By Amy Taylor

Father and daughter

The COVID-19 pandemic has influenced every aspect of our daily lives for the past few months. Parents and children are spending more time together with less daily structure from places like school, daycare or working outside the home. Janet Suffel, LPC, owner of Healing Hand Christian Counseling, shares her best advice for parenting children with special needs during this pandemic.

She advises parents to first and foremost validate their children’s feelings. 

“One of the things they have to do is give their children permission to have the feelings they have. So many times, I see a child who isn’t allowed, for example, to get angry, or if they do, they get in trouble. It’s OK to have any emotion that they’re having,” she says. “For example, say, ’It’s OK to be mad at your sister, it’s not OK to hit her,’ or ‘It’s OK to be sad but you can’t spend all day in your room crying.’

“If you don’t validate that child’s feelings…chances are they will become angrier and the next time they’re going to stuff it inside and not let anyone see it. If they do that enough, that can lead to full blown depression and suicidal ideation.”

To help mitigate the effects of isolation, she tells parents to get their kids moving and outside. 

“Get them out of the house, even if it’s just playing in the backyard. Go outside throw a ball with them. Take a walk with them,” she shares. “Don’t let them spend 24 hours a day on electronics. They still need to have limits on electronics. You can add a little time to pre-COVID screen time limits but make them earn it by doing an extra chore.”

If your child is struggling emotionally during this time, don’t hesitate to get them professional help.

“If you think your child is struggling extremely hard with not being able to have playdates or not being able to go out, get them help. It doesn’t say ‘I can’t parent my child; I’ll take them to this person.’ It just means what your child is going through is bigger than you right now. They need someone [who] can validate their feelings and that can be one of the hardest things for a parent to do,” Suffel says.