Parenting in the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic

December 27, 2020 • Posted in Blog

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Janet Liljestrand, M.D., M.A.*

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Rearing children is a time-consuming and emotionally taxing undertaking. The current pandemic has magnified the enormity of this task by disrupting the lives of adults and children alike. What does a parent say and do in the midst of a pandemic that has the added burden of activity restrictions, a 24-hour news cycle, multiple voices on social media, and changing messages from the “experts,” all mixed with a touch of hysteria? The basics of parenting in the midst of a pandemic are much the same as any other stressful time with the possible exception that the stressful time is long indeed!

Maintain as much routine as possible. Structured time for school and homework, virtual or in-person, and regular mealtimes and bedtimes give a sense of certainty in an uncertain world. If circumstances necessitate fluctuating between a couple routines (such as in-person or virtual school days), keeping those routines aligned as much as possible aids the child’s emotional stability.

Answer all questions honestly. Keep in mind the age of the child. You want to give the child enough information to answer questions, but not more than the child can process. Let your child know that there are no unacceptable questions. When you don’t have an answer, acknowledge such. This is important when dealing with questions of a loved one’s illness.

Acknowledge the impact on a child’s life. Missing sports events, parties, or visits to grandparents may not seem momentous to adults, but are often of great importance to children and adolescents. As adults, we are aware of the potential for many more wonderful times ahead for our child, but a child does not have that life experience. In the midst of disappointments, affirm that the current situation will not last forever (it never does). Encourage new as well as old activities and interests that engage the mind and hands. Limit screen time. Keep the child physically active even if that means bundling them up for some outdoor play in the middle of winter.

Behavior changes may be a manifestation of distress at any age. The cause of the anxiety may result from misunderstood information or some situation that the parent would not expect to cause distress. Emotions are complex. It is possible the child does not have insight into his/her behavior or even recognize that it has changed. Direct questions may be helpful, but more often, listening to the child in unguarded moments of play or conversation with you or others will give unexpected clues. Addressing the cause of the distress directly is obviously the ideal. However, even if you are unable to do so, it is still important to let the child know that good behavior is the expectation. Good discipline is still important in the midst of a pandemic.

In summary, keep doing all the good things you have been doing since the birth of your child. None of us are perfect. Give both yourself and your children some grace in the midst of the pandemic.

*Janet Liljestrand is a long-term friend of The Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture. As the pandemic has worn on and on, we asked her to give some pointers that the rest of us may need as we help children, grandchildren, and other young people navigate the challenging educational landscape. Dr. Liljestrand worked as a general pediatrician for over 30 years before retiring 5 years ago. She also holds a graduate degree in bioethics.

The Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture encourages respectful discussion and debate of bioethics issues, and strongly supports freedom of speech. To that end, we invite and welcome other voices to the discussion of bioethics issues. Invited authors’ views are their own, and do not necessarily represent those of The Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture.



A Note from our Board Chairman, R. Henry Williams, M.D., M.A.

My family’s experience with the pandemic is that we have been blessed with good health despite my continuing to work in my medical practice, thanks to a team that has protected our group through protocols and strategic planning; my wife, Wendy, has continued to teach women’s Bible studies; and we both have continued to worship and sing in our choir (shrunk to ensemble due to distancing), thanks to our church’s wise policy of implementing registration for services, mask wearing, and distancing. Doing music with our grandchildren has been a great way to get us through! Other health issues in our family, mental and physical, have overshadowed fear of the pandemic. We are now surrounded by even more people we know contracting COVID, and our vigilance has to increase. But we are amazed at God’s faithfulness and are learning more that as our world is shaken and shown to be fragile, He is in control. “But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him…” Psalm 103:17

You can hear a recent interview of Dr. Williams on
gene editing and human flourishing here (beginning at 3:50)