Q: I have an almost-6-year-old daughter who is a lot like me. I’ve read your articles about temperament and realize that her angry temper and inability to deal well when she doesn’t get what she wants mirrors what I do. I’m not sure if it’s “nature” or “nurture” (Does she copy the way I behave or is she like this no matter what I model?). We both yell when we’re frustrated, banging cupboards and drawers and being nasty to everyone. I lose my temper pretty easily, but I always try to let my family know I’m sorry later. So now this coronavirus has me scared and short-tempered. Having my kids at home isn’t easy. I’m yelling at them a lot, but then feel bad and let them know I’m not handling this situation very well. My daughter seems to be reacting and is yelling and slamming doors since school closed. I’ve been trying to just ignore her behavior, thinking she’ll then get tired of doing it. I also sometimes lose it and start yelling back at her. If we’re going to be at home together now for a long period, I’m worried how this will go. What can I do to get her to stop thinking she can stomp around the house yelling so she’ll eventually get what she wants. I’ve noticed that she’s starting to feel sorry for how she acts once the dust settles. Some advice or feedback would be really helpful.

A: This is a strange, challenging time in which we’re currently living. There are many unknowns, not the least of which is how long COVID-19 will keep us self-isolating, turning our lives upside-down. I appreciate it’s difficult to hide your stress from your children. How you handle anger is what you learned from your family of origin (I suspect you might not have been allowed to show anger or frustration as a child, or perhaps one or both of your parents modeled the same behavior you now don’t want for you or your daughter). Although sharing your remorse with your children sets a good example, it doesn’t help if your behavior never changes. Acknowledge that having them home from school is a teaching moment for you, as this current virus situation is an unusual challenge. Ask them to help you find other tools for expressing your frustration; your daughter might even be the first to voice a positive alternative.

Ignoring her behavior isn’t helpful. The fact that your daughter is showing remorse is good, as long as it isn’t driven by shame. Since you mentioned your daughter has been reacting more since school was dismissed, accept the feelings at the root of that: “These changes are hard, making you feel so angry at times, you want to slam things. I understand you miss school and your friends. What do you think would help to make this feel better?” Before her anger erupts again, let her know you understand how her anger and frustration sometimes get really strong, because you feel those emotions too. There’s potential for a great conversation with deeper understanding, followed by brainstorming together new ways to constructively vent those emotions. What’s most important is accepting her feelings and collaborating on ways to support each other in expressing your strong emotions differently.

Q: My kids are bored being out of school and keep bothering me to have screen time. I’m trying to “home school” them but it’s pretty hard. They need electronics to fill the time, but I feel guilty if I let them do that. I can’t stand their boredom and complaining, though, and their constant interruptions when I’m trying to get work done. Suggestions?

A: Of course, this is an unusual time. Our children are born with the seeds of imagination, ready for fertilization and growth. We don’t need to teach this skill; however, we do need to nurture it, making opportunities for unstructured play and creativity. Boredom is just that opportunity, making room for children to struggle with life’s challenges, opening doors for them to wrestle with resolving inner conflicts. It is through play that children can make sense of their world, providing a way to gain some control.

If we allow electronic entertainment to quell the boredom, the stimulation soon becomes more appealing than unstructured play and outdoor exploration. Parents typically offer their suggestions, trying to manage or “fix” the problem when their child is bored, restless for something to do. However, children’s boredom creates opportunities to utilize their own inner resources, to reach into their imaginative side. Given it’s challenging to listen to a bored, complaining child, it’s always easier to allow a DVD, television, or computer game.

Creating safe space in which children can explore the outdoors supports autonomy. Unstructured time at home can fertilize children’s imagination, which is their “natural resource”; help them by providing materials for creative drama, art, or games. Childhood is a precious, fleeting chapter, requiring ample time and energy to germinate the seeds of this resource.

School puts demands on children. Having this unexpected home time can be the antidote, providing the emotional and physical bandwidth for unscheduled, unsupervised creativity, possibly the most valuable education we can provide our children. It’s this fertile space in which children stretch themselves in different ways. Over-scheduled children may not have the opportunity to complain about having nothing to do. Sadly, children become too dependent on adults for direction, for making their decisions, for controlling them, becoming less able to be innovative or to resolve their own conflicts. Listen to their boredom with curiosity and acceptance, without trying to fix it for them. You can say something like: “It’s hard to know what to do when things aren’t scheduled as they are in school. Using the iPad seems like a great way to fill the gaps. Being homeschooled is a new experience and figuring it out takes a while. I trust you’ll come up with some good ideas of how to spend your free time. If you need help with collecting materials for a project or brainstorming different ideas, I’m here to listen.”

As Fred Rogers said: “There are times all during life when we need the inner resources to keep ourselves busy and productive all by ourselves.”

Be wise, be safe, be well. Physically distance!