Moms and Dads, how are you feeling during this pandemic? Worried? Stressed? Overwhelmed? Depressed? Calm? Hopeful at times? Maybe all of the above depending on the moment, minute or day?
Find comfort, you are not alone.
During these stressful times, as we adjust to a new normal, we’re all having a lot of emotions, as are our kids. In this post, I’m going to share with you ways to take care of yourself and create a calm and peaceful home, even in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. Here are 9 Strategies to use to help take care of yourself and create calmness, yes even in chaos, in your home.
Parents Set the Tone for a Calm Home. This isn’t to increase pressure or create an expectation parents need to be perfect and have it all together. But keep in mind, children learn coping skills and strategies, as well as how to respond to stress, by what they see and experience, which is most often through parental behavior. As a parent, you set the tone for the emotional environment in your home. How you respond to stress and the coping skills you use, as well as your interactions with your child and family members, will impact and influence the tone of your home. A great example of this is when you’re a new parent, sleep deprived constantly feeding and caring for a newborn every two hours. Constant sleep deprivation, and caring for an infant can make any new parent feel as if they are in survival mode. During this time, emotions run high, coping skills are strained. But, as time passes and the infant sleeps for longer stretches of time, the parents can sleep more, have a moment to shower, and maybe even do some self-care. Parents right now are all stretched to the max, juggling the many roles of working, teaching, and keeping up with all the roles and responsibilities. The more stress in a parents life paired with limited time for self-care, creates chaos and stress for so many parents. Be compassionate with yourself and allow yourself to experience your emotions, being mindful how your emotions and behaviors impact the tone of your home. Just because you feel stressed and overwhelmed, doesn’t mean you have to act on your emotions in a negative or detrimental way within your home and relationships. Which leads into the next suggestion: self-care.
Daily Micro-Self-Care. Time for self-care is super challenging right now. If you’re able to get chunks of time solo, because your partner is supportive or your children can independently play or entertain themselves, then count yourself very fortunate! Self-care for many parents right now is slim, and being as creative as you can during this time to take moments of self-care, whether it be fifteen or thirty minutes, or even longer if you’re lucky. For those of us that can’t find even that amount of time because of demands, then find micro-moments of self-care. This includes going to sleep and waking up the same time every day, staying hydrated and nourished throughout the day, limiting your alcohol and getting some physical activity every day, all of which reduce stress and improve coping. And self-care is also about creating solid emotional boundaries. Some micro moments of self-care include being mindful who you talk to and about what-limiting negative topic, gossip, stressful topics to you, as well limiting the amount of media you consume-finding a balance between being informed and overwhelmed, and the conversations you have with friends and family. And micro-self-care also includes the self-talk in your mind. Having an internal dialogue with yourself that is compassionate, kind, and not critical is an act of self-care. Self-Care right now is crucial for the tone in your home. And remember, you need nurturance and caring too, your needs are essential just as your child’s. If you want to read more on self-care you can go here, Self-Talk Keeping You Stuck? 7 Ways to Be Kind to Yourself.
Let Go of Comparisons for Yourself or Your family. Right now, there are variations of what is happening in our homes; parents working from home, one parent works, parent furloughed or out of work, or continuing to work outside the home. There are single parents, co-parenting/shared custody arrangements, two parents, multi-generational families, and a variety of other aspects. There are so many variables going on, while we are all impacted by COVID-19, our experiences and responsibilities are varied, with different demands and challenges, which is why it is so important NOT to compare yourself or your situation to others. Only you can decide and determine what is doable given the circumstances you and your family are managing. You may be hearing now is the time to take up a new hobby or be productive with a home project, but you may not have the energy, interest or time to do this, and feel as if you are in survival mode, just being able to get through the day. And let me reassure you, that is ok. Individual situations are different and there is no one or ‘right’ way to get through this time. While we all are going through life in COVID19, our situations, experiences, support,comfort and responsibilites are greatly varied.
Plan Your Activities Each Day. Taking into consideration the above (not to compare yourself) be sure to bring in the following activities, daily (even in small amounts), that is doable and manageable given your family’s circumstances and situation.
- Productive Activities-activities and responsibilities that give you a sense of accomplishment; work, school, home projects, creative projects and learning something new.
