By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
Wow. Things have been moving at lightning speed for the past week! In light of the challenges families and parents are facing as many of them, especially in our community in San Diego, are being asked to work from home and care for kids who are now home for the next three weeks unexpectedly. I know I, as a business owner and mother myself, have been feeling the pressure and stress lately and thought it might be helpful to write a post about how parents can support their kids during this time.
I felt this was important particularly because even young children will sense something is going on due to being able to feel the anxiety and stress their parents are feeling. In a time like this, where everything feels out of control, I think it is important to consider that what we can control is our reactions and mindset. I believe that this is going to be the most important way to support your child also.
Here are some of my thoughts about how parents can set the tone for the coming weeks in their family:
Try to stay calm
I know, I know, this is like asking the impossible of people right now! I know parents are worried about their health, their kids, maybe even their aging family members as well as finances, how this is going to impact our world long-term, and just how they are going to survive the next few weeks or months. I know. I feel all of that stress and anxiety too, believe me! What I realize though is that the way we handle this situation is going to significantly impact how our kids manage it. If we are able to model healthy coping in an unmanageable situation, consider how much our kids will learn about coping from us! Plus, they might cope better even now - which is a win for all of us.
I believe the first step is to recognize that none of us, I repeat, none of us can control this situation anymore. All we can do is try to manage our response and keep our cool to some extent around our kids. Of course you are worried and scared and it's great to acknowledge that and to even share it with them, but to also give your kids a message that we are in this together and you will still do everything you can for them.
Consider the positives
I know that this situation feels dire and is dire for so many people. I would NEVER EVER say that this is in any way desirable or a good situation for us as a country and in our world. However, I think that our mindset really impacts how we experience something so I would encourage you to find some positive in this. Maybe it is that you were hoping to work from home in your job and now you have the opportunity to show your boss you can do so. Maybe it is that you were feeling like you needed more time together as a family and less structured time with activities. Maybe it is that you needed time a home to accomplish some things (I might even potty train my toddler if we end up home for a long stretch!).
Even when talking with your kids, help them notice the positives of communities coming together to help the least strong of us get through this. In every disaster and crisis, there are going to be heroes and it is up to us to point them out to our kids and to ourselves.
Please don’t ignore the fact that this is all very scary and serious, but let’s not focus too much on that part as it will not help us through it. We need to bond together and get through this with the least panic and anxiety as we can.
Set your expectations appropriately
Please be mindful of what you are asking of your child. If you are expecting them to sit at home all day with you while you work, that might just be asking too much. If you are expecting to get as much done as you usually would with a younger child home now, you might be expecting too much of yourself. Be mindful that most of our frustrations come from unmet and unspoken expectations and we can avoid them by going into unknown territory like this situation by setting the bar low.
Consider ways to bond and connect as a family
If we are going to be home more, I think it is helpful to think of how to enjoy that time. I know at my house, we have been enjoying a less structured schedule this weekend and spending a lot of time letting our toddler guide play rather than squeezing in activities around errands. We have been spending time creating new games and exploring toys that we hadn’t played with in a while. Try to focus on enjoying this time we have together and find a way to be a team with your partner (if you have one), or with your kids. We are going to get through this together!
Remember that your child is probably scared too.
We need to be mindful of how much information we give them about what is happening and what we need to do to help buffer that information. We have had children at our office who are very worried and feel like they might die. Try to reassure your kids that we are doing everything we can to protect all of the members of our society and try not to focus on the fear too much. Also, remember that kids do not often say they are scared; they might act out, become distant, become overly controlling, or act in other ways that can be really frustrating for parents. I know this is hard and parents are already stressed but we need to have some grace. For ourselves and for our kids.
Give everyone some grace
We will get through this situation as best as we can but I am sure we will make mistakes along the way too. When parents are stressed, those mistakes are often in the way we respond to our kids when they are struggling. Making sure you repair things if you get overly upset with your child is more important than ever. It’s okay to let them know you are worried and possibly reacting in ways that are not helpful too. It’s okay to explain that you are worried because we have not experienced something like this before and the unknown is scary for most people. Normalize the fact that they are probably feeling the same way and connect with them through the shared experience. Let them know you will do everything you can to make sure your family is okay and that it is going to be okay because you will get through it together. This is a great time to let them know all feelings are okay and understandable. Of course they are frustrated and angry that they can’t play with their friends but they might also be happy that they have extra time to play at home. This is a great time to teach them to make the best of things and about how to interpret others’ actions with generosity.
These are challenging times for our community. Let’s try to be mindful that everyone is struggling with fears and some may cope by well, buying all the toilet paper out there. Some other may cope by living their life as though nothing is going on because it is just so scary to consider our lives are changing as we know it. As parents, it is up to us to try to find the middle ground and acknowledge the fears and challenge we are facing but to communicate a message that we will rise above this and cope together. Yes, this is hard and yes, we do not know what exactly is going to happen, but we know we will figure it out together. That is the message we all need to hear right now, especially the littlest of us!
At Thrive, we will continue to support our clients and any new clients during this time of crisis via telehealth (video sessions). Call us today if you would like to discuss this as an option!
At Thrive, we take a positive, client centered approach to therapy that is focused on creating a genuine connection with our clients. If you would like to talk with a Thrive Therapist about yourself, your child, or teen attending therapy, please reach out to us by phone at 858-342-1304.
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