With schools closed, athletic seasons cancelled, and a stay-at-home order in place, your kids may be feeling a lot of things right now. Disappointment over missing out on events they were looking forward to, grief over lost time with their friends, fear of a disease they may not understand, and anxiety about what’s going to happen next.
And even though you’re the parent, you’re probably feeling these same emotions.
We talked with OhioHealth psychiatrist Dallas Erdmann, MD, who recommended some ways your family can come together to get through this tough time, emerging stronger and more resilient.
Start a conversation, and keep having it
Everyone deals with stress and processes emotions differently. How you feel about the situation may not always be how your kids or your partner are feeling. And that’s OK.
Have honest discussions as a family about your feelings, and assure your kids that all feelings are normal and valid. Explain that feelings of anxiety and fear are expected in light of an unprecedented pandemic. Healthy anxiety is a real emotion that serves a purpose. It alerts us to potential threats and encourages us to seek safety. While the new coronavirus isn’t a dangerous threat in the traditional sense, it still poses risks to your health.
Depending on how old your kids are, you may also be able to have factual conversations about what COVID-19 is and how to stay safe. A recent New York Times article expands on ways to help teenagers manage anxiety.
Build a sense of unity
Reinforce with your kids that there are things we can all do to help reduce risk. Things like washing our hands, complying with social distancing guidelines and following recommended health protocols. Useful action can give your kids purpose and help reduce unhealthy anxiety.
Offer perspective and set boundaries for screen time
Fixating on events can cause anxiety to grow to unhealthy levels. The constant availability of COVID-19 news may spur some kids to seek updates at obsessive levels. Monitor how much your kids are using their devices to follow what’s happening, and encourage them to rely on credible news sources, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Ohio Department of Health. Social media can help kids stay connected with friends, but it can also spread rumors and false information from unreliable sources. Remind your kids to be cautious about what they find and share.
Experts recommend limiting your family to 30 minutes of news per day. You could make this a group activity so you can help your kids sort through the news and provide guidance for staying focused on facts.
Turning your attention away from technology gives your mind and body a healthy break. Try to set aside time each day for other activities. We’ve got a few ideas you can add to your family’s entertainment toolbox.
Keep life as normal as possible. You may need to modify your routine as you adjust to home-schooling or working from home, and that’s OK. Just stick to it. Have meals together, build in time for exercise, and go to bed and wake up at a consistent time. These can all help reduce anxiety and promote healthy sleeping patterns.
And remember, not every moment at home has to be spent together. Permit and build quiet time into your schedule, and create personal spaces where your family members can get away for a moment.
Check in with family members you may not be able to visit at this time. If possible, have phone or video chats rather than just texting. Be creative with your video chat time! You could have a round-robin discussion of the most interesting thing each person learned that day or week, what new recipe someone tried, or even play a board game. Let these experiences evolve and encourage new ideas from everyone.
Continue to reassure your kids that this new norm won’t be forever, and try to avoid telling them not to worry. Rather, keep reminding them about the ways you can all reduce risk and keep your loved ones safe.
Most of all, try to embrace the upcoming days and weeks with joy and a positive attitude. Kids follow adult cues for how they should feel and react when encountering something new. Let your family know that you want to spend time with them and are excited by this unique opportunity to strengthen your bonds. Encourage your kids to document their experience through writing journals, drawing pictures and taking photos. These will become happy memories you can all look back on in the years to come.