Tips for parents in challenging and changing times
Six ways to create structure and routine
by Dr. James McGuirk
Routines create predictability and comfort. For most of us, our daily routines are created by school, work and various day-to-day responsibilities and commitments. Due to the pandemic, routines have been disrupted which can lead to disorientation and anxiety. Here are six ways that you, as parents and guardians, can combat those feelings by creating routines for your families during this difficult time. Following these tips will make your lives easier and pass important skills down to your children.
- Work as a family unit. With the requirement that everyone shelter in place, we are asked to spend all our time with our children, family and other loved ones – often in very small quarters. We need to share resources such as computers and private space more than ever. To be successful, families need to work together cooperatively, accounting for everyone’s needs, including both children and parents. To promote unity, this is a good time to facilitate regular family meetings during which everyone, including young children, talks about their needs and expectations of others. In addition, daily family meetings can serve as an opportunity to talk about goals and ways to be supportive of one another.
- List the demands and expectations for everyone’s day. Be specific about what each person needs to accomplish. This is the time to list all of your calls, virtual class schedules, homework, lessons, and other virtual appointments. Be specific about when these activities need to occur, how long they will last and what resources people will need to accomplish the tasks.
- Prioritize the list. If there is only one computer and everyone needs to use it at the same time, tension is inevitable. Each person should prioritize their own lists and then work with others when conflicts arise. Compromise can be achieved when priorities are shared, discussed and respected.
- Create daily schedules. Start with the morning routine including wake times, breakfast and daily expectations like chores. Break up the day with various kinds of activities. School and work should be balanced with play, exercise, meals, and snacks. Include everyone on the schedule and post it in a common area, like the refrigerator, for all to see.
- Establish boundaries for yourself and others. Boundaries are often naturally created and influenced by the various settings of our lives. Now that many people are home all the time, we are asked to play different roles in one space, making boundaries difficult to enforce. Parents and guardians have been taking on different roles with children during this time, such as teacher, coach, employee, boss, and parent – each entailing different things. To set new boundaries, it is okay to define the times that you are acting as teacher, parent, etc. when communicating with your children.
- Use mealtimes to share positive stories or experiences from the day. If you have not consistently eaten meals as a family in the past, this is a good time to begin. Research indicates that shared family meals contribute to stronger bonds as well as positive developmental and emotional benefits for children. Use the time to recognize accomplishments, discuss positive stories and share information that you have each learned during the day. By approaching it with an optimistic attitude, your children will feed off your positive energy.
Helping your Children Cope with COVID 19
We as adults are challenged by the current pandemic. Children are no different, except they may not talk about their fears and worries. Instead, we are likely to see their distress through their behaviors. You may notice that your kids are having more temper tantrums and meltdowns. They may isolate themselves in their room or their video game. They may be fighting more with friends and family members. Because you are also at your wit’s end, you may feel uncertain and unprepared as to how to best help your kids. You might even wonder if you’re incompetent as a parent, or, find yourself yelling more. What do you do?
- Allow yourself failure. You, by virtue of being human, will make mistakes. Expect it. Learn from them and move on. Mistakes are only “failures” if we don’t learn from them. We can use these as opportunities to find or create new, more effective responses.
- Children will react to your emotions. The calmer you are, the more likely they will be calm, and stay calmer for longer periods. If you are feeling overwhelmed, practice calming strategies for yourself. If they are effective, use them next time in front of your children so you can model effective self-soothing. If appropriate, you can even practice these together with your kids. Doing healthful things like this along with your kids builds strength, connection, and hope.
- Allow your children the chance to vent their frustrations and anxiety. Help them talk about them by listening and reflecting on what you hear. For instance, “You seem worried that xxx will get sick and die. Am I understanding your concerns?” Support their feelings by telling them you understand them. You might even share some of your concerns, such as “I feel the same way.”
- Label feelings for them. Children are just learning the language of their emotions. They often benefit from help with learning to give feelings names such as anger, frustration, and worry. At the same time, remind them of the positive feelings associated with safety, being loved, having friends, and being together in these difficult times.
- Do not feel you have to have all the answers. This is new to all. Even scientists are trying to understand what is happening. For those children who are mature enough to handle it, use the internet to search the answers together. Younger children need information too but in much smaller bites. Ask them if they understand what the information means, and help to explain if necessary. Remember, they may seem to understand now, but may “forget” shortly afterward. Be patient with them (and yourselves) as this is a lot of difficult information to hear and to incorporate all at once. And, remember high stress interferes with learning. Again, be patient.
