Nothing is normal.
This topic needs little introduction. Nothing is as we knew it. Working from home or not at all has changed our daily lifestyle. Fearing our neighbors, strangers in a supermarket, or even our family members for fear of getting Coronavirus has changed how we interact with others. The economy being leveled seemingly overnight has rocked world markets. And in the midst of all of this, parents everywhere are wondering what to do. What to say. How to be. Where to turn. Today, I will share with you important tips for parenting in crisis.
How do I parent through a pandemic?
Over the past three weeks I have been writing and speaking about how to parent through social distancing, Coronavirus anxiety, school closures and now shelter in place orders for much of the country. Throughout this whole month, I have kept my full practice going and have turned to Telehealth to keep connected with the families I work with which gives me a good sense of what is happening in many households.
I have been asked questions like:
- Is it okay to show my own fear and anxiety?
- Should I shield my kids from what is going on?
- How much should we talk about Coronavirus?
- I am not a teacher and I have to work, how do I teach my kid without having them in front of a screen all day?
- Should we start to break it to the kids that it looks like this is a state of being that is going to last past a few weeks?
While there are few absolutes in parenting right now, there are some good practices in terms of "Parenting in times of Crisis" that I thought I would share with you to help you get grounded and clear about what is best for your family. I hope these six tips will provide you and your family with a sense of comfort and guidance through these unsettling times.
1. Live your values - this means having clarity of vision as to what is important to you right now. If you feel like you are just surviving that is what will be apparent to your children. If you are focused on optimism, family time, faith, laughter, or any other value that is important to you it helps provide structure to make decisions that are based off of values that are consistent and communicated.
2. Lead your family - during a time of crisis parents very quickly become the obvious leaders (think Commander in Chief) of their families. They are often making quick decisions, setting the tone and figuring out plans. I suggest taking on that role by leaning on your partner, family, friends or other trusted sources to help you stay grounded and clear on your values and the plan to keep everyone physically and emotionally safe.
3. Communicate - this is a good time to over-communicate. This means not letting panic and fear set into your home but rather providing calm, rational and thoughtful discussion. Right now, it's about week 3 for most people in social distancing, no school and a total change of life. Grief is setting in. Talk about that. Talk about grieving what has been lost and what is anticipated to be lost (such as birthday parties, weddings, proms, graduations, commencement ceremonies, talent shows, recitals, soccer, football, vacations, the Olympics... and more).
4. Focus on the Present, Prepare for the Future - on one of many Zoom calls over the past week I heard the quote, "Crisis Creates Character." I take this to mean that how we handle difficult situations says more about us than how we handle the good times. I have long heard that crisis creates opportunity and I think that this is one of the great opportunities that we have as parents to stay focused on what is happening each day and take it one day at a time. We have to model Plan B living which is typically necessary when we lack of control.However, we can also focus on controlling the things that we can such as our mindset, following sheltering in place orders, rescheduling special events and connecting with others even while distancing. This includes creating a family future plan that includes all of the things you want to do when it is safe to be out. Getting comfortable with the fact that life will never be exactly as we once knew it will also be helpful in future planning.
5. Create New Flexible Routines and Structure - by now many of you are already establishing a new normal. However, there are still many families that haven't started online distance learning and many more that may still be holding out for school to get back in session in a few weeks or for spring soccer to start soon. My suggestion to the families that I have counseled around how much to do this is that it is likely to be easier for kids to start dealing with the changes in small daily doses. If you predict that schools may not reopen this school year, if you are mistaken that is a happier ending than saying school will start again in a few weeks and then it doesn't. Once you make a decision about new wake up times, new screen time rules, new household responsibilities make it clear that everyone needs to be flexible. Nothing is set in stone right now.
6. Express Gratitude - rising from our fear and vulnerability we can learn to be thankful for what we have. Leading your family through daily gratitude writings, readings and exercises is a very healthy way to protect everyone's mental health in your home. Spending a few minutes each day expressing what you have to be grateful for and how you can share your gifts with others changes the chemicals in your brain and leaves you simply feeling happier. Eating well, exercising, sleeping well and staying properly hydrated are also daily choices that you can remind your children are essentials to our physical and mental health that we cannot take for granted with thousands of people ill all around us.
Last, in the spirit of over-communicating - stay home, go outside away from playgrounds and people, wash your hands and don't touch your face.