UCI News

Quarantine parenting

UCI expert offers advice on daily routines, discipline and dealing with schoolwork during pandemic

by Pat Harriman, UCI | May 5, 2020
Quarantine parenting
“During this extended quarantine, parents are faced with a near-impossible task of balancing their children’s need for independence and structure with school demands as well as the demands of their own professions, which have only intensified during this period,” says Jessica Borelli, UCI associate professor of psychological science and a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in parent-child relationships. “This leaves many parents at a loss. The current reality is unlike any that families have ever faced before.” Patricia DeVoe / School of Social Ecology

Parenting can be stressful under any circumstances; the new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic makes it even more difficult. As families adjust to working from home, online learning and being together around the clock, moms and dads may wonder how best to organize their children’s activities, meet academic demands and maintain discipline.

Jessica Borelli, UCI associate professor of psychological science and a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in parent-child relationships, offers a few tips for “quarantine parenting.”

How should I manage my child’s time during this extended quarantine – balancing my child’s dual needs for independence and structure? And how does that change with age?

Having a daily routine helps create predictability, rhythm, a sense of normalcy and an increased feeling of safety. Use a daily, weekly and monthly calendar that includes schoolwork, regular exercise and sleep. You’ll probably get more buy-in by involving your child in the planning process to some degree, but the ways in which you involve your child may depend on his or her age. Junior high and high school kids can help create the calendar.

When it comes to school activities for young elementary students, make a schedule of specific functions but leave room for some flexibility. For example, 9:30-10 a.m. could be reading time, but let your child choose the book. For older children, it’s not as necessary for parents to direct their schoolwork. Teachers manage daily classroom activities, homework and other assignments.

Adding new family routines, such as taking walks together, can be a way to insert fun into the day.

The public schools want my children to do everything online and “prove” their time working. How do I reconcile these demands with the almost universal advice to limit screen time? 

Typically, the reason it’s recommended to curb screen time is because of what youngsters are doing on screens: passively receiving information. That’s not what they’re doing in the distance learning programs offered by your child’s school, so that reasoning likely does not apply. Another thing to remember is that it’s OK to allow your child to spend five hours on school-sanctioned screen time now and adjust that rule when in-person education resumes. However, you may have other concerns about screen time that pertain to your child’s eyesight or lack of physical exercise. You might want to a) make your own educational plan for your child that involves less computer time or b) include more physical exercise breaks in your child’s routine. Now more than ever, remember that it’s all right to have different rules and limits than do other families.

How do I impose discipline? I don’t want to be overly permissive, but I don’t want my children to feel like they live with a tyrant – me – from whom they can’t escape.

While recognizing how much has already been taken away from your kids, discipline is still important; it’s part of predictability and makes them feel safe. You can show them that you care about how they feel by being empathic toward their feelings. But have clear, fair limits that they know about ahead of time. Children still need their parents to be in charge of them. It’s far scarier and worse if their parents can’t – or won’t – set limits.