The changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic can place additional stress on caregivers and children. As a caregiver, you may notice changes in your child’s behavior or find it more difficult to manage your child’s behavior. Below are some helpful tips for using positive discipline to encourage good behavior:
Your attention is an effective and important parenting tool. Notice and specifically name your child’s good behavior and give praise for it. When it is safe to do so, ignore bad behavior. Giving attention when your child misbehaves can reinforce poor behavior.
Use positive reinforcement and rewards as a way to increase good behavior at home. For example, a child might get a big hug and high five or a sticker for getting along with siblings or staying quiet while mom or dad is having a work meeting. Some other ideas include using special family time, such as a movie night, to reward good behavior.
Model good behavior yourself. Be patient and kind, and point out your own positive behaviors as a way for your child to learn by observing. This could include times when you share with others or engage in healthy hygiene behaviors such as handwashing and coughing into elbows.
Recognize that this time of stress and change may affect your child’s behavior. These changes might include increased fussiness, frequent tantrums, or experiencing a “regression” to a behavior from the past. For example, a child may wet the bed or want to use a pacifier. These behavior changes can be signs that your child is worried or stressed, and extra patience and affection from you can be very comforting.
Time-outs can discourage poor behavior. Time-outs can be an effective way to reinforce a few important household rules, such as not hitting siblings. Designate a specific space in your house for time-outs (e.g. corner of playroom or living room) and use a specific length of time (one minute per year of age up to a total of 5 minutes is a good rule of thumb). For more information about time-outs, click here.
Avoid using punishments such as spanking and harsh language. These types of punishments do not effectively increase good behavior and instead can increase aggression in children and negatively affect their physical and mental health. For more information on this from the American Academy of Pediatrics, click here.
Know when to ask for help yourself. Taking care of yourself is a critical part of being able to take care of your child. For more information, please see our section on “Self-Care for Parents and Caregivers.”
Facilitating Interactions Between Children at Home
It is understandably difficult to navigate having multiple children at home at the same time, especially when no one is able to participate in their typical routines and everyone wants your attention. You might find yourself refereeing interactions between your children. Although some sibling rivalry and arguing is normal, there are steps you can take to help your kids interact more positively with each other. Below are some suggestions to support your family. For more tips, click here.
Allow older children to act as “helpers” with younger children.
Try to maintain a routine for your children that includes having them spend designated time together and apart.
Empower your children to help make the rules or plan how they will interact with one another.
Look for ways to prevent difficult situations rather than punishing children after these situations happen.
Encourage your children to identify and name the emotions that are really bothering them, and to use their words to say why they are feeling that way.
Working from Home While Caring for Children
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many in-person schools, childcare facilities, and offices have closed, and parents may find themselves struggling to work from home while simultaneously caring for their young children. Here are suggestions to navigate balancing your many priorities:
Set realistic expectations for your productivity during this time. It is understandable and expected that your work productivity will fall while you are also caring for children at home. Adjust your expectations and be kind and understanding towards yourself.
Take your work schedule into account when setting your child’s routine. If you know you have an important meeting or conference call at a specific time during the day, consider setting aside that time as naptime, quiet time, or screen time for your child.
If you live with a partner or other trusted adult, work together to create a daily schedule. Set aside blocks of time where one of you can work without distractions while the other cares for your child(ren), and then switch off.
It is ok to temporarily relax limits on screen time for your child, especially if it gives you the opportunity to get more work done. However, when possible, try to balance screen time with physical activity, and make choices so that screen time is as engaging and educational as possible:
PBS Kids is a great online resource for educational games, TV shows, and apps. They offer a newsletter that you can sign up for to receive daily ideas for activities and age-appropriate technology use.
Children thrive on consistency. Establishing a daily routine for your child can provide structure and a sense of order during an otherwise stressful time. A daily routine does not need to be planned minute-by-minute, but can serve as a flexible framework for approaching each day. Once you have decided on a routine, work with your child to make a chart depicting your family’s schedule in pictures or words. Discuss the schedule with the older children and adults who are living in your home so that everyone knows what to expect from each day. Routines will vary based on each family’s needs and the ages of children in the household, but some general tips are below.
Begin the day by waking up at a consistent time, eating breakfast, and getting dressed.
Organize the day around consistent meal and snack times.
Set aside specific time for different types of activities (arts and crafts, naptime, etc.)
Children often have difficulty transitioning between activities. Set a timer at a short interval (1-5 minutes) towards the end of each activity to signal to your child that they will soon need to leave one fun activity to start another. This strategy can help your child mentally prepare before moving on to a new activity.
You can also use a fun song or phrase to indicate that it is time to transition. This can be something from a favorite show or character, or something you make up yourself!
Develop a structured approach to bedtime. One suggestion is to follow the 3 B’s of Bedtime: help your child brush their teeth, read a book together, and put your child to bed at around the same time each night. Ensure your child is getting adequate sleep based on age-specific sleep guidelines.
During these stressful and unusual times, bedtime may be more challenging than normal for your child. Your child may have trouble falling or staying asleep due to worries or stress. Consider offering additional comfort such as a special stuffed animal, or placing a family photo by your child’s bed.