Here we are, about 3 weeks into quarantine, and chances are you may still be struggling with how to explain the severity of COVID-19 to your children. On top of that, getting them to follow proper hygiene, or any direction for that matter, is a struggle in itself. During these tough times where, as a parent, I don’t always have the answer to every question my child comes up with, it can be helpful to use elements of PCIT (Parent-Child Interaction Therapy). PCIT is an evidence-based treatment for young children, that uses skills proven to help children feel calm, secure, and good about themselves. As parents, we can use these skills for moments where we just don’t know what to say, or how to respond to our children’s behaviors. Below are some examples of helpful ways to keep your children (and you!) safe, healthy, and happy.
Reflections: Reflections are simply repeating what your child has said. Using reflections helps to validate your child’s thoughts and feelings, and will also make your child feel supported and understood. It will help them to know it’s okay and natural to have negative emotions during this time. You might not have answers or know what to say at times, so reflections provide a way to respond.
Your child says, “I miss grandma.” An appropriate reflection would be: “You miss grandma. Since we can’t see her in person right now, let’s Facetime her instead.”
Your child asks, “When is COVID-19 going to be over!?” An appropriate reflection would be, “You’re wondering when COVID-19 will be over. I’m wondering that too. No one knows right now. We’re just doing our best to stay safe and healthy.”
Labeled Praise: Use labeled praises when your child engages in healthy behaviors, such as sneezing or coughing into a tissue. This positive encouragement keeps them from spreading germs, and helps them to stay safe. Children will often repeat the specific behavior that is praised.
Your child sneezes into a tissue. A typical response may be, “Great job!” That’s a great praise, but it’s not labeled. It’s important to point out the exact behavior you are praising. A labeled praise would be, “Great job sneezing into a tissue!”
Your child washes their hands. An appropriate labeled praise would be: “I LOVE how you washed your hands for a full 20 seconds! That’s a great way to make sure you are staying healthy!”
Direct commands: Staying at home with your child means there are multiple times during the day where you will need to give commands. Making your commands direct and specific gives a better chance for compliance. How often have you told your child to “Be careful”? What does that even mean? You’ve likely heard back, “I am!” because from your child’s perspective whatever they are doing at the time is “being careful.”
Think of it this way. We are all being told to practice social distancing, and for many of us that was a brand new term. It was unclear as to what it really meant, so everyone may have had their own perception at first. We were then given direct commands to stay 6 feet from others, and only leave our home to go to work and/or the grocery store. Now we know exactly how to practice social distancing.
When out on a walk instead of asking, “Will you please hold my hand?” say “Hold my hand.”
When it’s time to clean up instead of asking, “How about we clean up?” say “It’s time to clean up now.”
Another indirect command that I am guilty of myself is the name repeat. “Megan, Megan, Megan, Megan!” Repeating the child’s name, no matter how much louder your voice gets each time, does not tell the child what they should be doing. Turn it into a direct command. “Megan, it’s time for dinner. Please go wash your hands for 20 seconds.”
Keep in mind this situation is new to ALL of us, and there is no specific “right way” to handle everything right now. Reach out for support when needed, make your mental health a priority, and remember it’s almost impossible to do what’s best for your children if you are not doing what’s best for you.