Check out my recent article on the impact of relationships on mental health. This article contains tips for maintaining relationships and community during quarantine / the pandemic.
At first, the current state of things may have felt a bit like any school vacation to parents, fully equipped with pajamas, lots of screen time and junk food, and a relatively relaxed schedule. Now that we are weeks and almost months in and uncertainty remains around how long this will last, the honeymoon phase has long since subsided. Being a parent is difficult. Parenting during this “new normal” may feel near impossible. This is exacerbated by the fact that many of you are being asked to take on the role of homeschool teacher. All of the added responsibilities that come with trying to balance being a parent, a partner or co-parent, an employee, keeping up with daily chores, and homeschooling kiddos can make you feel like the ring leader of a group of rowdy circus animals. At times you may feel like (and probably already have) crying and screaming at the same time. It’s normal to feel a range of emotions during this time, ranging from calm to frustrated to overwhelmed and anxious and maybe depressed. Here are some tips to help you out.
- Effectively regulate your own emotions. The first thing that you need to do to parent, whether during this difficult time or otherwise, is find healthy ways to manage your own emotions. Not doing this is like consistently adding lava to a volcano and expecting it not to explode or shaking up a bottle of soda repeatedly and trying to open it to pour a glass. Either way, it’s not going to end well. Simply naming our emotions (e.g., “Right now, I feel frustrated”) and acknowledging them will decrease their intensity. From there, we can use various relaxation skills, like belly breathing, to calm ourselves down before we act on our feelings. Remember, there is no wrong emotion, it is okay to feel whatever you feel! It can be our reactions that we act on that can get us into trouble. Using effective emotion management skills can help us calm ourselves and keep up from getting into those sticky situations where we say and do things we later regret. We can even use time outs, just like we tell our kiddos, to give ourselves a break to do so. Additionally, kiddos are like sponges, watching and copying everything we do, listening to everything we say. This is why using these healthy skills to manage our emotions is so important—when do it, so will our kids!
- Discuss and validate your childrens’ feelings. If this new normal is hard for us as adults, imagine what it is like for kids. Try using skills like emotion coaching to prompt discussions with your kids about how they are feeling. Encourage them to identify, name and express what they are feeling. If they are having a hard time with this you can help by showing or asking them feeling words or maybe use a visual feelings chart from the internet. Then, now this is important, validate whatever feeling they tell you! This part can be difficult, especially if your kids are having constant meltdowns or seem to have forgotten how to listen altogether. Keep in mind what we just discussed: emotions and actions are two separate things. It’s okay to feel bored, it’s not okay to color on the walls because you are bored. Here, validate the boredom separate from the behavior. That’s what we mean by emotion coaching: coaching our kids how to identify and name their emotions and validating the feelings (remember there is no wrong feeling) in the process. A good saying is “it’s ok to be mad but not to be mean.” Doing so not only has been shown in research to improve your child’s chances for success lifelong, but also strengthens the bond between you and your child. It’s a win-win!
- Maintain a schedule. As tempting as it may be to throw all sense of schedule out the window, doing so will make parenting that much more difficult. Without structure and boundaries, your house begins to feel like a free-for-all, with kid bouncing off the walls and parents feeling like pulling their hair out. Having a schedule helps maintain some sense of normalcy during this time and can help kids to remember the rules that they are expected to follow at home and at school (e.g., completing assignments, reading, listening). Try to wake up at the same time, eat healthy meals at the same time, and go to bed at the same time. Create and use a bedtime routine to help make this transition easier, too. The more routine there is, the more kids know what to expect, feel less anxious, and the more likely they are to complete each task. It can help to create some visual cues to create physical boundaries in the house to let them know when they are expected to be doing school work, and not bother mom or dad who are on a business call, for example. You could create a space for “in school” and maybe a green light / red light visual cue for when you are on a business call. Have some FUN! Both kids and parents need fun, it is a basic human need and we don’t feel good when we don’t get it. At school, kids have time for recess. Create time for exercise as is safe and permitted, such as going for walks around your neighborhood, bike riding, playing games in the back yard, etc. Try to play with your kids, because this will not only be fun, but strengthen your relationship. Get creative! Make an art project around this, play a board game, build a fort, make a scavenger hunt.
- Self-care! I’ve saved the best for last. Self-care is infinitely important in a normal, day-to-day scenario, and even more so during this new normal. Just like they tell you on airplanes, you need to put your oxygen mask on before you can help others. Make sure that you are taking time to exercise, eating right, maybe take a bath, or connect with friends (especially those in similar situations). Don’t forget to validate how you are feeling and try to take steps to maintain and improve your own mental health and well-being during this time. If you feel like you need some extra support during this time, remember asking for help is a strength not a weakness and leads to better outcomes for your children. You can ask for help from a spouse, a family member, or therapist if needed.
Here are some additional resources:
Check out Life As Mom’s post, as an example of how to create a daily schedule.
An additional resource to check out for ideas to keep your kiddos occupied and use screen time in a healthy way. Here you will find ways to virtually doodle with a children’s book author that “goes live” daily, explore Smithsonian museums, and many others.
Check out this article that Lindsay Simon recently published in South Tahoe Now. You’ll find some great tips for helping your kids succeed in life by improving their ability to process and express emotions effectively.