We asked Sandy Potter, a licensed clinical social worker and Vice President and Chief Operations Officer of Behavioral Health at Texas Health Resources, to provide tips on how to navigate these unprecedented times with your young ones.
Staying connected with loved ones
For some families, helping kids understand the need for social distancing even from loved ones may be the most challenging aspect of all. Potter says that social distancing does not have to mean social isolation. She suggests continuing phone calls with loved ones you can’t see and making a FaceTime option available if you can. Your children may not be able to physically visit with high-risk loved ones right now, but they can still keep in touch virtually.
Accepting the reality of canceled events
Adults are not the only ones missing meaningful events such as weddings, coming of age celebrations, or vacations. Many kids and teens are missing out on school dances, graduations, dance recitals, sports playoffs and school field trips.
As upset as you are by missing life’s big events, your children may be feeling the impact even more, and that’s OK. Allow your kids to express the full range of their emotions, and receive those feelings with empathy.
For kids feeling the pinch of isolation or upset about important events getting canceled, get on their level and say something along the lines of, “I know it’s frustrating to not compete in [extracurricular event]. You had looked forward to that for months!” Then work through what they’re feeling. You don’t have to agree with a child’s thoughts or feelings but it’s important to acknowledge them without judgment or minimizing.
Adapting to the “new normal”
It may be easier said than done, but sticking as closely to a normal routine as possible is good for everyone, including you.
In a now-viral post, Massachusetts mom Jessica McHale details a schedule she created to help her family feel a measure of comfort and normalcy.
While the post has been duplicated and recreated millions of times, Potter says the original post isn’t far off from what you should be doing to help ease into being home more.
“Keep the family’s schedule as consistent as possible, especially when it comes to bedtime, and any things you do to take care of yourself, like exercise,” Potter explains. “If you can’t leave the house, create your exercise routine as a family at home. It’s important that we encourage kids to continue their normal routines. We don’t want to break the routine.”
Model the behavior you want to see
If you’re concerned about how much screen time your child is getting lately or worried they won’t be getting as much physical activity as they used to, demonstrate good habits for them.
“We don’t have to stay up all night. We don’t want to stop doing the healthy things that we do every day,” Potter explains. “As parents, we need to model healthy behaviors and not be sitting there watching the news all day long ourselves. Create family time; be intentional about having a discussion every day. I think that’s really critical for kids and everyone.”
The days ahead will be different for us all, and difficult for some of us. But this doesn’t have to be viewed as a bad time for your family. Instead, focus on the positive changes and try to see the silver lining of your new normal. Slow down, play games, read books, snuggle, cook together, teach valuable life skills — think of it as an opportunity to do all the things you’ve always wished you had more time to do with your family.
You and your family will get through this; and at the end of this, your relationships may be stronger than ever before.