Importance of positive parenting in times of crisis

New research indicates parents’ financial concerns, worries and sadness are getting in the way of parenting during the novel coronavirus pandemic, the virus that causes the infectious disease COVID-19.


It comes as no surprise that parents are feeling a lot of stress and anxiety during these uncertain times. However, it can be hard to remember or see the effects of these sudden changes on children. New research from the University of Michigan released March 31, 2020 highlights that children are feeling the psychological and physical brunt of their parents’ stress caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Shawna Lee, the report’s lead author and an associate professor of social work, said that, "For a large number of parents, financial concerns, other worries, social isolation, loneliness and sadness are getting in the way of parenting." The researchers conducted an online survey beginning March 24, one week after the social distancing guidelines went into place. They surveyed 562 adults; 288 were parents of at least one child under the age of 12.

Parents self-reported high levels of psychological and physical punishments. Four out of 10 parents said they have shouted, yelled or screamed at their kids a few times or more in the last week and 19% said that is an increase over their usual behaviors. Additionally, 15% said they have increased their use of discipline. One in six parents shared they have increased their use of physical discipline, having spanked or slapped their children. Despite these troubling findings, the research did indicate that 88% of parents reported they and their children have shown love for each other in the last two weeks.

It is important in these stressful situations for parents to remember that a sense of love and connection to their children is critical in mitigating the effects of stress. Positive parenting including an awareness of emotions, connecting with your child, listening to your child, naming emotions and helping them find solutions has been shown to provide a 79% improvement in a child’s positive behaviors and well-being, according to Bath Spa University, 2016.

Furthermore, positive parenting has been found to support resilience, even in children whose lives begin with disadvantage. When children experience positive and supportive parenting, they are more likely to thrive.

Parents are currently facing an unprecedented set of challenges. As the weeks pass, stressors such as financial concerns, health and safety concerns, social isolation, pressure to provide home based education and work expectations are building for parents. Lee’s study also indicated parents are worried they can’t afford to pay bills (50%) and that money will run out (55%). A majority of parents indicated financial concerns (52%) and social isolation (50%) are getting in the way of parenting.

In times such as this, it is important for parents to remember that above all else, providing a loving and nurturing home environment will support their children best through this crisis. It is OK if your children stay up too late sometimes or if you haven’t been following a strict routine. It is OK if you’ve not gotten your children to finish homework packets or if they’re staying up past their usual bedtime. None of Michigan’s parents have experience parenting in a global pandemic. If your children have their basic needs met and are feeling loved, nurtured and safe, you are successfully parenting. You are doing enough. You are enough.

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