5 ways parents can motivate children at home during the pandemic –  no nagging, no tantrums
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This article was originally published by The Conversation. You can read it here.

Parents have always helped with homework and made sure their children fulfill responsibilities like chores, but the extended and often unstructured time families are spending together during the current crisis creates new challenges.

After a disaster like a hurricane or fire, establishing structure is important to keep consistency and maintain a sense of control for both parents and children. This includes creating a schedule and communicating clear expectations and guidelines on things such as screen time.


But how do parents get children to follow the schedule and fulfill responsibilities without nagging and in a way that prevents blowups and tantrums?

Wendy Grolnick, a psychologist and parenting expert who has worked with parents in disaster situations, has studied how parents can help children become more self-motivated and decrease conflict in the family. In this piece she shares some strategies to make the house run more smoothly during the coronavirus crisis.

1. Involve children in setting schedules

When children participate in creating guidelines and schedules, they are more likely to believe the guidelines are important, accept them and follow them.

To involve children, parents can set up a family meeting. At the meeting, parents can discuss the schedule and ask children for their input on decisions like what time everyone should be out of bed and dressed, when breaks from schoolwork would work best and where each family member should be during study time.

Not every idea will be feasible – children may feel being dressed by noon is fine! But when parents listen to a child's ideas, it helps them own their behavior and be more engaged in what they are doing.

There may well be differences in opinion. Parents can negotiate with their children so that at least some of the children's ideas are adopted. Resolving conflicts is an important skill for children to learn, and they learn it best from their parents.

2. Allow children some choice

Schoolwork has to be done and chores need to be completed, but having some choice about how they are accomplished can help children feel less pressured and coerced, which undermines their motivation.

Parents can present some chores around the house, and children can choose which they prefer. They can also pick when or how they complete them – do they want to do the dishes before or after watching their TV show?

Parents can also give children choice about what fun activity they would like to do at the end of the day or for a study break.


3. Listen and provide empathy

Children will be more open to hearing about what they need to do if they feel that their own perspectives are understood. Parents can let children know that they understand, for example, that it is not fun to be in the house and that they miss being with their friends.

Parents can begin requests with an empathetic statement. For example, "I know it seems like getting dressed is silly because we're in the house. But getting dressed is part of the routine we have all decided upon."

Even if they might not agree with their child's perspective, when parents show that they understand, cooperation is enhanced, as is the parent-child relationship.

4. Provide reasons for rules

When parents provide reasons for why they are asking for something, children can better understand the importance of acting in particular ways. Reasons will be most effective when they are meaningful to the children in terms of the children's own goals. For example, a parent can say that dividing up family chores will help everyone have more time for fun activities after dinner.

5. Problem-solve together

Not everything will go according to plan – there will be times of frustration, nagging and yelling. When things aren't working out, parents can try engaging in joint problem-solving with their children, which means employing empathy, identifying the issue and finding ways to resolve it.

For example, a parent might state, "You know how I've been nagging you to get up in the morning? It's probably really annoying to hear that first thing in the morning. The problem is that even though we decided we'd all get up at 8 a.m., you are not getting out of bed. Let's put our heads together to see what we can do to make morning time go more smoothly. What are your ideas?"

I have seen this take the stress out of mornings for working parents who need to take their children to school before going to work, and I believe it could help during the pandemic, too.

All of these practices can help children to feel more ownership of their behavior. That will make them more likely to cooperate.

However, these strategies require time and patience – something that is hard to come by at times of stress. Research studies show that parents are more likely to yell, demand and threaten when time is limited, they are stressed or they feel worried about how their children are performing.

That's why its important for parents to find time for their own self-care and rejuvenation – whether it be by taking a walk, exercising, meditating or writing in a journal. A pandemic or other disaster presents challenges for parents, but using motivational strategies can help parents provide a calmer and more effective environment that also facilitates a positive parent-child relationship.

Wendy Grolnick is Professor of Psychology, Clark University




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Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

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“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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