What's happening at Foothills

Weekly Wellness #7 - Answering Your Parenting Questions

Published: May 1, 2020 5:01 p.m.

Families are rising to the challenges of COVID-19 and demonstrating their resilience in the face of adversity. As our home lives have evolved to meet the societal expectations of physical distancing, new challenges have emerged for or children and teens. This week we are answering the parenting questions you have submitted to us.

Q. “How can we help our kids appropriately position themselves relative to current events. Our child has a couple of times stated that it feels like the apocalypse, despite the fact that she has done very well with online schooling, we are all healthy & safe, & are careful to avoid accessing a lot of news media.”

A.  These are confusing times, and as adults, we are trying to make sense of our world too.  When a completely unexpected new experience impacts almost every aspect of our day-to-day existence it can be very disorienting!  It sounds like you are doing a lot of great things for your child, such as ensuring they do not get too much exposure to media.  Here are some other things to consider:

Acknowledge that this is a confusing and unexpected time.  While we do not want to get into a cycle of constant reassurance, we do want to empathize with their feelings and validate their experiences.  Highlight the ways in which you have seen them coping.

  • Reflect on history.  It can be helpful to get perspective on other adversities that humanity has faced, and how we have persevered.  Many kids might not even know that just over one-hundred years ago the Spanish flu struck Alberta.  And our ability to deal with COVID-19 is so much better given the growth in scientific understanding; the preparedness of our government; the internet; and the ability to order in pizza ;-)  Knowing that a situation like this has come and gone a long time ago can help them understand that despite the current struggles, this is just a moment in time.
  • Take time to reflect on what activities make each member of the family feel better.  Whether it is playing games as a family; getting exercise; doing a puzzle; playing a video game online with a friend; creating an art project; etc… help your child reflect on what activities are most helpful to their personal experience of well-being.  How can you incorporate more of these into your weekly schedule?
  • Strike the right balance on sharing your own experience.  Make sure you talk about your reactions too.  As parents, we do want to protect our kids from our own worries and adult concerns.  However, we do not need to be ‘blank slates’ and act as though this is not an unexpected situation.  It can actually be comforting for them to see that it is an adjustment for you as well – and this also provides a great opportunity for you to share your own ways of coping with them.
  • Highlight all the coordinated response efforts.  Depending on the age of your child, it can be helpful to expose them to some news to see how much thought and expertise is going into the COVID-19 response.  For example, it could be reassuring to some kids to hear parts of the daily update from the Province which can be found near the bottom of this webpage:  https://www.alberta.ca/coronavirus-info-for-albertans.aspx These videos are stored on the website, so it is possible to pre-watch and share parts that highlight the incredible efforts, and the successes of the response to-date.  
  • Find new ways for your child to exert control over the situation.  They are helping the cause by staying at home, but what else can they do?  Could they reach out to family members or friends who are living alone via phone call, FaceTime, a video, etc… to share a daily joke or update?  Can your family find a way to support others in the community?  There are a growing number of ways to do so, many without even leaving home:  AlbertaCaresConnector
  • Spend time on future-oriented planning.  This helps the young person recognize that this pandemic will not go on forever.  Do some research (options, costs, etc…) together and take a vote on where you would like to go on a future family vacation.  For example, plot your next road trip on a map; where will you stop, where will you stay, what will you do?

Q. “I would like some tips for motivating teens to keep on schedule ie regular bedtime, wake up time etc. With no longer having a more structured school timetable, there seems to be a little personal incentive for teens to maintain routine — to the detriment of their mental outlook, attitude and relationships.”

A.  You are absolutely right!  Routines are probably the best thing we can all be doing in the face of so much change and uncertainty.  We can still have flexibility each day, but some general structure in the home can be reassuring and help us guard against feelings of worry, sadness, and hopelessness.  Without the external structure of school attendance and other expectations in the community, such as recreational activities, it is easy for teens to slide into spending all day in bed.  Adolescence is a time for exploring your own thoughts and ideas, earning freedoms, and testing your own abilities in the world.  Unfortunately, these activities are not very compatible with spending all your time at home with your parents.  Every teen is different, but here are some things to consider: 

  • Identify the general schedule expectations together.  For example, agree on a time that they should be eating breakfast (and taking their medication if they have any), or when they should arrive to “school” in each morning.
  • Build rewards (such as a block of ‘downtime’; or an opportunity to connect with friends) into their day if they are following the general schedule. 
  • Allow for flexibility within the general schedule so that they can make decisions about exactly what that looks like from day-to-day.  They can identify the order of school tasks and when they may need to take a break.
  • Have your teen create a work plan for a school day the night before.  For example, after dinner (and before any fun activities!) have your teen identify a list of school tasks for the next day.  They are more likely to follow a plan they have created, and this can decrease morning frustrations.
  • Make sure the sleep schedule is realistic, keeping in mind that a child’s sleep/wake schedule naturally changes as they go through puberty.  Why is your teen so tired?  Allow them to identify a slightly later wake-up time than they would normally choose for school, but when they are awake, support their circadian rhythm by having them open their blinds or get outside for a few minutes.  Now that the weather is better, maybe that means breakfast in the backyard.  Sleep guidelines during COVID-19
  • Make sure you are sharing and modelling your own schedule, including family meals/activities which can anchor their day.
  • Give them a free “pass” to occasionally opt-out of an expected activity.  This way they still retain some age-appropriate control over their lives.