I speak to parents from all corners of the globe, and though everybody’s situation is different, there are certain issues that emerge again and again—particularly in our new Pandemic world. From sibling fights to bedtime squabbles, these are the most common concerns parents bring up…and how to address them.
1. I feel so overwhelmed and stressed
Whether you are a parent who stays at home, works from home or works outside the home, you are probably feeling stressed the heck out right now. This stress is often referred to as the mental load, which accounts for all the lists, tasks and responsibilities parents (mostly mothers) manage on a daily basis. It sounds and looks like this: A mom of three wraps up her evening by making a list of what needs to be done the next day, all while trying to fold the laundry and coax her toddler back to bed. She needs to remember to call the school about distance learning, order groceries for the week, call the dentist to confirm all of the kids’ appointments, and then make her own eye doctor appointment. This mental load is exhausting and never seems to end.
How do you address this? Make that list at least one hour before bedtime, and vow to spend the final 60 minutes of your day unwinding with your kids and then with yourself. (That load of whites can wait until tomorrow. There, I said it.)
2. Why are my kids bickering with each other so much?
This was a common question before COVID, and it’s extra prevalent now that we’re all spending so much time together. After all, where once we had school, sports, after-school activities, work and free time, now everything seems merged into one giant mess. This sense of uncertainty and unpredictability is overwhelming for the brain, and although we are physically closer, the sense of monotony and boredom is challenging. Many families learn to relate through conflict. When kids bicker, they are actually attempting to connect and engage—even if it often ends in tears.
A better way? Meet as a family (yes, this will be an ongoing theme here) and discuss what you have observed. Encourage everyone to express their concerns, and then find collaborative solutions (Josie gets a turn on the trampoline while Ellen helps Dad make dinner, then tomorrow they switch) to help decrease that tension and improve positive connections.
3. My kids are so stressed about school
Whether they're homeschooled, distance learning, online schooling or in the physical building, many children are stressed about academics and peer interactions this year. School pressure is intense, more than it was for us at their age, and even in pre-pandemic times, they were constantly bombarded with toxic comparisons and social media. This year promises a lot of newness (How will I wear a mask at school? What if I can’t pay attention to the Zoom call?) and it’s no wonder kids are internalizing this anxiety.
How you can help? Listen when your child vents, complains and expresses their concerns. Don’t jump in to fix anything and resist the urge to rescue them. They just need you to listen. Listen for their real concerns and then support them through it—whether that’s helping them set up a weekly 1:1 with their teacher, or allowing them more agency in creating their outside-of-school schedule.
4. My child and I are having so many arguments
This is likely happening for many of the same reasons as the sibling bickering: boredom, uncertainty and lack of stimulation. Arguments can also become a habit. As parents, we are in survival mode, as we hold everything together and focus on getting things done. In turn, relationships and connecting with our children suffer.
The best solution? The surprising reality is that just 15 minutes of meaningful interactions with our kids can make a huge difference in the parent-child relationship. For younger kids, this happens through play. (15 minutes on the floor playing snake-lava-monster? You got it!) For older kids and teens, this can mean engaging in an activity together they enjoy. (You’ve always wanted to give Fortnite a try, right?)
5. We battle over screen time every single day
This is a big one. Due to decreased interactions with the outside world, many families have resorted to tons of screen time. Don’t worry, this isn’t a time to feel bad about it, merely to understand the reality of it. See, screens are meant to be enticing and stimulating, and they’re also our number one way of staying connected right now. In short, they are serving us—but too much can be overstimulating, distracting and an impediment to IRL interaction.
A helpful strategy to decrease screen time battles? Avoid seeing screens as all-bad; they’re not. Meet as a family (there it is again) and determine rules and boundaries around the screen. (30 minutes of iPad time in the morning. One hour before dinner.) Teach your children responsible and safe internet use.
6. Bedtime and meal times are getting on my last nerve
When the mind is less stimulated and children aren’t building up enough of a desire for sleep (because they are home all day, for example), they will fight you on bedtime. Similarly, when they are home all day, they tend to graze and snack, making them less hungry for that chicken pot pie you so lovingly served them.
A helpful strategy? Establish a schedule (this is really helpful y’all) and have general guidelines as to when you expect your kids to wake up and go to sleep, in addition to general times for meals and snacks. It is okay to have these parameters. In fact, kids thrive with schedules. You can even write it on a chalkboard or dry erase board, so everybody knows where they stand.
Want more from Dr. Lockhart? Check out You Are Not Alone: Online Parent Retreat Experience for interviews with professionals and experts on topics that concern all parents.