

Author: Erinn F. Portnoy, LCSW
Published Date: Monday, May 04, 2020

Virtual playdates. Dropping off household necessities. Regular video chats.

These are some of the simple ways we can help parents who are struggling to cope with all the stress created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Added to that stress are overseeing school lessons, financial uncertainties, and the fear of developing COVID-19.

Child advocates nationwide worry that some kids may be at an increased risk of child abuse during the pandemic. Schools and daycares are closed, leaving many children without a safety net. When we step in to help stressed-out parents, we also help their children who may be at risk for abuse.

Fortunately, there are ways to help families while still practicing social distancing. Some of them simply require a little time.

It might be dropping off toilet paper to a mom in the neighborhood who hasn’t been able to find any. Or making some cloth masks for parents who don’t have the materials and are struggling to balance working from home with keeping their kids on track with schoolwork.

In many cases, what parents need is a break. Technology can help in that area. Parents can set up a virtual playdate. There are also free apps, like Houseparty, Marco Polo, and WhatsApp that allow you to play games with friends, call or leave video messages. And if you know a younger child who loves books, you can use free video platforms such as Zoom to read to them.

If a parent is stressed out trying to occupy their kids while working from home, they may want to take advantage of teacher-led classroom instruction that’s airing throughout Virginia on four public media stations. The initiative, VA TV Classroom, provides instruction weekdays from 1 to 3 p.m. to students from kindergarten to tenth grade who are unable to access their school district’s learning content because they lack high-speed internet. The programming is available on Blue Ridge PBS, VPM, WETA, and WHRO Public Media. Also, check out virtual activities at local libraries such as reading time for preschoolers.

During this time of understandable anxiety, children may show signs of increased stress as well. This can lead to more frustration for all family members. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following techniques for parents to use:

  • Engage your children in constructive activities. When children are bored or frustrated, they are more likely to act out. Give them something to do: puzzles or games, a scavenger hunt, or paper airplane golf. There are lots of ideas online. Check out Minute To Win It activities at home.
  • Help ease their fears. Children may be afraid that they or their parents are going to get sick and die. Acknowledge the fear and discuss all the things you are doing to stay healthy, such as washing hands and staying home to avoid viruses.
  • Use time-outs. This discipline tool works best by warning children they will get a time-out if they don't stop their behavior. Remind them what they did wrong in as few words – and with as little emotion – as possible. Remove them from the situation for one minute per year of age.
  • Avoid physical punishment. Remember, spanking and other forms of corporal punishment do not teach children to behave or practice self-control. In addition to inhibiting normal brain development, it can undermine efforts to make children feel safe at home, which is particularly important right now. Never shake a baby. It can cause permanent brain damage.
  • Know when not to respond. In some cases, ignoring bad behavior can help stop it. Ignoring bad behavior also teaches kids natural consequences of their actions.
  • Catch them being good. Notice good behavior and point it out. This is particularly important now, when children are separated from their friends and usual routines.
  • Give them your attention. The most powerful tool for effective discipline is attention – to reinforce good behaviors and discourage others. If you are trying to work at home, this can be particularly challenging. Setting expectations can help, particularly with older children. Spending undivided time, even 10 or 20 minutes a day with a child where they can pick an activity to do with you can make all the difference in a child’s behavior.

Parents, make sure to take care of yourself. Modeling self-care will help your children understand that it is important to stay healthy and take care of themselves.

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About Erinn F. Portnoy, LCSW

About Erinn F. Portnoy, LCSW Erinn F. Portnoy is executive director of the Child Advocacy Center at CHKD. The center ensures that all children who have been abused or neglected in Hampton Roads have access to quality services and expertise.