by Juhee Jhalani, Ph.D
Welcome to week 4! This week we are learning some handy tips to manage our parenting responsibilities better. As parents or caregivers, managing this new normal is challenging. COVID-19 has (temporarily) disrupted our family routines, school times, extracurricular activities, and social connections with people. Here are a few handy strategies to consider that can alleviate our distress and help manage the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.
Have open communication with your children. Remember, you know your children the best. Every child is unique and has different needs. Based on their developmental level, talk to them openly about what is happening, keep it simple and end conversations on a good hopeful note. Anxiety is contagious. Self-soothe first before you engage with your children. It is OK for them to feel overwhelmed, sad or confused at this time. Acknowledge all positive and negative feelings and designate a safe space within your home where they can let out all their concerns (dinner table, coffee table or their bed). If you haven’t established a family time (dinner time, breakfast time) then do so now and make it a daily ritual where as a family everyone can safely share their plans, struggles or accomplishments for the day. Practice trust, love and acceptance during these conversations. Keep it simple and light. If you are a caregiver to more than one child, then make time for individual attention daily with each child. One-on-one time may look different for different ages. For a toddler it may be play time or reading together, for a teenager it may look like cooking or exercising together. Connect with them and show that you care and are present for them during these times.
Take time to praise and celebrate your child. Online learning and social distancing require creativity and flexibility from children. In a short duration, our children have been asked to adapt to novel ways of online schooling. They are physically distanced from their friends and communities. All team sports, play dates, and extracurricular after-school activities have come to a halt. Summer camps and travel has been cancelled. Kids are confined to their homes and often helping with household chores. Take time daily to admire their resilience and adaptability. Instead of pointing out what they did not do, praise what they did. Assure them through your words and actions that you care for them and you are here for them. Create and foster safe connections through online platforms where they can connect with their friends and play together virtually.
Be a good role model to your child. As you practice writing in your journal about your anxiety triggers and activities that soothe you, take time and create or may be just talk about your child’s triggers and activities that they find enjoyable and soothing. As you end your day with the gratitude exercise or journaling, take time together with your child and list 5 experiences that your child is grateful for that day, volunteer, lead and self-disclose first. Practice what you preach! Practice good hand-washing and social distancing behaviors and your children will soon follow. Talk gently and respectfully with your children and other members of the family and they will reciprocate the same tone in the household.
Finally, never forget self-compassion. Remember that you can provide to your children only when you have enough within yourself to give. Take time out to take good care of yourself. Self-soothe, relax and remember your children love you unconditionally. Cool off and deep breathe for 10 cycles and take a physical break, even if that means moving to another room from your children when you feel tired, anxious or angry. Take time for your partnership, marriage and friendships. Please ask for help, try to share household chores and childcare when you need a break. Seek professional help if you feel overwhelmed or you notice your child experiencing anxiety which is unmanageable by you. Anxiety is often exhibited by children as restlessness, moodiness, sleep disturbance, poor appetite, aggressive behavior or unexplained muscle tension.
In summary, our goal this week is to mindfully acknowledge and address our children’s concerns. Create safe spaces and time when we can connect with them individually and as a family. Continue to foster their engagements with their peers in creative ways. Include them in our journey of self-reflection, self-compassion and gratitude.
Vision for Week 5: We look forward to tackling family budgeting in times of financial stress during Covid-19.