The Covid 19 pandemic has been horrific. So many have been ill, lost their lives, their loved ones, their jobs. It has been surreal. We have all tried to make the best of it. What I am heartened to hear from so many families is that amidst the challenges of juggling home schooling, working from home, and stay at home orders they are learning to appreciate some parts of their current situation. Many are saying they are enjoying eating meals as a family again, taking walks together, playing games, and doing puzzles, and having family movie nights. The rushing to sporting events and extra curricular activities has stopped…And it feels good! So what does that mean? Could it mean that there are parts of life during this pandemic that your family wants to keep in place when the crisis is over? That maybe the endless rushing to do unimportant things can end? I encourage you and your family to sit down together BEFORE the crisis is over and talk about what has been challenging, but also what you have all found valuable and want to keep in place afterwards. Write it down so you can revisit it later because when the immediate crisis is over and folks go back to work and school and sports we will all be pressured to return to our old ways of being…to rushing and shopping, and eating out instead of cooking together, etc. We are going to have to be very intentional about what we want to keep in place, otherwise we will be convinced that we need to return to all those old ways of living and we’ll forget the valuable lessons we have learned during this time.
Guided meditation can be very effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety. Often I introduce this method to children by asking them to take an imaginary trip with me. They are almost always willing! So I ask them where they think we should go if we want to feel calm on the inside. They can usually come up with a place but if they struggle with it I give them ideas or we look at pictures and they choose one. