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Corona Fatigue Syndrome—Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My children seem to be showing signs of anxiety. Compared to a year ago, they’re much more clingy, argumentative, sullen, competitive with each other, and just on edge.

I’m pestered with questions about the coronavirus, returning to school, grandma’s health, and whether their friends will ever have sleepovers with them again. If I leave the house to get groceries or something, I get texts every 5 minutes from one or the other. They are 8 and 11 years old, so it’s not like they can’t manage a few hours a week without me. 

Zoo Keeper

Dear Z.K.,

If things are a bit zoo-ey with your children there are plenty of reasons, not the least of which is the impact of the ongoing global health crisis. 

Winter Blahs

Bundling up to go outside may have lost its appeal by late winter. However, lack of exercise and lack of invigorating fresh air can directly cause behaviors of irritability and lethargy. 

It’s important for growing bodies to have exercise every day. Fresh air is always good for pulmonary (lung) health, which is extra important since the lungs are a target for Covid-19. 

Remind your children to dress in layers to trap body heat when the outside air is cold. Include an outer layer that is easily removed in case their play gets energetic, warming those air pockets between the layers of clothing. (That should be a goal!) Now may be a good time to splurge on new sweatshirts, or to dig to the bottom of the children’s dresser drawers for a few last chances to wear a forgotten sweater that will be outgrown by next fall. And be sure to spend time outside yourself!

Developmental Stages

Textbook descriptions of typical eight-year-old behavior reveal that they don’t get along with siblings (and crave time with their peers), and that eleven-year-olds don’t get along with anyone. A year ago you may have had a serene seven-year-old and an on-top-of-the-world ten-year-old. At age seven, a child can suddenly appreciate different perspectives and find a variety of solutions to a conflict. This makes him or her an ideal sibling. Ten-year-olds are generally pleased with themselves and think their parents are amazing. Feeling competent by comparison, a ten-year-old may be compassionately patient with a younger sibling.

The best way to endure a temporary phase of normal child development is to accept it. Help your eight-year-old stay in touch with friends – through technology or socially distant outdoor get togethers. Help your eleven-year-old escape to books and hobbies or creative outlets for expressing passionate criticisms of the world at large. Gripes and grievances can be constructively channeled into poetry or painting. 

Routines and Celebrations

Remember the state of disbelief we were in about a year ago realizing that birthday parties planned for the latter part of March might have to be cancelled, postponed, or converted to a  Zoom call? A year of re-arranged celebrations, at-home schooling, and continued uncertainties takes its toll. As difficult as this has been for adults, upheavals in routines can be even more bewildering for children. 

Keep daily rhythms as predictable as possible. Plan and post your outings with and without the children on a visible calendar so they can check and double check what’s coming up. Do your best to only promise what is known as far as future planning – especially concerning sleepovers and other long-missed activities. “We don’t know when we’ll be able to do that, so for now let’s plan a shared movie night by phone with your friend.”

Be The Grown-Up

Living through a pandemic poses many challenges. Masked grocery shopping, drive by nasal swabs, working from home, cancelled trips, virtual everything. As a parent, you’ve had to adapt to changes in how you provide for your children’s needs, including their need for you to give them reliable, and age appropriate, information. 

Filter world, national, and local news to offer manageable chunks to your children. Positive news is always better than negative, so sandwich the bad in between some good. If Grandma hasn’t been able to schedule a vaccine, share the good news about the statewide portal  for Maryland residents. News about vaccines for children still holds more questions than answers at this time.

Use reliable sources for information and tap into your network of friends and family to do what you can to support each other. When you take action to manage challenges posed by the pandemic, including staying informed and keeping the pantry stocked, your competence is observed by your children. 

Things will likely be unsteady for a while yet. Keep doing the best parenting that you can and your children will be assured that things will be all right.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist  and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum  Register for upcoming parenting workshops on Zoom:
March 9 “Why Do Children Misbehave?”

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