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When home is not a safe place during quarantine

Written By: Laura Frnka-Davis | Updated: April 21, 2020
Child abuse and COVID-19

The current situation is stressful for families and sometimes, home is a difficult place to be. But there are things parents can do for their children and themselves to manage their emotions and actions during this time.

COVID-19 has turned daily life on its head. Families are finding themselves spending every hour of every day together. Many families welcome the opportunity to have more time together. But sometimes being stuck at home creates strain that can lead to arguments or even violence.

Girardet-Rebecca
Rebecca Girardet, MD

“The pandemic is causing significant health and economic problems for many people. It also magnifies problems that many people were dealing with before COVID-19, like trouble in a marriage, a child with difficult behavior, or stretched finances,” said Rebecca Girardet, MD, a specialist in child abuse pediatrics at UT Physicians and director of the Division of Child Safety and Integrated Care at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “The fear and restrictions caused by COVID-19 can be a recipe for people getting upset and lashing out.”

April marks National Child Abuse Prevention Month – a time dedicated to awareness and prevention of child maltreatment.

Research studies show correlations between hardships caused by natural disasters and economic downturns and family violence. “The current situation brews up the perfect storm of social isolation, parenting stress, and family tension,” said Girardet, “but there are some things that parents can do for their children and for themselves to manage their emotions and actions during this time.”

For children

  • Create engaging activities – Children are used to lots of activities and social time at school. It’s OK for them to have some free time as long as time spent in front of a computer, device, or TV is limited. Ask them what they would like to do and give them some options: take walks, dance, do art and crafts, cook, or listen to music together.
  • Check in with children about their feelingsKids are going to feel afraid, disappointed, mad, sad, and helpless right now. Disruptions to kids’ lives may seem like bigger losses to them than to adults. Remind your child they are safe and let them know it’s normal to feel upset.
  • Model staying calm – It’s important to reassure your child that adults are doing all they can to keep everyone safe and healthy. Be a model on how to stay calm and talk to the child about what is within their control, such as washing their hands, cleaning surfaces, and helping others. Try not to share your concerns in front of your child.
  • Catch them doing something good – Children need to know when they are doing something they aren’t supposed to; on the flip side, their good behavior needs to be reinforced. Be sure to praise your children for a job well done. This is particularly important when children are away from their regular routines and other authority figures in their lives.
  • Give them your attention – Kids are always vying for your attention, even when they are acting out. When parents are trying to work remotely, this can be somewhat challenging. Clear communications and setting clear expectations are key.

For parents

  • Take care of yourself – One of the best things you can do for your child is to take care of yourself. Get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, avoid alcohol, and get plenty of exercise. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and remind yourself it’s OK to take a “parent’s time out.”
  • Get support – Reach out for help if you need it. Many therapists are offering counseling by phone or video. You can also reach out to the National Crisis Text Line by texting “BRAVE” to 741-741.
  • Connect with friends – Social distancing doesn’t mean disconnecting yourself from your circle of friends. Call a friend or set up a video chat with them. It’s important to blow off steam with trusted confidants.
  • Write a journal – Jotting down your feelings and getting them out on paper helps. Set aside some quiet time and express your feelings through pen and paper.

Just as we all need to pay special attention to our physical health during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to “take our emotional temperature” from time to time. If you need additional help, please contact the UT Physicians CARE Clinic at 713-500-7840.

The Child Mind Institute and the American Academy of Pediatrics have additional resources for families with children. If you suspect that a child or a disabled or elderly adult is being abused or neglected, contact the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services at 1-800-252-5400 or txabusehotline.org.

For more information on COVID-19, please see our information center.

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.