Make a schedule and plan for downtime. Having some structure can help parents and children have a sense of normalcy. It will also help guide the day and can create a team atmosphere about how you will all do the day together. Humans thrive with rhythms in their day, and a necessary element in any daily rhythm is rest. Make sure to schedule in time to recharge alone or to video chat with a friend. Try not to make this time looking at your phone or television about what is happening around the world with COVID-19. We need to be informed, but take some time to go on a bike ride, meditate, read a good book, take a bath, sit outside, talk to others, or whatever you do to help deepen your breath and rest. This season of disruption does not seem to be going away anytime soon. Don’t try and “sprint” through this season. There is no first place when dealing with a crisis.
If you are in a safe relationship, ask your spouse what they are afraid of during this time. Be honest about how you are experiencing this season. If you do this, you may even grow in your intimacy with one another. Those who make it through this uncertain time best will be those who are intentional and take life slow and steady. If you need help working through your relationship conflicts during this time of social distancing, our therapists offer virtual couples therapy.
Go for a walk. This answer may seem simple, but science shows us that when we are heated we are responding out of our sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, or freeze), and we cannot respond or speak in an effective way because our brain is “offline”. Research also shows us that most heated discussions that go over 20 minutes are usually not beneficial. So, getting some space away from each other and calming down can be the best course of action. It is completely normal to feel cabin fever during this time of being in tight quarters, and the fresh air and the calming activity of walking can help you get some perspective. On your walk, try and articulate what you are feeling and take a shot at articulating how your spouse might be feeling. When you come back to the conversation state what you are feeling and ask your spouse what they might be feeling. Then, listen to your spouse. Again, virtual couples therapy could help.
We all are feeling stressed and anxious during this time, and it can be easy to take our distress out on our ex. They are an easy target. They create some pretty intense reactions in us, and this is part of the reason that we are not with them. But, in this time of crisis the best thing for you, your kids, and your ex is to try and keep in mind that you have the opportunity to help everyone, including yourself, navigate this time in a peaceful way. One tip is to only talk to the other parent when you are calm. Before you get on a call or video conference with your ex, do 10 minutes of meditation, go on a run, or whatever brings your mind and body to rest. But, do not jump on a call with them or go and pick up the kids right after an intense business call or when you are already agitated because doing so makes it psychologically harder to respond calmly.
Do your best.
Don’t judge your best or the other parent’s best.
None of us have gone through a pandemic before. There is no correct way to parent our kids during this time.
Do expect your children to act out.
Do not blame this on the other parent.
We often forget that children can experience deep, complex emotions. COVID-19 may be primarily transferred from hand contact with our face, but anxiety is in the air and our children can sense that something is not going right. Our kids are feeling things that they do not have words for, and will most likely act out because they do not know how to express or deal with the anxiety that is in their hearts and bodies.
Do accept that life is going to be slower.
Don’t try and force life to be productive.
Your kids may be watching television a bit more than normal and eating crappy food. School may be sliding, but there are no “rules” about how to navigate a pandemic. Go on walks, go on bike rides, play games in the yard. Help your children get the pent up energy in their bodies with some play. You may be surprised at how it helps you out as well.
Our kids are feeling things deeply. Our job as parents is to validate their emotions and communicate to them that they can talk to us about what they are feeling. We may feel the pressure to “have the answers” for our kids, but they don’t need this from us.
We might say something like, “I realize that you might be feeling some fear about things going on in the world. I don’t have all of the answers, but I would love to talk to you about what you are feeling.” It can be helpful to remind them that children do not seem to be getting the virus to help with their fears. We can also make social distancing a teaching moment about how we as a society are attempting to be kind to our fellow humans and care for each other by limiting our interactions with others and lowering the probability of getting more sick. If you get really creative this can even be a math lesson about exponential growth.
Someone once said, “Your kids do not know how to say, ‘I had a bad day.’ But, they will often say, ‘Do you want to play with me?’” Playing with our kids can be a prime way to calm their anxiety and care for them.
Remember to breathe.
If you want to see a clinician, please reach out to us and we can schedule you a virtual appointment.
The Phoenix Counseling Collective
531 E. Lynwood St. Phoenix, AZ 85004