Many of us are parenting through uncharted territory right now. We have been told to keep our children out of school for 1 ½ months, to stay home, away from playgrounds, other children, extended family members, and the public spaces we love to frequent during the rainy season.
And while we try to stay hopeful and positive, there’s no question we are scared. Scared for our family’s health, for our children, our jobs, and all the unknowns. And, our children can sense our fears. They feel the anxiety in the grocery stores, hear it in our conversations, and see it on our faces.
So, how can we manage our own fears, and support our children’s emotions during a time of crisis?
The first step is to acknowledge that our response to fear is a choice—and it can be a chance for us parents to build resilience in ourselves, as well as in our children. Here are some ideas for managing stress and fear as we weather this pandemic together.
In moments of stress, anxiety or anger—either in you or your child—take a moment to be mindful: Look around; name what you see, hear, taste, smell, and feel; acknowledge the present, and something you are grateful for. In between these thoughts, take deep inhales and slow exhales through your mouth as you breathe.
Focus on Generosity and Giving Back
In a time when we are asked to stay home, 6 feet away from neighbors, and away from those with compromised immune systems, finding opportunities to help our community can relieve the stress of disconnection. It’s also a wonderful way to encourage our children‘s social-emotional development. Ideas include: Dropping off meals (at the doorstep only) to an elderly neighbor; supporting local businesses through gift card purchases, drawing a pic or writing a note to a first responder, beautifying the neighborhood with chalk drawings or inspirational sayings on the sidewalk; donating to food banks.
Doing acts of service builds confidence in children. It teaches them that they are important and can make a difference in the world. Reaching out to others strengthens the idea that we are not alone. These are the tools we give our children by actively practicing them ourselves and with our families. These are the “muscles” of our social-emotional development.
Find Ways to Stay Connected
We are all feeling a little disconnected right now—from friends, family members, coworkers, our favorite barista, teachers, gym buddies, etc. Our children are also missing their tribe of people, whether it’s schoolmates, teachers, grandparents, cousins, or more. Help your child express connection through handwritten letters both near and far; call someone they miss, send videos of your child “saying hello” or reading a story or poem to family and friends. For yourself: Create a list of people you can call when you need help or just reassurance; make a phone tree and a plan to call each other to just check in; take advantage of video conferencing for work, and other resources using online platforms, such as exercise and yoga classes, virtual support groups through organizations like WellMama and connect with Parenting Now with our online and social media events.
Focus In on Family
Our lives are so busy that it can feel strange when we fall out of our routine. Even though the future is filled with uncertainties, we can be certain in the present moment that family comes first. Embrace these days at home with your children. Use this time to strengthen your family. Spend more moments laughing, making eye contact, hugging, and listening. Add walks and bike rides to your day. Cook together, build puzzles, and read. Incorporate a Gratitude Bowl into your daily routine by writing down something you are grateful for and placing the note into a bowl. When you or your child is feeling worried, grab a note from the bowl and read it aloud and feel uplifted by the thought.
In our Parenting Now groups, we discuss filling “Our Child’s Suitcase.” The idea is that, as your child grows, you fill the suitcase with the values, experiences and skills you want to give them to be ready for adulthood. Resilience, and the memory of how we handled this hard time by reassuring and giving them a feeling of safety, is precious and a skill that will be useful throughout life.
This article appeared in the March 30, 2020 edition of The Register-Guard.