COVID-19 Resource Center

COVID-19 Resource Center

Perspective from Robert Sege, MD, PhD
March 26, 2020
3 min read

AAP offers tips for parents dealing with pandemic-related stress

Perspective from Robert Sege, MD, PhD
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The AAP released a list of tips for parents who are dealing with financial, emotional and other stresses related to the COVID-19 pandemic as they spend time isolated indoors with their families, encouraging them to engage in self-care, seek assistance and use healthy discipline for children.

“During this time of understandable anxiety, give back and reach out to other parents when they need support,” AAP President Sara H. Goza, MD, FAAP, said in a statement. “If someone calls you frustrated about a crying baby or screaming toddler, offer to help.”

The AAP encouraged caregivers to “take care of themselves physically: eat healthy, exercise, and get enough sleep.”

“Parents and caregivers also should maintain important connections to friends, family and others in their community who can offer a critical support network by phone or video,” it said.

The AAP noted that children are at an increased risk for being abused when families are stressed.

Children also may show signs of increased stress, which can lead to increased frustration for the entire household. The AAP recommended the following disciplinary techniques:

  • Engage your children in constructive activities. Bored or frustrated children are more likely to act out. Many children have had their lives disrupted. They are out of school and cannot play with their friends.
  • Help them with their fears. Children who are not old enough to follow the news may be afraid that they or their parents are going to die. You can acknowledge the fear and discuss all the things you are doing to stay healthy, such as washing hands and staying home.
  • Call a timeout. The discipline toll works best by warning children they will get a timeout if they do not stop, reminding them what they did wrong in as few words — and with little emotion — as possible, and removing them from the situation for a preset length of time (1 minute per year of age is a good guide).
  • Know when not to respond. As long as your child is not doing something dangerous and gets plenty of attention for good behavior, ignoring bad behavior can be an effective way of stopping it. Ignoring bad behavior can teach children natural consequences of their actions.
  • Catch them being good. Children need to know when they do something bad — and when they do something good. Notice good behavior and point it out, praising success and good tries. This is particularly important in these difficult times when children are separated from their friends and usual routines.
  • Give them your attention. The most powerful tool for effective discipline is attention — to reinforce good behaviors and discourage others. Remember, all children want their parent’s attention. When parents are trying to work at home, this can be particularly challenging. Clear communication and setting expectations can help, particularly with older children.

Spanking, hitting and other forms of corporal punishment can increase aggression in children in the long term and do not teach children to behave or practice self-control, the AAP said.

Research shows that it may harm the child and inhibit normal brain development. Corporal punishment may also undermine the feeling of safety and security in the home, which is particularly important now, the AAP said.

“Positive, nurturing relationships are so important for children as they develop, and parents and caregivers also need support — especially during times of uncertainty and stress like we’re in now,” Suzanne Haney, MD, FAAP, chair of the AAP Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, said in a statement. “Everyone can play a role within their own family and in their network of friends and neighbors to support the most vulnerable among us.” – by Ken Downey Jr.

Disclosures: Goza is the AAP president and Haney is chair of the AAP’s Council on Child Abuse and Neglect.