You may have the feeling that you have had this feeling before: recent research tells us that the emotion many of us are experiencing during this seemingly endless pandemic is actually grief. We’re feeling loss: loss of our everyday “normal,” loss of freedom, and for far too many of us, loss of loved ones. We’re uncertain in the present and a little afraid of the future.
In helping your family through COVID-19, it’s important to realize that you don’t have to be perfect. You’re not expected to be Mary Poppins or Mr. Rogers. As adults we often think we must know all the answers. Not only is that not true, it’s not possible and sets us up to fail. Share with your children that you are working through all these changes together. Remind them they are not in this alone…and then make sure you remember that, as well. Do you know why adults are told to put on their own oxygen masks before helping a child? It’s because if we aren’t taking care of ourselves, we can’t take care of anyone else. When we model both asking for and receiving help, we empower our children to do the same.
10 Tips for Riding the Wave
1. Be present – not just physically but with your mind and spirit.
2. Routine matters. Days need structure (whether classes are in person or online). Find a rhythm to the day. That doesn’t mean routines have to be rigid – it’s okay to change up activities or deviate from a plan. For example, one creative way to have structure but be flexible is to put the list of daily “events” on slips of paper in a bowl (things like outside time, reading, music, screen time, school work) and have the kids choose a new activity after a certain interval. It still gives the day structure without being too strict. Don’t forget to eat normal meals and be sure to keep hydrated.
3. Play! (And no, not just for the kids.) You are probably feeling tired, busy and overwhelmed, and thinking, “playtime is not high on my list.” But that’s exactly why you need to do it. Summon your inner child – then summon your real children – and color, finger paint, get out the puppets, or just lay on the grass, look at the trees and make up a story. Play gives our brains a chance to rest and work through problems. It provides a time to decrease sensory overload and release pent up energy and anxiety. Don’t be surprised if playtime leads to clearer thinking and great, organic conversations.
4. Be social. All of us need time to ‘hang’ (socially distant meet ups or walks, facetime, zoom, etc) with our friends. Right now, even the American Academy of Pediatrics and CDC say socialization is critical. Have conversations about working within the rules (getting school work done, screen time limits), and then encourage social time.
5. Normalize the abnormal. Children often can sense anxiety. Even a non-verbal child can pick up on tension from the adults around them, even when that tension is unspoken. Kids are very attuned to what’s going on.
- It’s okay to be happy, upset, frustrated. It’s okay to be okay too. Give your emotions names and talk about what you are feeling. Remember emotions can live together; being worried doesn’t mean you can’t also be happy.
- It’s okay to say, “This seems strange,” or, “Even grownups feel worried sometimes when things seem different.” By sharing how you feel, you are giving your child permission to share how they are feeling.
- Ask kids what they will tell their kids about this time. (You know how your kids interview you about Sept 11th for social studies homework? Guess what their kids will interview them about?) You may be surprised by their answers.
- If it seems too hard to dive deep with your kids – “Are you scared? Why are you worried?” – use conversation starters (in a bowl) including ‘I wish…,’ ‘I want…,’ and ‘I believe….’ Maybe they will talk about now or maybe you will learn something completely unrelated. Be sure you answer the questions, too.
6. Shift thinking.
- There is no perfect – cut yourself (and your kids) some slack. If there are pancakes for dinner or glitches in technology or a late assignment, remember that fretting over it may not be the best use of your energy.
- Think kind thoughts. Try to assume the best intent, and to give the benefit of the doubt. And share this thought with kids.
- Think ‘alarm deactivation.’ Everyone is running on “alert,” and any disturbance in the force (like loud chewing, fidgeting, or a blaring TV) can be enough to be the last straw. Take a breath and count to ten. Maybe even 20. Encourage kids to do the same. Instead of making your voice louder, make it softer – a kindergarten teacher trick – because it requires kids to be quieter to hear what you’re saying.
7. Take Mr. Rogers’ advice.
- Mr. Rogers said whenever he was worried, his mother would tell him to notice who the helpers were. Talk to young children about who the helpers are right now.
- Be a helper. Research has shown that nothing squelches fear as fast as doing something for someone else. Brainstorm ways you and children can be helpers. It doesn’t have to be something big; helping someone else gives you a focus other than anxiety or worry.
8. One day (or hour) at a time. Things are always darkest right before the light comes on. Today was tough? Tomorrow will be better. Having a really hard day? Take one hour at a time. Sometimes the big picture is too big. Don’t try to process this all at one time, or wonder what will happen in a week or in a month. Take baby steps: What do I need to do in the next hour? What do we need to get through the next activity or assignment? Smaller chunks are less daunting to manage. And don’t be afraid to take a break or alter from the plan.
9. Laugh. Laughter recharges your endorphins. It might not feel like there’s much to laugh about, but find a funny video, an old joke book, a silly story or a sitcom. Challenge children to find funny things every day. It can often be a reset button.10. Understand the power of control. There is so much out of our control right now. The trick is to find – and help our children find – the things that are in our control. If you or your children like control (or dislike chaos or change), find something they can control. Maybe that’s neatening up a bookshelf. Maybe it’s deciding whether to read or do a math assignment first. It doesn’t matter what is being controlled; creating structure for something within your own ability is powerful.