The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected us all, especially parents emphasizing challenges surrounding the fragility of our mental health. A recent report out of Canada, revealed three out of four parents experienced concerns and worries about balancing childcare, their child’s schooling and their own professional work irrespective of the child’s age. More than half of parents surveyed reported increasing difficulty in managing their child’s emotions as well as their own.
Another research, by the Australian Human Rights Commission investigated COVID-19-related concerns experienced by children aged five and older and their parents from January to April 2021. The report suggested that “mental health concerns resulting from COVID-19” and “impacts on family life” were among the top five concerns because the severity of presentations was escalating.
A key summary from this research group concluded that when parents are aware of their own emotional self-regulation, and when they can find space to structure meaningful family activities that promote mutual bonding, both they and their children are in a better position to learn core coping skills that will benefit individuals and family relationships.
What can parents do? Build Resilience
The arising parenting challenges surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic may represent an opportune time for us to improve our resilience and model more adaptive strategies and skills. In turn, such skills can promote the development of resilient behaviours in our children.
Resilience is the capacity for an individual to remain engaged, available and optimistic instead of withdrawn, overwhelmed and defeated when faced with hardship and adversity.
It is important to recognise, not everyone reacts in the same way to a given situation. The ability to manage strong negative emotions and shift our mindset to a more adaptive perspective can be developed at any age. Since our brain is most adept at performing a new task early in life, it’s most beneficial for people to become socialised in these fundamental life skills early. This will help children to become self-regulated, adaptive and thriving adults.
Adversity/Mistakes: An opportunity for growth
Parenting is difficult and striving for perfection is unrealistic and unattainable. We can instead choose to model that mistakes and failures can be a renewed opportunity for growth. Raising resilient children means that we value teaching them self-compassion, gratitude, delayed gratification and self-worth to leverage life experiences that facilitate the development of their sense of purpose.
It is as critical for parents to value teaching children these core social emotional skills, just as much as we might encourage them to become expert swimmers or gifted mathematicians.
When supportive parenting and strong family relationships consistently provide opportunities to strengthen coping skills and the ability to regulate emotions, these are also opportunities for children to become skilled at accepting hardship and remaining committed toward achievement. Supportive parental practices contribute to children’s long-term healthy emotional and psychological development.
Supportive practices that work
Supportive practices are things like comforting children when they experience negative emotions; engaging in problem-solving strategies aimed at reducing children’s distress; and discussing children’s emotional experiences with them. As such, these results suggest that supportive parenting is associated with children who are better at managing difficult emotions.
It was also found that invalidating children’s emotional expression or ignoring or dismissing the child’s emotions contributed to poorer emotion regulation skills in children, and that such less-supportive parenting practices were linked to anxiety in adulthood. When parents themselves match or exceed their child’s emotions, they also offer less adaptive emotional coaching.
Parents may have heard the airplane safety tip to always don one’s own oxygen mask before helping a child: the same applies with emotional regulation. As parents, when we prioritise managing our own stress, tolerating greater uncertainty and engaging in self-care activities like exercise, good sleep hygiene and relaxation, this expands our capacity to respond calmly. This teaches our children that they too can cope and manage stress and related threats.
Supportive parenting is best achieved when a connected, caring and responsive relationship with children is fostered early on. Supportive parenting that builds resilience is comparable to an early investment that grows with time. It is key to create as many early positive and reinforcing experiences as possible.
Building skills to endure the crisis
Adversity creates accidental opportunities to build skills to endure ongoing or future hardship. This is the essence of resilience: accepting that a door has closed behind us, and being optimistic about what awaits. Creativity and ensuring there are outlets to convert the frustrations into something positive, aids the process. By being more emotionally and mentally grounded as parents, you can lead collectively stronger families.
Let’s create resilience together!