- Physical Activity-exercise, physical activity, some way to get your body moving and being less sedentary. Physical activity will reduce your stress and improve your outlook and coping.
- Fun+Joyful Activities-creating moments of playfulness and fun, such as playing games, spending time with a pet, enjoyable activities with your child, seeking out things that release tension (like laughter) and increase a sense of enjoyment, such as hobbies or crafts that you enjoy are a good example.
- Restful and Restoring Activities-allow yourself to rest, whether it be to sit for a moment in silence, close your eyes, and put your feet up, watch a show, or sleep. Anything that restores your energy without a sense of being productive. Know what you need every day and balance activities.
Structure and Routine. Keeping in mind what works best for your family, and the demands and circumstances, organize your family by keeping a routine and schedule. This does a few things: first creates expectancies for you and your child; routines and knowing the flow of the day is very calming for your child and gives them a sense of control and understanding about how the day will unfold. And you can save brain power not having to make decisions about what to do each day, following a schedule, even if some parts of the day are structured can be helpful. Second, you save some energy with decision making knowing the flow of the day. And having a structure and routine holds space for a schedule when life begins to go back to a new normal, whatever that may look like.
Connect with Your Child Daily. During this pandemic, as a parent your time is likely spent doing endless amounts of work in many areas; work, home and keeping kids on track learning and entertained all the while. So my suggestion to connect with your child can sound overwhelming when you’re already spending so much time together! I get it, I really do. But what I’m suggesting is to spend time bonding with your child, in meaningful connections. This can include touching base about how they are doing, doing something fun together or just hugging and reading a story. Spending time connecting with your child every day, even for small amounts of time have a positive impact; for your child, your relationship and for you. Children show us the dynamics of their feelings and the emotional world through external behaviors and interactions with you and other family members. On top of your demands and struggles for your responsibilities right now, spending quality time bonding with your child, even fifteen minutes in an activity that isn’t work for them (e.g., school or chore or project) goes a long way to building the emotional bank of security for your child. Be creative, one on one time, in short amounts daily. Quality interactions, where you are attentive and engaged in what is going on with your child is more important than the quantity of time when you are multi-tasking or distracted.
Anticipate Boredom. With school, activities, sports and enrichment activities cancelled indefinitely, the range of activities available to your child, as well as for you, and your family has become quite limited. Boredom is likely a common experience in your home right now; trying to find activities for your kids to be engaged in so you can either work, take care of your home, and take care of other responsibilites. Boredom is an opportunity for your child to figure out how to spend and structure their time. The problem is, when they are in the midst of experiencing boredom, chances are, it may be challenging to redirect and help them engage in an activity. Which is why, I want you to talk with your child and anticipate a few activities the would be interested in doing when they feel bored. Let them take the lead, have them write down a few examples and ideas, and even create a basket or bucket to put items in when they are bored.
Highlight Your Child’s Success. When your child does something with intention and effort, follows direction and expectations, be sure to give them praise and positive feedback. Highlight the positive, catch your child doing things well. We all need to hear positive feedback and receive encouragement during stressful times. Your child is no different, highlight the good.
Family Meeting/Plan. During stressful times, being flexible and open to change in the way things are done in your home is essential. Case in point, every week, there seems to be new information to add to the protocol on how to clean, social distance, and navigate COVID19. So while flexibility is key, taking things day by day amid uncertainty, managing the flow, activities, and expectations in your home are essential now more than ever. Which is why having a weekly family meeting to review expectations, responsibilities, and highlight what is going well and what needs improvement, is a skill to teach your child and incorporate into your family routine. Not only does this provide a chance to plan the week, but you can also delegate responsibilities and let everyone know, regardless of age and ability, how they can help. And family meetings also create a space to highlight good behaviors, share words of appreciation and gratitude. I’ve found that important component for family meetings is also to give everyone a chance to share their thoughts, opinions, and ideas.
I hope these suggestions help you during this time to take care of yourself and your family. You’re doing the best you can right now in extraordinary circumstances none of us have ever gone through, and the same goes for your child. Be compassionate and kind to yourself right now, allow yourself to feel, and pause on how you respond. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and support, so many are doing so, and the more we stay connected and help one another, the better we all will be.
© Dr. Claire Nicogossian 2020