Support the Well-Being of Your Children: Parenting Tips for Challenging Times

As the stay-at-home order continues in Illinois, parents are juggling a variety of roles, tackling both work and personal responsibilities, acting as teachers, and seeking new ways to access support services during an extended period of uncertainty.

In NAMI’s recent Ask the Expert Webinar, Dr. Meghan Walls, a pediatric psychologist, provided a framework for supporting children of all ages during physical distancing. Most importantly, extending some extra grace to both kids and ourselves is paramount. The following are a few recommendations that can cultivate a positive environment for everyone.

Keep Dialogue Open

Family meetings are a useful way to check in with everyone. While the depth of information shared will vary by the age of your children, open communication can alleviate the concerns and anxiety kids may be feeling. The goal is to ask questions to ensure you are aware of issues and concerns while providing useful information and support. Focus on three areas of discussion:

What’s Going on in the House? Are people working at home, or is someone newly unemployed? Are some family members essential workers? What school and extracurricular activities are taking place virtually? 

What Are the Stressors? This can vary widely by age. A younger child may miss a fun class or playgroups. Adolescents and teens may have questions about seeing a boyfriend or girlfriend, or concerns about missing sports or school milestones. It is okay for kids to know that there may be pressure on parents as well.

What Are the Expectations? Making sure everyone understands the responsibilities of all family members is the best way to set up success.

While as parents we cannot “fix” some of the losses our children are experiencing during this time, we can reassure them that this is temporary. It may be awhile before things feel “normal” but there will be opportunity to slowly expand our circles.

Routine is Key

Keeping a familiar structure provides a sense of security and familiarity – and don’t worry if your schedule isn’t straight from Pinterest. While the schedules floating around our social channels can be a good starting point for some families, Dr. Walls noted that parents should keep reasonable expectations. 

Sleep Schedules: Try to keep bedtimes within an hour or two of normal. In the morning, use an alarm or wake kids up within a similar timeframe as well.

Meals: Do your best to maintain healthy eating habits, including consistent meal times. Just like we need to keep healthy sleep habits, it is important to make sure parents and kids alike are still eating at regular intervals throughout the day.

School and Chores: Create a consistent daily schedule to support required schoolwork and encourage engagement. However, be flexible. Just as adults struggle at times with productivity, it is unrealistic to expect kids to sit for long periods working.

Build in Rewards: Provide breaks for a favorite activity and time to move. For younger children, rewards might also include stickers or treats, while older kids may prefer extra screen time or opportunities to call friends.

Seek Opportunities for Socialization

While physical distancing is necessary, we still want to provide opportunities for social interactions. Thankfully, many organizations have pivoted to provide activities virtually. A local sports team may be holding remote workouts at scheduled times. Some Scout troops and school clubs are meeting online. If formal opportunities aren’t in place, how could your child and friends create their own?

Consider what social media tools might be appropriate for kids to interact, or offer access to other online game or video platforms. Recognize that even adolescents may have difficulty establishing contact, so talk through ways to stay connected.

Don’t Sweat the Screens

While we don’t want to go overboard, it is okay if your kids are spending some extra time in front of a screen these days. Between schoolwork, socialization and time needed to complete your own work, online time is going to be higher than normal.

If you do see your children struggling with their mental health, reach out for support. NAMI Illinois, mental health providers, and other like-minded organizations are providing virtual and telehealth services during this pandemic.

Looking for more? You can access the webinar and transcript here.