Sheltering in place can create behavior changes for the whole family. Here you can find information on what you can expect and how you can respond to these behaviors in a helpful and positive way.
Quick guide on setting limits included below.
With the ongoing pandemic, we are living through very are uncertain times. Routine changes, added stress and worry is likely to be affecting your whole family.
Even if you are doing your very best to keep calm, it’s very possible that your child will still experience some behavior changes during the time that you must shelter in place.
Big changes come with Big feelings.
Similar to when families welcome a sibling, or have to move to a new home, big changes lead to big feelings. Big feelings are often expressed with behavior changes.
Behavior is communication. Children don’t often come to us and say “I’m having a hard time.” Children change their behavior. They “act out”, behave in new or unexpected ways.
You might actually be surprised by new behaviors. Or puzzled as to why your previously kind, cooperative kid is now refusing to do very basic tasks.
Having to shelter in place is a big change for many families and children.
Let’s look at some ways sheltering in place might be affecting your child’s behavior.
Pouting. Shouting. Tears. Tantrums
Your child might be confused about how they feel right now. They may alternate between feeling happy, sad, worried, confused and bored.
Small things that your child might have taken in stride on an ordinary day might trigger tears, yelling or frustration.
Whining and crying are common ways for children to deal with stress and change.
- Try to be understanding of your child’s feelings and respond calmly.
- By validating your child’s feelings, you are giving them the safety they need to move through their uncertainty.
Building this kind of trust will be the basis, going forward to working together towards cooperation.
Being extra clingy
Your child might suddenly want to be babied or sleep near you. This search for closeness is a way to seek reassurance and safety.
Being clingy is code for “I need love, reassurance and safety.”
Seeking more attention and affection from you is actually an age appropriate response to a stressful or uncertain situations.
This is how your child is letting you know very clearly that they are feeling uncertain or uneasy about what is happening.
When your child is unable to un-glue herself from you, try to validate feelings and fears.
- “I see you don’t want to be far from me.”
- “You seem to need to be close to me right now, I’m here for you.”
Regression is not uncommon during times of stress and change.
Your child might have potty acidents, or suddenly be unable to complete simple tasks on their own.
Your child might refuse to do things alone ( showing defiance or whining) or they may insist you do the tasks for them.
You migh hear variations on:
- “I can’t”
- “This is too hard for me.”
- “You do it!!!!!”
Demanding or helplessness is another way children share with you that they are overwhelmed.
The best response in this case is to model graciousness.
If you want them to be generous, be generous (yes, of spirit, not just with “things.”) If you want them to be helpful, be helpful. If you want them to help without being asked, help without being asked. If you want them to speak softly, speak softly. If you want them to say thank you, say thank you. Always without resentment—because I presume that you don’t want children who resent you.
Robin Einzig, Visible Child
Responding and attending to your child’s needs by helping them will not spoil them or make them forever dependent on you.
The more warmth, patience and kindness you can show now, the more the situation will normalize in your home. Soon your child will feel confident and safe again.
Change in eating and sleeping habits.
Your child’s routine is likely different now that you are sheltering in place.
Worry, stress and new routines often have an impact on sleeping and eating habits.
Some children will have botomless tummy’s and ask to snack all the time. Some children may not want to eat or suddenly become very picky.
Sleep changes can be common when routines change. Your child might have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Increase in night wakings, nightmares are all possible.
Your child might wish for you to stay by their bedside while they fall alseep as they seek extra comfort and safety. Some children may worry so much they keep themselves awake.
Another possibility is that your child holds together all day long but simply can’t manage anymore at the end of the day. Bedtime might be more difficult than usual.
Behavior changes in sleeping and eating tend to improve when children feel safe and secure.
Impulse control is hard when the brain is stressed and tired.
You might find that your child is acting out, not listening, or particularly uncooperative.
Any and all of these behavior changes are possible.
Please expect that children will likely exhibit more challenging behaviors during this pandemic. Their routines are disrupted and they pick up on the ambient stress in our world. Patience, empathy and compassion will help all of us manage these uncertain times. Sending love
Mona Delahooke, Ph.D.
Here’s one tried and true approach for disciplining challenging behaviors
Stay calm. Set clear limits and then coach your child on how to do better next time.
While most children will not actually admit to wanting or liking limits, especially when it means less cookies or no more screen time, keeping limits shows your child they can trust you to keep some order during uncertain times.
Here is a quick guide on setting limits:
- Say what you mean in a calm and clear way.
- Adjust your expectations to the situation you are in.
- Think carefully if a limit is truly necessary and then follow through with the limits you set.
There is no perfect blueprint you must follow right now.
Be kind. Be patient. With your children, yourself, and anyone else you live with.
Address unhelpful behaviors in positive, respectful ways as often as possible.
If you end up yelling, crying or just having your own tantrum, forgive yourself.
Even if it’s not how you wish you were handling things, you are certainly NOT the only parent having a hard time.
It’s always possible to stop, reset and restore your relationship.
Here Are Three Steps You can Take After Yelling At Your Child To Restore Your Relationship
- Rewind: Acknowledge internally that you have said something hurtful or rude
- Repair: Apologize for not only what you said, but how you did it.
- Replay: Try again, this time responding with kindness and the intent to connect.
If you need support, reach out. I am happy to share resources with you and wish you and your family safety and health.
Peace and Be well,
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