Many people around the world are currently stuck at home, which can be difficult under the best of circumstances. Yet what happens if you have young children? What happens when the schools are closed, you have to work and everyone is at home, frustrated, scared and uncertain as to how long this situation will last?
In this week’s blog and podcast, I speak to child psychologist, parenting coach, author of The Tantrum Survival Guide: Tune In to Your Toddler's Mind (and Your Own) to Calm the Craziness and Make Family Fun Again, founder of Little House Calls and mother of two young boys Dr. Rebecca Schrag Hershberg on parenting during the pandemic, tips on how to help your children deal with changes in routines, missed milestones, anxiety and fear, and mental health strategies for parents.
First up, it is important to acknowledge that this is a crazy time for everyone, so we all need to give each other, and most importantly ourselves, grace. We are in this together; thankfully, there are so many people like Rebecca who are sharing their personal and professional experiences so that we, as a community, can get through this difficult time. In a recent blog post, Rebecca shared some simple ways we can all make living together as a family easier as we deal with the effects of the COVID-19 crisis:
1. We need to be the grown-ups in the room. As difficult as this may be, we need to talk to our children about what is going on. We should not wait for them to ask questions or assume that they are oblivious—they sense that things have changed, and they pick up on our own fears and anxieties. We need to constantly check in with our children, discussing what is going using simple facts (not overwhelming them with information!), and telling them that although we don’t know so much about what is going on or what may happen, there are many grown-ups around the world working on making the situation better.
2. Find ways to re-establish routines. Children use structure and routine to feel safe and comfortable—they need a predictable routine to help them navigate the world. Think about new routines you can put in place to help your children navigate their disrupted schedules. These do not have to be rigid, but they should add some structure to the day, such as having meals together as a family at a certain time every day. It may also be helpful to point out things that are the same and things that are different, so that your children understand that although many things have changed, some things are still the same.
3. Avoid reacting too strongly. We must always bring context into our parenting. Remember, your children are dealing with a lot of sudden changes, just like you! If they are more defiant, irritable or start acting out, be compassionate and understanding. Instead of just disciplining them, for example, give them a big hug and tell them that this won’t last forever and things will get better.
4. Celebrate milestones as best you can. Trying to celebrate a birthday or milestone in the midst of a pandemic can be challenging, but doing so as best you can will maintain a sense of normalcy in a world that feels so uncertain and frightening. Rebecca’s son, for example, has a birthday coming up, and to celebrate they are making him the boss for the day, putting on a version of the school play he was supposed to be in at home, and getting all his friends, classmates and family members to send him video birthday messages.
5. Play, play, play! Play is a way for your children to express what they are feeling and thinking, allowing them to work our difficult emotions and feel more in control of what is going on, especially if they are young. Playing also gives your children a chance to use their imagination and think creatively, which is great for their mental and physical development!
6. Keep your children occupied. There are many great ways to keep your children occupied during the day:
- Cosmic Kids Yoga is a great way to incorporate exercise and play into your child’s day.
- Google Earth Education lets your children explore the world from the comfort of your own home!
- KiwiCo is one of the best ways to keep your children busy during the day! They are constantly brainstorming and thinking up ideas for the coolest things kids can build and learn about. Get your first month free on select crates at com/DRLEAF.
- ‘Visit” the San Diego Zoo from your living room!
- GoNoodle has great videos that teach your children about mindfulness and movement.
- Video art lessons with Lunch Doodles are fun and will keep your children occupied for hours!
- Crafts of any kind are always a great idea!
- Play, play, play!
However, remember to give yourself grace! If you need a break or if you need to work, it is perfectly okay to put on a movie. You need to lower expectations for you and your kids while you are in self-quarantine. Things won’t always go as planned, and you don’t have to fill every moment of the day with something educational.
7. Teach your children coping strategies. Try as best as you can to reframe what is going on and look on the bright side. This does not mean that you sugar-coat the situation; rather, you try to find the silver linings. For example, you may point out that you are spending more time doing fun crafts together as a family, or that your children get to watch movies on a weeknight. Acknowledge how everyone feels, but also enjoy the good moments.
It may also be helpful to reframe feelings of helplessness and uncertainty as fighting the new virus. Tell your children that you are helping others by staying home; you are keeping people healthy and are playing an important role!
