April 14, 2020


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 at home 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 at home 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 life at home 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 at home. 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.

Make Time For YOU!

That’s why it’s 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.

[Get facts about coronavirus and the latest research. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]The Conversation

Wendy Grolnick, Professor of Psychology, Clark University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Main Image: Sebastien Bozon/AFP via Getty Images

How are you coping with tantrums and meltdowns while stuck at home? Tell us in the comments below.

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  • It certainly was a crazy time


  • I’ve only had one melt down from my daughter as she is feeling over whelmed


  • These are all great tips. I have created a schedule for my teen son of things for him to do for the week. He can manage where it fits into other things he wants to do eg. exercise, chores, etc. He works best with a plan.


  • This is a timely article, it’s been hard living in iso with everyone!


  • Thank you for the article.Last week i struggled lot with my 3 kids. This week i am planning to do setting shedules.


  • I think having a plan is important.


  • This is not an issue I have to face thank goodness. I know it must be difficult for parents in this abnormal time and I wish them the best.


  • I am so glad that I don’t have to worry about this and I take my hat off to all those who are trying to cope with this problem.


  • Not all children are as manageable now as they once used to be. I’m sure things will sort themselves out once it gets near to the date. As for those staying at home with no children – get your jumpers and put on the rig.


  • My 14 and 17 year olds aren’t doing too badly with remote learning. I’m finding I have to be the IT person though !


  • good to know


  • My son is 3 and daughter 9 months so very young. My 3 year old doesn’t really understand why we can’t do things that we normally would do he is very emotional. We have been trying to get outside lots and always go for a walk in the afternoon to have some routine.


  • Great tips here. Such a challenge to get them on board and to be willing to involve them in the negotiation without insisting or coercing them to go with your ways of doing things. Lots of patience required but so worthwhile in the long term!


  • I agree, we don’t go out much in general so we have no issues with this and spending time together, I think the hardest thing is on the kids as they can’t physically see their friends and school and hang out on weekeneds etc like they used to so are spending more time playing on their devices with them


  • We manage ok, we just have to explain as best we can for whatever the reason they are throwing tantrums


  • I think it makes the biggest difference when you involve them and give the, choice


  • So first day extremely hard. Wished it was so much easier. Here’s hoping for the next days to be so much easier


  • Wow good article especially for this time


  • I find it interesting that parents and families can’t stand to spend all this time together. It’s sad that families can’t be happy and need so much info about motivation, handling their kids, relieve boredom etc. It shows how reliant we are on not actually being together much!


  • Great advice as I’m not looking forward to term 2 with two high schoolers, 1 primary schooler, 1 kindergartener and a toddler all at home together. Luckily we have zones for everyone to do their homework in, I’ll just need to get into a routine and stick to it.


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