Social Distancing

Almost two weeks ago I sent the first session notes out about Coronavirus and how to talk to kids about it. Here we are 12 days later, most schools, day cares, sporting activities, concerts and businesses are closed or working remotely. Life as we knew it has completely changed and parents are managing a lot. Parents have shared with me how they have to hide how they feel for their kids while managing a changing landscape at work and having to figure out childcare. I thought today I would share with you what I have been talking about for the past week on how to manage social distancing with kids.

How do we navigate this new world?

Over the past week I have heard many stories of kids having to miss championship games, having to reschedule taking the SAT's, concerns over commencement ceremonies, freshman in college just getting acclimated being forced to leave campus, seniors in college missing the end of the last semester, kids missing their talent shows, recitals, plays, and of course...spring break. When Disneyland and churches close you know things are not right with the world!

For the most part, I have seen even my most anxious clients doing pretty well. In order to keep their anxiety under control, we have done things like:

- limit media, TV and news exposure

- seek out sources only from reputable sites like the CDC

- focus on things that are within their control

The new reality that we are all adjusting to is this notion of Social Distancing. I have had parents asking things like, "can neighbor friends come over? Can we visit grandma and grandpa? I feel fine, can I go outside and play?"

The truth is we are all figuring this out as we go. But I thought I would share what the field of psychology knows about social isolation and human beings so that we can be mindful of keeping our physical distance for our physical safety but also keep our social connections for our mental well-being.

Tips for Staying Mentally Healthy During Social Distancing:

1. Facetime / Videochats / Phone Calls - In order to fight off boredom, loneliness, depression and anxiety you must connect with other humans daily. Allow a limited time to talk about how crazy this time is and then move on to other topics and be sure to laugh or smile in your conversations.

2. Take up a new hobby - almost everyone wants to try something new but usually says there is no time. Well, now is the time- start a masterclass online, take that e-course you have been thinking about, open a recipe book and try that dish you have been wanting to make. This applies to the whole family.

3. Read that stack of books - kids and adults alike may have that stack of books that you will get to one day. Well, there's no time like the present! Read together as a family or do a family book club. If you really don't have anything new, download audio books or e-books.

4. Keep your kids on a schedule - during the weekdays it will be important to get up around the same time daily (okay, you can sleep in an extra 30 minutes!), eat breakfast and get the day going. Kids will do so much better when they know there is a plan, ideally written up on a board, and you help them navigate doing online classes or reading or doing math packets that were sent home. There are plenty of educational apps and online learning academies that may help as well. Just keep the structure and expectations consistent!

5. Get outside into nature - just because we are practicing social distancing doesn't mean you can't be outside, on a walk or bike road getting sunshine and fresh air. Make sure everyone in the house does this over the coming weeks each day for at least 30 minutes.

6. Write letters - good old fashioned letter writing can maybe make a comeback! Also, you and your kids can write letters to people in nursing homes or troops stationed abroad as they have limited access to others and millions are likely lonely and have no visitors.

7. Be mindful of xenophobia by showing empathy - this is something that I have heard myself and read about- people giving shaming looks and glares at those who are Asian are common place now in our country and we need to stop that. Teach your kids about the spread of disease and how we can't really blame one person or an entire race for it. It depletes our immune system to hate like that. Instead, show empathy to those who are ill.

8. Exercise daily - It would be easy to take this time to sit around and eat and do a whole lot of nothing but staying physically (and mentally) active is important for our mental health. So, in addition to getting a workout in, keep your mind in motion daily as well. Staying physically and mentally stimulated is a sure way to maintain your mental well-being.

9. Journal - writing how you are feeling, what you are worried about, grateful for and thinking has many psychological health benefits. It is a way to track your thoughts and feelings, release tensions privately and document a significant moment in your life and history. It can also be a place where ideas are generated from when you allow yourself to think and therefore write freely and be creative.

10. Create a positive mindset - this limited, relatively short-term, period of time where we are all practicing social distancing is an opportunity to take control of your mind. Your intentions, your optimism, and your goals can all be controlled by the way you chose to think about this period of time. Are you going to laugh, play games, cuddle with your kids, put down your phone, turn off the news, and enjoy the slower pace? That is entirely up to you and your mindset and it will have a direct correlation between how you and your family think and feel about this time period.

Happy Parenting, stay physically distant but socially connected!

About the author

Sheryl Gonzalez Ziegler, Psy.D. holds a Doctorate of Psychology, is an Author, Speaker, National Media Contributor, Non-Profit Board Member, Girl Scouts Leader, Girls on the Run Coach and Advocate for children. She has been treating children and families for over twenty years with areas of expertise in anxiety, trauma, divorce, stress management and depression. Dr. Ziegler is the author of the best selling book, Mommy Burnout: how to reclaim your life and raise healthier children in the process, the winner of Best Parenting Book of 2018 as awarded by International Latino Book Awards.

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