Notes from Rose
I’m a parent of two young children, and I can empathize with how difficult this is for parents and families trying to juggle working, caregiving/parenting, and now homeschooling. It can be stressful and overwhelming and can lead to thoughts that increase anxiety, hopelessness and distress for everyone.
First of all, acknowledge all these feelings, they are all valid — anxiety during times of uncertainty is completely normal. As a parent you are taking on more roles and responsibilities than before; this strain can impact you and the family.
What you can do?
- Breathe in and breathe out
● Acknowledge these feelings; notice your thoughts
- Let go of any judgment that may arise. (Give yourself a break!)
Right now it is more important than ever to take care of your physical health and mental health, but that seems to be at odds with parenting demands, work projects, and other responsibilities. Today I’d like to share some tips and ideas that I hope you find helpful in prioritizing your health while being able to support your children and family.
1. Routine, routine, routine: the cornerstone of good life skills. It counteracts anxiety as it brings about predictability. It sends neurons to the brain that remind us that these are familiar activities that bring comfort and safety, both of which are especially helpful in an unpredictable world.
Why is routine good?
- It establishes boundaries. Right now all these boundaries are blurred. We used to get up, get ready, and leave for the day. These activities have changed, and it’s more difficult to distinguish between work and home.
- Routines help us be more effective with our time, reduce procrastination, prioritize important activities, be productive, and achieve our goals.
- Kids need this consistency more than ever. They need to know what to expect, and what follows what. Keep up with the same rhythms of going to bedtime, meals, morning routines, etc.
- Hold onto meaning rituals. Familiar rhythms practiced again and again can reduce anxiety and boost positive emotions. Celebrate a tradition, if that is part of your family life. For example, my family celebrates Easter Sunday with church services and egg hunts. These traditions may take on a different form but they’re still part of our lives.
2. Build out the schedule. Plans for the week should include self-care and quality time together. Try using a whiteboard or print out an online calendar that everyone can see and contribute to:
● Let your children take on additional roles and responsibilities to help foster autonomy, self-confidence, and self-esteem.
● For free time/weekends, focus on adding activities in three domains: productivity, social time, and alone time/self-care. Identify what recharges you and your children, and build in those activities.
Tips for family time:
● Try to incorporate meaningful conversations about life right now, acknowledging that it is difficult.
● Encourage each member to bring forth a new experience they had or something that occurred during the week that was unexpected or difficult. How did they handle it? What did they learn? It helps build reflective and problem-solving skills while connecting to familial resources.
● Build in the successes of the week — celebrate them!
● Add in humor: watch a funny video together. Try to make each other laugh.
3. Practice gratitude — identify and share one small thing each day that you are grateful for and encourage your child and family members to do the same. This is healing for the brain. Practiced regularly, it can lead to more optimism, relish experiences, build resilience, and strengthen relationships.
● Reflect upon a funny moment you had
● Find someone you’re grateful for in your life
● Be thankful for health, family, shelter
4. Connect with someone — The world should be physical distancing, not social distancing! We’ve all probably figured out at this point how much we really need each other so reach out today. Connect with someone, set up regular video chats, or send a message. Just let them know you’re thinking of them.
5. Spread kindness —This goes along the lines of gratitude and connection and can brighten someone’s day. Write a note to thank all those essential workers who go out every day to risk their lives to help others — nurses, doctors, police, delivery workers, etc. Have your child write out a card for someone and mail it. These types of things help our little ones and us.
6. Get outside together — take in the fresh air, go out for a walk, listen to a new song, playlist, try to tune into your 5 senses (sound, smell, feeling, etc.). Encourage your child to connect with this experience as well or make it a scavenger hunt: find different items, do “I spy” games, identify animals or things in nature and categorize by size (small, medium, large). This brings learning into everyday life.
7. Exercise and move your body once a day — even if it’s just walking around the block. If that’s not possible, find a fun app to practice yoga, exercise class, dance party, or whatever it is you like. (My kids like www.gonoodle.com) We all feel a little calmer and better connected to our minds and body when we are active.
8. Help your children by reflecting and reframing. When you see any behavior that triggers a reflex to correct it, try to slow it down and remember children who don’t feel well often don’t act well. Reflect the feeling with words. For example, sometimes I’ve observed my son beginning to stir up conflict either with me or others. I notice behaviors like pushing, shoving, poking at his little brother. I try to stop and reflect on what I observe happening and identify a feeling I believe he may be experiencing. “I notice you are pushing your brother; I imagine you are frustrated that he is grabbing your car track that you worked so hard to assemble.” Intervene appropriately. Say ”pushing is not safe” and then lead into a problem solving — ask an open-ended question, “What can we do to keep your track in one piece and still include your brother?”
● Helping your child identify and label their emotions helps to put them into a tangible form, reduces the intensity and difficulty of such large feelings and reframes them into something that we can actively address. “You’re bored. OK, I get it. I get bored, too. What are new things we can try today, or what can this paper roll turn into?”
● Put feelings into words: draw it, write, or if you can’t deliver a desire -create a shared fantasy:
○ “You miss your friends” again acknowledge this feeling, normalize it and share your own experience, “I also miss seeing my friends and family.” Would you like to draw a picture of them, talk about things we enjoy with them? Or let’s write a story of the things we’ll do when we get back together again. Help your child also keep connected to important social relationships.
9. Creativity and play — Creativity stimulates the brain positively. If you are working you may find it hard to find the time to set this up, but it can be as simple as playing a song and doing a silly dance while you cook a meal, or narrating a funny story together. Look around your space and use what you have, or reinvent uses for old items. Engage your kids in any process of creating something.
● Bake, cook, assemble or invent.
● Build forts, draw, paint, incorporate sensory items like play-dough.
There’s so much content online for fun art and easy science experiments. Check out Steve Spangler’s site for new experiments that take less than a few minutes while using household items: https://www.stevespanglerscience.com/lab/experiments/milk-color-explosion/
Fun ones to try:
● Color changing milk- ingredients: milk, food coloring, soap + q-tip
● Mentos geyser experiment: Diet coke and mentos: Stand back for the coke explosion!
● Check this out for homemade ice cream in a bag: https://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/edible-innovations/ice-cream3.htm
● You can explore science fair projects here: https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/science-projects#browse
10. Practice compassion for yourself and others: accept that this is hard, you will struggle, and there will be moments that aren’t the most joyous. It’s a part of the growth. Try to let go of “should” statements. Notice the things you are telling yourself about your expectations for yourself or others. What was the norm in the past may not be possible just now.
Remember: this will all end and these moments are life-changing. Try to reflect upon and bring forth practices that have helped you and your loved ones build resilience and connect more intimately. I wish you and your family health and wellness during this time.
Rose Markotic, LMFT