Having children is one of life’s biggest changes. Parenting doesn’t come with instructions, and sometimes it’s easy to get overwhelmed. That’s especially true at a time when anxiety and uncertainty from the pandemic are making typical family stressors, like money or busy schedules, even worse.
If you’re feeling anxious and stretched thin, know that you’re not alone. Most parents feel that way at least some of the time. And it’s not something you have to tackle by yourself.
At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we lead and support a variety of programs that set children up for success now and in the future, because we believe education—along with income and health—is one of the building blocks of opportunity. Initiatives like our Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support (HOPES) and Texas Home Visiting Program provide parents with resources and knowledge to strengthen their families as a unit and build positive relationships between parents and children.
These are beneficial goals at any time, but today it’s especially important to build a strong family unit so you can help your children thrive through these challenging times. Here, we share five tips for strengthening your family:
1. Build up your parental resilience.
Resilience is key to helping keep your family strong. That starts by taking care of yourself so you can take care of your kids. Consider trying a few of these parenting self-care tips each week:
- Take time to exercise and rest—even if it’s just a 20-minute walk or power nap.
- Spend time in nature to relieve stress.
- When possible, allow kids to work through and solve their own problems.
- Make time for things you truly enjoy.
Get more self-care tips here.
What about when kids are misbehaving? Disciplining your child is a critical component to parenting, but it’s not always easy. Consider adopting a little “positive discipline,” which focuses on what you want your child to do, rather than on telling them what they can’t do. Click below to learn positive discipline techniques that are instructive and caring:
Are you a single parent? Read this single mom’s story to learn some powerful parenting tips that are especially helpful for single parent households.
Are you a new dad? Click here to learn some of the ways that a father’s involvement benefits children in the areas of health, education and emotional well-being.
2. Focus on social connections.
Did you know social connections are important in helping you, your children and your family thrive? Here are tips for fostering healthy social time for you and your kids:
- Reduce your screen time: It’s easy for all of us to overdo it on digital devices, but for kids, too much screen time can impact their development and cause problems with attention, learning and critical thinking skills. Consider limiting screen time to certain hours of the day and areas of the house, and set a good example by taking breaks from your own screens. Get additional tips for young kids and for tweens and teens.
- Help prevent bullying: About 20% of students report being bullied, a trauma that can follow a child for life. Click here for tips to help a child who is being bullied and how to respond if your child is bullying others.
- Get to know your neighbors: Families are more likely to thrive when they are part of a nurturing community where children feel safe and parents support each other. You can do your part by meeting your neighbors, participating in local activities, setting up a playgroup or volunteering at your child’s school. View other ideas for building a strong community.
- Find a parent support group: This is a fantastic and free way to get expert support and connect with other parents. Sign up for HOPES through one of United Way’s partner organizations, or view other parent support groups in your county.
3. Utilize concrete supports.
North Texas is home to so many wonderful organizations that offer support to local parents. Here are a few key resources to know:
- Child care assistance: Need help affording child care? Contact your local Workforce Solutions to see if you’re eligible and to apply: Then, check out these tips on picking a child care provider.
- Health insurance coverage: Need assistance signing up for health insurance? Click here to sign up to work with one of United Way’s certified health care navigators. (Don’t wait: Open enrollment ends Jan. 15.)
- Mental health support: Don’t be afraid to reach out for support when needed. The Statewide COVID-19 Mental Health Support Line is available 24/7 toll free at (833) 986-1919.
- Youth and parent helpline: The Texas Youth Helpline provides free and confidential services to youth, their parents and other family members of youth in crisis who need help finding a counselor, safe shelter, legal information, other local referral information or just someone to talk to. Click here for more information.
- Service hotline: Texas 2-1-1 can help Texans connect with the services they need, available in English and Spanish. Click here for details.
- Additional family services: Texas has multiple resources to help support families in areas of need such as food, clothing, housing, transportation, child care, health care, and mental health services. Click here to find local support in your area.
4. Learn about child development and parenting.
Increasing your understanding of child development and the dynamics of parenting can help you understand what your kids need, what they’re going through and how to guide them through it. Here are just a few facts to get you started:
- Research shows that children who receive affection and nurturing from their parents early on have the best chance of healthy development. Every word of encouragement, hug and smile go a long way toward creating a happy, healthy child.
- Your baby’s brain grows rapidly until about the age of 3. During this critical time, parents can do many things to promote healthy baby growth, such as establishing rituals and routines, setting a sleep schedule and providing nutrient-rich foods at every age. Click here to learn more.
- Kids are ready to potty train between 18 months and 3 years old. Timing is everything. Every child is different and will potty train when they are ready. Look for signs they are ready in this article.
- Reading on grade level by third grade is an important milestone, and students who don’t reach that goal are four times more likely to drop out of high school. Programs like Once Upon a Month, an initiative from United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and Ferst Readers, encourage a love of reading by delivering free age-appropriate picture books to Dallas County children every month. Sign up here.
- Many children act out as part of their development. With a little guidance, they can learn how to react more appropriately. Adopting some of the positive discipline techniques that we linked to above can get you through difficult moments, which will help your child become more independent and able to control their behavior.
Learn more about child development here.
5. Encourage your children’s social and emotional competence.
Children thrive when parents provide not only affection, but also respectful communication and listening, consistent rules and expectations, and safe opportunities that promote independence.
Today, mental health is a growing challenge for many children. If you’re concerned your child may be struggling with a mental health condition, you’re not alone. The stigma surrounding mental health disorders in children can lead parents to missing early warning signs and delay getting kids the help they need. Click here to learn more about anxiety, stress and depression in children.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental health and having a sense of suicide awareness are important when raising kids. Knowing how to talk openly about it and get help can make a world of difference. Click here to learn how to spot warning signs—and how to get help.
It’s important to realize that children experience loss and grief in multiple ways. Since grief looks different for each child, it may be hard to tell what they’re feeling after a loss. This article can help you help a child who is grieving.
Finally, you can play a role in helping your child build and maintain healthy relationships at school. This includes taking thoughtful action to prevent bullying. Help your kid feel more confident with tricks like using positive body language, finding a buddy at school or looking for books or movies with characters who overcome bullying. Click here for more tips.
Ready to learn more? Click here for more tips on encouraging your children’s social and emotional competence.
Looking for Parenting Support?
At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, our programs and partnerships provide support for parents who are working to strengthen their families. Here are some of our key resources for parents: