Educator offers tips for stressed-out parents amid pandemic

Posted at 10:44 PM, May 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-09 00:30:02-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Life has changed dramatically as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for parents with no school and nowhere to venture under stay-at-home orders.

Barbara Unell, a parenting educator and co-author of "Discipline with Love and Limits," said many parents are feeling increased stress and anxiety about protecting themselves and their families as commuinities lift stay-at-home orders.

Erin Windholz and her husband, Marty, of Overland Park, have two sons ages 4 and 7. The changes at work and home combined with concerns about keeping her family safe from COVID-19 have brought challenges

"I personally have had good days and not so good days, and I think all of that's OK, because this is unprecedented," Erin said.

Unell said feelings of frustration and uncertainty are normal.

"Fear comes from the unknown; anxiety comes from not being able to predict things," Unell said.

She said the first thing parents need to work on is their attitude before trying to coach their children on what to expect.

Unell offered three tips for positive parenting during these trying times.

Tip No. 1 — Positive self-talk

Unell said children will emotionally connect with their parent's anxiety or serenity and exhibit the same attitudes.

The Windholzes stay positive when talking with their children about the coronavirus.

"We don't want to create worry for them at their ages," Erin said. "So, they know that a virus is out there (and) they know that it's important for them to wash their hands to keep the germs away."

As businesses reopen, many jurisdictions have guidelines about wearing face masks and occupancy limits.

Unell said now is the time to help children understand the new rules, but in a calm way,

"If you hear in your mind going over, 'I hate this. This is really terrible,' even if you're not saying that — you're saying it to yourself," Unell said. "Try to change that — like, 'I can do this; it's going to be hard, it's going to be different, but we'll get through this."

Tip No. 2 — Positive preparation

Parents are leaders and they like having the answers for their family, but Unell said parents need to take the pressure off of themselves and accept that they don't know everything.

"Our job as parents is to help kids understand that the world is going to look different when they come out of this quarantine or out of this world where they've only been at home," she said. "Start teaching them how to follow rules and then praising then, giving them positive feedback, for following the rules. Children need to know that they can trust you to tell them the truth, first of all, always, and, second of all, that you will be there to help keep them safe."

Tip #3 — Admit you don't know

Again, it's OK not to have all the answers, but it's important to be honest with children about an uncertain future.

"We're not 100% sure what school is going to look like or whether any kind of camp or any kind of outdoor activity is going to happen, but helping them know that it's OK sometimes not to be sure," Unell said, can be a good thing.

Deploying a few positive parenting strategies in a pandemic, Unell hopes will calm emotions and strengthen the family bond.