Academics is not what your kids need most now. What your kids need is you.

Father sits with daughter

By Ann Dypiangco, LCSW

Key Recommendations 🔥

  • Understand that when your kids act out, won’t listen, and fight with everyone, it’s because they’re stressed.
  • Parental self-care is critical. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. 
  • Playing with your kids is the most important thing you can do for their mental health right now.

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Since schools started closing, parents I have encountered have been primarily focusing on their kids’ educational needs.


That is NOT the most important thing your kids need during this unprecedented pandemic-induced global quarantine. 


What Parents Need to Focus on Is Their Family’s Mental Health


While locked down at home, our daily lives have become full of stress and anxiety.


Work calls and emails while wrangling a toddler, attention-seeking kids and their academic needs (when’s that classroom Google Hangout again?), the news, and planning grocery runs — all fill our days and overwhelm our emotions. It’s hard to find reprieve to even go to the bathroom (which is maybe okay given our toilet paper supply).


More than math problems, vocab tests, or book reports, prioritizing mental health is what will get our families through these tough times. 


Here are pointers to help you manage and enhance your child’s emotional well-being. 


1. News Flash! – Your Kids Are Stressed 😖😟 

What’s Happening: Your kids are going to kick each other for no reason, throw tantrums over dumb things, and make you repeat what you’ve asked them to do 50 times.


It’s okay. It’s not you or them. It’s the situation.


Given the circumstances, these behaviors really are a demonstration of anxiety and stress. They are expressing their feelings through their actions. When structure and consistency go out the door, it can trigger littles and bigs alike into these kinds of behaviors.


Ways to Deal: Don’t take these bad behaviors personally. Go easy on your kids and help them express themselves in a more acceptable way. 


Pro Tip:  Set limits firmly and kindly and reflect their feelings back to them. 


For example, “Looks like everyone may be feeling irritated and frustrated. How can we help each other? What do I need to do, and what can you do to help turn our day around?”


Crying child


2. Manage Your Own Feelings – You’re Stressed Too! 🤦‍♂️🤷‍♀️

What’s Happening: Irritability. Anxiety. Fear. We are all having big feelings right now. 


Ways to Deal: Role model healthy emotional management for your family. 


If you need small time outs/cooldowns to get you there, make it happen.


Set an alarm for 2-minute breathing breaks throughout the day.  Or take 5 minutes of quiet time in the bathroom. Bring in a book and tell the kids you have terrible diarrhea. That doesn’t sound so bad. 


You’re a better parent when you are a happier parent. 


Pro Tip: If/when you do flip out, go back and apologize later. You’re still role-modeling healthy communication and acceptance of responsibility.


3. Help Your Kids Relax – Make Having Fun Routine🕺💃

What’s Happening: Kids have had their schools abruptly closed, daily schedules changed, and sense of normalcy shattered.


As parents, we want to protect them as much as possible. But given the circumstances, we can’t prevent them from having normal feelings. We can, however, help them deal in healthy ways. 


Ways to Deal: For kids, non-screen time relaxation looks like: 

  • Dance Parties
  • Water play
  • Arts & Crafts
  • Creative building projects, such as blocks and Legos
  • FaceTiming friends 
  • Setting aside 5 minutes each day for physical affection. Scratch their back, give them arm tickles, or soothe whatever area they find most calming. 5 minutes goes a long way.


Pro Tip:  Engage them in activities where they can get messy and use their bodies. 


While adults often think of yoga and meditation as forms of relaxation, these can be anxiety-producing for kids. 


Making a rainbow

Rainbow art activity while stuck indoors.


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4. Help Yourself Relax  – Treat Yo Self🤴👸

What’s Happening: Our kids look to us for information about how they should respond and feel. When we are stressed, irritable, or anxious, they will be too.


Ways to Deal: The best thing we can do for our kids is to take care of ourselves. 

  • Prioritize sleep. 
  • Schedule quiet times during the day. 
  • FaceTime supportive friends and relatives. 
  • Exercise at home. 10 minutes is better than 0 minutes. 
  • Print adult coloring pages. 
  • Turn your phone off certain times of the day, preferably 60 minutes before you go to bed. 
  • Set parameters around news and social media consumption and when you talk about stressful things -not before bed and not in front of the kids.


Pro Tip:  Set 1 self-care goal each day and prioritize it. 


5. Play Together – Be The Hero Your Kids Deserve 🦸‍♂️🦸‍♀️

What’s Happening: Play is a kid’s work. It’s how they make sense of the world and get their sense of purpose and productivity. 


Yes, you still have to do work, homeschooling, and run the home.


No, you don’t have to play with them all day every day.


But can you schedule an hour each day for family playtime? 


Ways to Deal: The most important thing you can do with your kid right now is play with them.


Let me say that again. 


The most important thing you can do with your kid right now is play with them. 


Giving your child your undivided attention goes a long way compared to a couple of minutes here or there between them, your computer, and your phone. 


Pro Tip:  Child-directed play (i.e. the kid decides what to do) is a wonderful way to promote bonding and secure attachment, which means less acting out and less chance of trauma symptoms down the road. 


Family plays jump rope

Dad and daughters playing jump rope during the COVID-19 quarantine.


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Plan To Be Present


As Branch Rickey said, “Luck is the residue of design.”


Planning to be more present can go a long way – and whatever you’re able to give, makes a big difference to your little humans. 


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Ann Dypiangco LCSW

Ann Dypiangco, LCSW is a psychotherapist in private practice in La Canada Flintridge, CA. She has been practicing for 13 years and received her Masters in Social Work from Boston College’s School of Social Work.

She is also a mother of 3 and now, apparently, a homeschool teacher.

Ann is providing online therapeutic support to parents in California for the duration of the state’s COVID-19 outbreak.

For more info:


Special thanks to Rachel Facio, MFT for contributing to this piece. Rachel is also available for online therapeutic support to parents in California.

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