Covid-19 has posed many challenges for families. One of these is the pressure and stress that can result from increased togetherness. For years, many parents have worried about having enough time to spend with their children, and have felt harried by the demands of work and parenting. Now that many families are home together all day, new stresses have arisen. Many parents have found that forced homeschooling is incredibly daunting, that schedules are harder to establish and maintain, and that adult-time seems to be a thing of the past.
Our clinicians have found that in some families conflicts have become particularly heated. Younger children can be resistant to doing school, as can teens. Parents struggling to manage their own working at home do not have time to “teach” their children. Teenagers can demand more freedoms than parents believe are safe. As a result, conflicts and tensions can increase. Moreover, the lack of “breaks”, where children are at school and activities, and adults are at work, can create a pressure cooker environment.
Our therapists have found that “time out” is an increasingly important strategy. We are not referring to time outs, where children are sent to their room, but rather to taking a time out, for all parties, when conflicts and tensions start to rise, walking away from arguments and conflicts, until tempers cool. As conflicts escalate parents are often at risk of losing their cool, of reacting in angry ways, that compromise their authority and set poor examples for children. In addition, children and teens can escalate conflicts and argue points endlessly, particularly as they become angrier and more frustrated. This can result in: volatile, upsetting and even dangerous conflicts; parents capitulating when they should not; and children and teens escalating their negative behaviors as they are increasingly angry and frustrated. .
Ron Taffel, a psychologist who has written extensively about parenting, has been an advocate of this approach. Like Taffel, we argue that parents need to walk away from conflicts when they find that they are losing their composure and perspective, starting to believe that they have to “win” the argument, make their point. Some parents question whether this is an abdication of authority. Rather, we suggest that it is a way to maintain their authority by stopping counter-productive arguing and debate. Finally, there are teens and children who will not disengage easily. With these kids, parents need to learn to exit the conflicts sooner, before the child has become overly emotional.
Like many parenting strategies, this approach is far easier to suggest, than to implement. We often find that parents need coaching, support and practice to master this approach. We also recommend several books by Taffel, particularly “When parents Disagree and What you can Do About it.” In future entries we will discuss how to help parents assist each other when one parent has trouble “time a time out,” walking away.