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COVID-19 Parenting Pep Talk: (Re)focus on Positive Guidance

Originally published:

Smiling child with audult

In spring 2020, our world was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Illinois, our stay-at-home order has caused drastic changes in daily routines for everyone. With schools, many childcare centers, and most other places closed to stop the spread of COVID-19, we have found our daily routines profoundly changed.

COVID-19 has brought many challenges that vary depending on family circumstances. For some, #covidparenting has blurred the lines between work and home. For essential workers, it has brought worry about exposure to the virus, and for others it has led to worry about job losses.

Young children sense the stress this situation brings and may act out with behaviors, such as whining, crying, biting, hitting, or clinginess, that caregivers find challenging to manage. Children may test their boundaries of what is acceptable behavior at home, perhaps by coloring on the walls instead of on paper.

Although these are typical things young children do to express themselves, in this trying time, these behaviors can be overwhelming for parents and care providers who are also working through their stress from adjusting to changing work, school, and family routines. It can be very hard in these moments not to just yell “STOP!”

You may be wondering, “How does she know what’s happening in my house?” Here is the truth. I have two children in my home, including a preschooler. I have years of experience as an early childhood educator and degrees in child development, but over the past few months in my home, I have had to yell “STOP!” more than once. I, too, am trying to balance working at home with parenting. My challenging moments have included when I have yelled “STOP! Pouring cups of water on the floor is not how we wash the floor!” and “STOP throwing blocks at the window. You will break it!”

Feeling the need to yell “STOP!” all the time is exhausting. After some deep breathing and reflection, I realized I needed to get back to basics and draw on positive guidance strategies to get through parenting during a pandemic. Truly, there is no such thing as a perfect parent, or an all-knowing educator. Though we may be staying in our homes, it’s important to know that we share similar struggles in guiding young children. We are #alonetogether as we navigate #covidparenting and caregiving.

It may seem as if children are doing these things to purposely frustrate us. However, when we try to understand the thought or feeling the child is communicating through these challenging behaviors, we can guide them to more appropriate behaviors. Instead of responding with a “no,” we can turn these moments into chances for connection. This is the meaning of positive guidance.

In the case of my preschooler, that meant saying, “I see you want to help by washing the floors. Let me give you a spray bottle and a dust rag so you can help clean the baseboards, and I will take care of the mopping.” Another time I said: “I see you are looking for someone to play with you. Let’s see who can build the tallest tower with the blocks instead of throwing them at the window.”

This spring, the Illinois Early Learning Project created four new tip sheets focused on positive guidance. Each one focuses on a different set of strategies that parents and caregivers can use to support children during challenging moments. We hope these help you to plan ahead to prevent challenging behaviors, calm down during emotional moments, be thoughtful about your responses, and be consistent in your routines.

Even though I contributed to writing these tip sheets, in this stressful time I have gone back to them to remind myself of the strategies that can change moments I feel like yelling “STOP” into more peaceful moments with my children. In future blogs, I’ll share some other strategies I have been trying to keep my household on track during this trying time. I hope you will also find these helpful.

Rebecca Swartz

Rebecca Swartz

Dr. Rebecca Swartz is an assistant professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She teaches courses in the early childhood education program including courses on early language and literacy, early mathematics, and collaboration with families. Prior to coming to SIUE she was an early learning specialist on state early childhood projects in the Department of Special Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

IEL Resources

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Home
  • Family Child Care
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program
  • Kindergarten

Intended audience(s):
  • Parents / Family
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related IEL Birth to Three Guidelines:
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2020