8. Answer your children’s questions. If your children ask you a question about the situation, answer them with just factual knowledge—don’t talk too much and don’t over-explain. Moreover, don’t get frustrated if they ask the same question; they may be seeking reassurance. Just explain that their worry is playing a trick on them, and that they don’t need any more information. It may be helpful if you suggest that they take a deep breath, focus on the different sounds around them or do some jumping jacks, which keeps them in the present moment.
And remember, it is also okay to say you don’t know—you don’t always have to have the answers. You can just say that you are not sure but that there are many clever grown-ups who are working hard right now to figure out the answers.
9. Don’t be afraid to talk about finances. Be honest, be short, and remind your children that the grown-ups are working on the issue, even though they may have to get less toys or treats for a bit. Tell them that the grown-ups will take care of this, and don’t put the burden on their shoulders.
10. Don’t panic if your children start regressing. When children’s routines are thrown off, they can lose a skill they have recently learned, like potty-training, or a speech impediment may come back. Remember, kids don’t always know how to tell us when they feel stressed out or anxious. A child may also play baby, which is a sign that they need comfort. Don’t panic, and play along with them, giving them extra comfort and love.
11. Let your teenager express how they feel. Many of our children are missing major milestones like graduation and prom because of the pandemic. This can be incredibly sad and frustrating, and that is okay. Let your teenagers acknowledge and express their emotions, and don’t try to fix the situation, because you can’t. Just say it is okay to be sad, and take it one day at a time.
12. Reach out if you need help. Reach out for professional help if you feel you need support. Thankfully, a lot of therapists are doing telehealth right now, while more and more insurance companies are accepting telehealth claims. Talk to your friends and see if they have any suggestions, or google local counselors and therapists. I also recommend checking out BetterHelp, an online counseling platform that offers affordable and accessible mental health care tailored to your individual needs. See https://betterhelp.com/drleaf for more details and to find a therapist.
And don’t feel guilty if you need a break from your children! TV can be your friend if you need a little “me time”, so don’t feel bad about putting on a movie for your children and going into the other room. It may also be helpful to call in support (like grandparents or friends) via Skype/Facetime/Zoom (or any other kind of video chat) to keep your children occupied while you take care of yourself.
Most importantly, be honest with your children. Tell them you are dealing with a lot right now, and go into another room and lie down for a few minutes. You can even ask if they want to join you. Don’t burden them, but don’t fake how you feel. Tell them how you feel with a calm confidence while acknowledging your emotional state. As you do this, you are showing your children how to deal with difficult emotions, which is a great skill to pass on!
13. Be okay with failing. You will not be perfect all the time. You may get angry or shout or get annoyed with your children—this is normal. It can be really hard to be home with your kids all the time, and everyone is dealing with shock trauma right now—most of us didn’t see this coming! Calm down and apologize, and tell your children that you will work on how you feel and respond. You can even be proactive: during a calm moment, say something like “I am going to yell less, so I will make signs to remind myself not to yell so much and put them all over the house”. You can even ask your children if they want to help, and if there is anything that they want to work on (such as brushing their teeth or cleaning up their toys). When you do this, you are teaching your children to be real about life and modeling coping strategies that will help them as well.
For more information on parenting and mental health, listen to my podcast with Rebecca (episode #144), check out her website, her blog and her book. If you enjoy listening to my podcast please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing! And keep sharing episodes with friends and family, and on social media (don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
Podcast Time Highlights
7:00 Why Rebecca loves children
9:30 Why we need to be the grown-ups in the room
11:18 How do we manage disrupted routines?
12:35 Discipline in context
16:50 Should we still celebrate birthdays?
19:33 Play, Play, Play
22:35 How to keep your kids busy
28:20 How to teach your children coping strategies
31:27 Should you answer coronavirus questions?
35:00 Why it is okay to say you don’t know
36:48 What to do when you need help too
38:17 How to speak to your children about finances
42:42 How to protect your own mental health
46:00 Rupture and repair: why we all fail
50:37 How to deal with regression and baby play
53:39 How to help your teenager
If you would like to learn more about parenting and mental health, join me at my Mental Health Solutions Summit in Dallas, TX December 3-5, 2020! This conference is for everyone: teachers, CEOs, students, parents, doctors, life coaches...everyone! For more information and to register click here. Early bird special pricing end 4/30!Switch On Your Brain is providing this podcast as a public service. Reference to any specific viewpoint or entity does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation by our organization. The views expressed by guests are their own and their appearance on the program does not imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent. If you have any questions about this disclaimer, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org