- Short and Direct Communication. As you work through the usual daily responsibilities, as well as the changes this situation has placed upon us, recall that upset children are less able to understand long explanations. Provide direct commands. If you want your children to do something, say it. “Please go pick up your room.” “Stop fighting.” Short and direct and repeat until they listen. It is okay not to explain everything you want from your children, especially if people are anxious. Upset people are less able to hear and to understand reasoning. For younger, give one direction at a time. As the saying goes, “keep it short, but don’t be short with others.”
- Discuss the situation When everyone is calm, use the opportunity to discuss the situation, emphasizing the good strategies your children and/or you did to manage the stress.
- Prevent problems by anticipating your child’s reactions. Focus on the positive. The best prevention is to reinforce all positive behaviors. Be real and specific. For instance. “You did great the time when you went to your room to calm down.” Praise is protective.
- Remember it’s okay to seek help for yourself. These are very challenging times for everyone, and perhaps, even more so for those who have to care for others. Reach out to the supports in your life, whether they be personal or professionals who can be of help to you.
Remember, this is new for everyone. We will all make mistakes and hopefully will learn from them. If you want more information, go to the following website.
If you need help managing the situation, remember Astor is there for you.
Call the Astor Hotline at 1.866.278.6701
Seven Tips for Managing Anxiety During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Families are facing major disruptions in their lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without more than a moment’s notice, schools closed, many parents were forced to shift to work from home schedules and some vital support structures have been affected by or temporarily halted to comply with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) social distancing recommendation.
While we are all used to dealing with disruptions like seasonal snowstorms, power outages, etc., this is different. We do not know how the situation will last, nor how it might evolve. There are many unknowns, which catalyzes stress and anxiety in most people, especially children. These feelings can lead to significant hostility within the family, and even more so during a time when people are quarantined at home together for an extended period.
Despite these challenges, we all have the capacity to nurture our mental health and find ways to cope. Here are some steps you can take to reduce the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, or any crisis, on you and your children’s mental health:
1) Take Care of Yourself. We have all been trained to focus on our children first. They are, of course, so very important. However, just as the airline personnel remind us to put on our masks before helping our children, you must prioritize self-care. Exercise, eat well and take advantage of good weather to go outside and soak up the sun. If you feel good, you will be better equipped to help your children and family. As you talk with your children, if you find yourself getting anxious, take a breath, drink fluids and work on getting your anxiety under control. Children will feed off the energy they are sensing from adults. They will be calmer and feel safer when their parents and guardians stay composed.
2) Create Routine. Humans crave structure and routine. It’s hard when those routines are disrupted and can cause stress among parents and children. Create plans that work for your family by assessing all the things that need to happen in a day. What does happiness and success look like to you? Typical tasks might include: schoolwork, exercise, mealtime, breaks, recess and fun activities. There are many free, accessible learning resources available online during this crisis, and your local community may be providing resources as well. The state and local parks remain open for now. While social distancing is crucial to flattening the curve of COVID-19, you may still engage in park visits while staying away from crowds and other people. Planning field trips, and using caution while doing so, can help break up the day and allow your children to burn some energy.
3) Stay Connected. You are not alone. Your friends and family members are dealing with the same thing. Talk to them by using Skype, Facetime or other video options like Zoom, and communicate via text and email so you can feel connected despite being separated. Check in on your neighbors – virtually, of course – and offer to help vulnerable or elderly friends who may need resources.
4) Engage Your Children. Use this as an opportunity to do something different. Plan with your children and involve them in some decisions throughout the day. Encourage them to talk openly with you about their feelings, listen intently and talk to them honestly so they will listen with the same respect. Look for signs that your children are feeling anxious and teach self-soothing behaviors.
5) Be Honest. Do not be afraid to talk about the virus. Answer your children’s questions. You do not need to go into detail beyond what they are asking. The older the child, the more detail you can provide. For older children, they will most likely be searching the web for information. Monitor their activity and engage them in conversations about what they are reading, hearing and seeing.
6) Stay in the Present. We do not know how long this crisis situation will last. Despite the unknowns, we have to adjust and continue to live our lives under the new reality. Focus on what you can control and teach your children to do the same.
7) Connect with Resources. We have rounded up some online resources, and Astor is available to help with crisis. If your child is struggling with their mental health, please call us at our toll-free hotline: 1-866-ASTOR01. You will be prompted to leave a message, and a member of our support staff will contact you to help. You can also visit https://www.astorservices.org/covid_19/.