Parenting in
a pandemic

Helping your child cope with
anxiety and the return to routine

An image of a child looking stressed in the classroom.

Image: Phil Boorman/Getty Images

Image: Phil Boorman/Getty Images

Parenting can be tough at the best of times. But parenting in a pandemic? Near impossible. Even for the most seasoned parents, the last few months have been testing in ways never imagined.

As schools across the country welcome back students, the pressures of homeschooling may have waned but new struggles are fast emerging, such as nervousness, anxiety, and concerns about social distancing.

That's why world-leading parenting expert and founder of the internationally acclaimed Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, Professor Matt Sanders, has launched the weekly podcast series, Parenting in a Pandemic. The popular series provides real, actionable advice to help families navigate these uncharted waters.

Here are a few of his research-based strategies to make this unprecedented time more enjoyable.

An image of three young brothers sitting on a catch, eating food and watching TV.

Image: Cavan Images/Getty Images

Image: Cavan Images/Getty Images

Return to a routine

Professor Sanders said one of the biggest struggles for kids heading back to school was returning to a routine.

"Kids thrive on routine, so if things have slipped during the past few months – such as extra screen time, later bedtimes, regular snacks throughout the day – now is the time to reset."

How exactly? This is where the program's practical tips come into play.

"Treat it like you have been on an extended holiday and you are returning to the routines of being at school,” Professor Sanders said.

“The best way to introduce a change is to start with a conversation, a firm approach and a trial period that is open to feedback. 

"If you want your kids to be respectful, you need to treat them the same. Be clear, calm and consistent in your communication."

Professor Sanders recommends letting your child know that as life returns to normal, so too will routines.

“Discuss any changes or rules in a way that sets firm boundaries but lets them know you are open to feedback after an initial trial period, such as two weeks."

While your child’s opinion matters, some rules are not open for negotiation.

"Remind your child that you will always respect their viewpoint – for example, 'I really want to hug my friends' – but that some new rules based on government advice are not up for debate."

An image of a young school student clinging to her mother as they walk to school.

Image: supersizer/Getty Images

Image: supersizer/Getty Images

Signs your child is struggling

A number of telltale signs will show if your child is finding it difficult to adjust to their 'new’ life back at school.

"If your child looks anxious or is having difficulty separating from you – suddenly wanting to sleep in your bed, or not leave your side ­– that could be a signal they are struggling,” Professor Sanders said.

"Ask how your child is feeling but, most importantly, try to understand what is driving their fears."

The key, Sanders said, is to not spend too much time focusing on their anxiety, but rather focus on the positive.

"Kids can associate worry with guaranteeing a parental audience. If you can identify the root of their concern – for example, fear that a grandparent may die from coronavirus – then you can address that worry with reassuring messages about social distancing and sanitation, etc."

“Ultimately, children will be comforted by your own calm approach to their worries.”

An image of a child do their homework by themselves.

Image: Rebecca Nelson/Getty Images

Image: Rebecca Nelson/Getty Images

Less is more 

'Minimal sufficiency' is a central component of the Triple P program.

"As a parent, you need to instill in your children that you have confidence in their ability to overcome any challenge,” Professor Sanders said.

The best way to do this is through a hands-off approach.

“If, for example, your child is struggling to reboot with a homework regime, you can offer support without taking on the task yourself.

"Only provide what is needed and what is desired to get your child started.”

If they are struggling to get started with a task, Professor Sanders recommends helping them craft a strategy for how they might approach the exercise, but leave them to implement that strategy themselves.

“This approach does two things: instills a message that you believe in your child’s ability, but also ensures they are resourceful, independent problem solvers.

“Self-belief is a powerful enabler, and a lifelong tool for children to draw on.”

An image of a school student working with her teacher one-on-one.

Image: Sydney Bourne/Getty Images

Image: Sydney Bourne/Getty Images

Maintain a good relationship with your child's school

Professor Sanders’ final piece of advice is to ensure you have an open and respectful relationship with your child's school.

He believes that children, whose parents have a strong and positive relationship with their school, will always do well."

And like any good relationship, respectful communication is critical to building rapport with a child’s teacher.

"If your child is experiencing any challenges with adjusting to the classroom, try not to make assumptions about what the school is or isn't doing. Always feel free to reach out to your child's teacher with genuine concerns, but not in a demanding way,” Professor Sanders said.

"As a parent, you are the most important role model for your children. By modelling respectful communication, you are helping shape the way your child will interact with others.”

Listen to the podcast

If you would like to learn more from Professor Sanders, the Parenting in a Pandemic podcast invites parents to submit their questions and concerns.

The podcast is part of the Parenting in a Pandemic Program, which includes a Triple P COVID-19 online resource for parents of children from birth to adolescents and is free for parents in Queensland.

The team is working with industry partners including Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women, Queensland Health, Uniting Care, Logan Together, Triple P International and UniQuest.

Parenting in a Pandemic is available wherever you get your podcasts. Subscribe now to never miss an episode.

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