Helping your child develop independence and resilience is a big challenge in the best of times. During the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety, isolation, and disrupted schedules make it harder. Dr. Julia Martin Burch shares insights and tips to help you build a resilient child, even during COVID-19. Childhood is full of challenges, from learning to be a student to managing disappointments to resolving conflict with friends. As parents or caregivers, you are charged with the difficult task of supporting and guiding your child through challenges, while also stepping back and allowing them to learn new skills and handle problems with an age-appropriate level of independence. It can be very difficult to strike this balance because your natural instinct is to step in when your child struggles. This instinct is only heightened during the current pandemic as you likely want to do whatever you can to make your child’s life a little easier during this difficult time. Yet, children only become confident in their own abilities to handle challenges by doing so themselves. When you fix a child’s difficulty for them, the child is deprived of the opportunity to learn to cope with uncomfortable emotions, creatively tackle problems, and deal with natural consequences when they occur. In fact, the current pandemic is actually an ideal time to allow your child to start tackling challenges more independently. This is because independent problem solving also gives children a sense of ownership and agency; qualities which are in very short supplies in kids’ lives these days. Whether your child has returned to in-school instruction and some extracurricular activities, or if they are still learning and interacting virtually, building these skills is empowering. All this being said - it's also important to maintain perspective on this moment in time. Parenting at baseline is hard work. Parenting during a pandemic can feel impossible! When thinking about how to incorporate the following tips into your parenting, gauge your own stress level as well as your child’s. If you do not have the bandwidth to try these tips now, consider re-reading this in a few months. Check in with yourself Ask yourself how often and at what times you currently intervene on your child’s behalf. Is there anywhere you can give your child more autonomy to make mistakes and muddle through challenges in the service of learning and developing new skills? If you keep intervening as you do now for the foreseeable future, will your child be ready to independently handle challenges in high school and college? Take a hard look at the current level of support you offer and where it might be hindering your child’s growth and independence. Set goals Identify one or two initial areas to focus on. These will look different depending on your child’s age and your current level of involvement. For example, with a younger child you might slowly reduce the level of support and problem solving you provide around preparing lunch each day during breaks in virtual school. With an olderRead More
About Julia Martin Burch, PhDJulia Martin Burch, PhD is a staff psychologist in the McLean Anxiety Mastery Program and the McLean School Consult Service at McLean Hospital in Boston. She is also an instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Martin Burch completed her training at Fairleigh Dickinson University and Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School. She works with children, teens, and parents and specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety, obsessive compulsive, and related disorders. Outside of her work at McLean, Dr. Martin Burch gives talks to clinicians, parent groups, and schools on working with anxious youth.
All siblings get into conflicts at some point. In fact, conflict between siblings offers a crucial opportunity for children to build their interpersonal skills, such as learning to share, compromise, and disagree respectfully. Yet knowing that sibling conflict is expected and even helpful does not typically make it easier for parents to manage day to day! This is compounded during times of intense stress such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the many challenges parents are currently facing, there is much parents can do to manage and reduce sibling conflict, both during the current pandemic and in general. Read on for some easy-to-implement tips. Set Expectations A helpful first step to manage sibling conflict is to establish family rules so that everyone knows what is and is not acceptable. These rules may look somewhat different during COVID-19 when the whole family is at home. Find some calm moments to think through guidelines around how you want your family members to treat each other. Try to phrase these rules positively. In other words, state what you want family members to do (e.g., “speak kindly”) rather than what you do not want them to do (e.g., “no name calling”). By phrasing the rules positively, kids are better able to understand what they are supposed to do. Once the adults have agreed on the non-negotiable rules, include your children in the discussion. Ask them what rules they think should be in place to ensure everyone in the family feels safe and respected. Consider making a family “contract” which the children can sign, help decorate and chose where to hang it in your home. Go Step by Step The ultimate goal is for your children to resolve conflicts as independently as possible. However, children initially need more support from parents to learn how to do this. When you intervene, do your best to remain calm and neutral. Doing so models for your children that it is possible to stay calm during emotionally charged moments. It can be helpful to follow these steps: Call a “time out.” Ask your children to separate and each use a coping skill such a belly breathing. When each child has calmed down, they can come back together. If they are still upset, they can share their feelings using “I statements” in which they state how they feel and why. For example, “I feel angry when you take my toy without asking.” Next, they can generate potential solutions to the conflict. In the beginning, you will likely need to offer some ideas as well. Finally, they should choose a solution to try. They can check back in with each other to see how the solution worked out and if they are both satisfied. If they are not, they should choose another solution to try. Always be on the lookout for opportunities to give your children more problem-solving responsibilities. This helps prepare them to solve conflicts independently in the future. For example, while you may call a time out and askRead More