We all think about being the parent we truly want to be. Perhaps that seems more challenging during this pandemic. Supporting the range of emotions, both our children’s and ours, can be overwhelming, even at the best of times. Yet what’s changed during COVID is having the gift of more time — something of which so many families typically have very little — providing a chance for us to do better.

Many children today are so scheduled, managed and directed, they’re unable to fully discover who they really are, to embrace the essence of childhood. Childhood stress has certainly been on the rise. As parents, being involved and supporting what they’re doing is certainly important, yet we cross the line, violating their personal boundaries, when we negotiate their conflicts for them, overseeing every interaction with siblings and friends. Maybe we don’t like to hear conflict, thus we intervene, recommending what each child should say or do. Yet if we want our children to grow into successful, confident, independent adults, that won’t happen if we speak and think for them, closely monitoring their play, interactions, exploration. Free, uninterrupted play in childhood is key. Play is children’s “work,” helping them learn how to be in the world, discovering how to navigate different situations with increasing challenges. Negotiating differences (hopefully with parental modeling of how conflicts are respectfully mediated) is also an integral part of a child’s learning curve.

We want our children to be critical thinkers, to have a sense of adventure, and to possess the ability to problem-solve. Hopefully we inspire them to be leaders, educators, community builders, entrepreneurs, and stewards of the earth. These qualities aren’t developed when children’s every move and conversation are controlled. We can let them have conflict. When it doesn’t work, they will figure out another way, making peace as/when needed. This is most effectively accomplished with experiential learning. Their mistakes are their opportunity to learn, to grow. Again, having extra time now is giving us more options.

This opportunity to be home with our families allows parents to be more present, bringing space for children to feel safe expressing their unhappy or anxious feelings. The isolation provides a chance to practice connection and problem solving with our children. Some parents report enjoying their children more, having more time to listen and engage, while other parents are feeling trapped at home, struggling with their families not doing well. I’ve been asked to offer a few parenting suggestions to consider during this time of isolation.

Some helpful reminders:

When children are behaving badly, something is blocking them from being successful. Speak to the emotional root rather than focusing on the behavior. This is when they actually need our full attention and unconditional love the most.

Understand your child’s individual temperament, framing how he behaves through that lens. If he is spirited, intense reactions will be the driving force. This means most responses to requests, guidance, suggestions, etc., will be strong and immediate. Adapt your lens to: “This is who my child is. I need to help him learn to recognize his increasing intensity before it overwhelms him.”

Do not use “time out” as a punishment. As adults, taking a break is a calming way to process what’s going on. Yet, we use “time out” for children as punishment, banishing them from the family or activity. Rather than inviting our children to take a break to regain control and feel calmer, we’ve turned this into distressful retribution. Everyone feels like a loser with “time out.”

Using humor is always a wonderful ice-breaker — when it’s having fun with not making fun of. Try giving your children in fantasy what they can’t have in reality. Make it a fun game, acknowledging how much they may want something and showing that you appreciate their perspective: “If we could all fly to the moon to get away from this . . . and (not ‘but’) here we are, still with our work/chores, etc. to do.”

Listen respectfully to how your child feels, share your perspective, and then ask him to work with you in trying to solve the problem together. Children can come up with some wonderful solutions when we don’t target them as the problem.

A good “mantra” for all our family relationships: “I get that’s what works for you (or how you see it), and that’s not what works for me (or how I see it), so let’s figure out something that works for us both (or how we might see this differently).” Collaboration!

“Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse? Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better?” — Jane Nelsen

May you embrace this time to be innovative, creative, discover deeper connection, to attend to your self-care . . . and, most of all, to be safe and well.