With the disruption of daily life and so much uncertainty, it’s only natural for you and your children to struggle with your mental health and well-being right now. Thankfully, there are ways that you can help you and your children during this crisis or any traumatic event for the matter, such as the following six ways.
1. Follow a routine -- or establish a new one.
During stressful, traumatic, or uncertain times structure is more important than ever since it provides predictability.
“Your teenager needs structure, your 7-year-old needs it, and so does your 2-year-old,” said Dr. Justin Mohatt, vice chair for child and adolescent psychiatry, vice chair for faculty practice of the Department of Psychiatry, and an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine. Predictability can reduce anxiety and prevent conflicts between you and your children.
If possible, keep the same wake-up and bedtimes, mealtimes, and homeschooling hours. If not possible, then establish a new schedule and stick with it.
2. Remain calm and positive.
“Act as calm and positive as you can around your kids, even when you feel anxious, fearful, or depressed,” recommend Brian D. Johnson, Ph.D. and Laurie Berdahl, M.D. “Kids pick up signals about adult feelings and reactions to events, which in turn affects how they feel and react.” In fact, as Amy Olick explains in USA Today, “When we are open and available to our children when they are in genuine pain, we create pathways in their developing brains for grieving and recovering from pain with someone. Having such pathways for processing overwhelming experiences builds resiliency in them against future pain and potential trauma.”
This may be difficult during turbulent times, but trying using techniques like deep breathing and visualization to help you feel calmer -- you can also share these calming techniques with your children.
Also, try to mention the good things that are happening. “Talk about how people are helping each other stay healthy and safe. Praise kids for being part of this, by using good hand washing, not touching faces, and sneezing or coughing into the inside of their elbows or using tissue and then throwing it away, and by not being around other people right now to protect them from getting sick. Talk about acts of kindness, like teachers and others working to make sure needy children still get meals, and how getting through something like this together will make the nation and the world even stronger,” add Johnson and Berdahl.
You could have each family member share what they’re grateful or appreciative for during dinner.
3. Be creative about new activities and physical activity.
Right now is an excellent time to finally get around to project or goals that your family has been putting off, like organizing their bedroom, trying out new recipes, or starting a garden. You could also incorporate activities like a family game night, book, or virtual museum tour in your family’s schedule as well.
“I’ve been asking parents to think about their favorite activities at summer camp or at home before screens,” says David Anderson, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. “They often then generate lists of arts and crafts activities, science projects, imaginary games, musical activities, board games, household projects, etc.”
And, try to squeeze in plenty of physical activity as well. It’s one of the most effective ways to burn off energy and reduce stress and anxiety. Even if your children can’t go outside, look for family-friendly workouts online.
4. Limit news exposure.
While it is important to stay informed, consuming too much through the news or social media will not only feed your child’s anxiety, it can also increase trauma. You and your entire family should occasionally unplug
5. Focus on what can be controlled.
“With anxious children, it isn’t always helpful to keep talking about their fears and worries,” suggests Genevieve von Lob, a psychologist and author of Happy Parent, Happy Child. “With these children it can be better to focus on concrete, practical things which are within their control, such as reminding them of the recommended hygiene strategies such as washing their hands for 20 seconds or longer.”
6. Tap into their altruistic nature.
If you have older children or teenagers, this is a great opportunity to show them how they can help others -- particularly when it appeals to their natural empathy and altruism, such as supporting healthcare workers by donating supplies, making them a meal or sending them homemade thank you cards or virtually checking in with elderly family members.
“Teenagers sometimes have this reputation of being self-centered or not caring about other people, but in reality they are often the most altruistic of any of us,” says Terrill Bravender, M.D., M.P.H. “When you explain that by distancing ourselves from others we are helping to protect the population as whole – and especially the most vulnerable among us – that message will likely resonate.”
“Just be very clear that we are all in this together. Even if we don’t feel sick right now, we are doing this to protect others and those we love.”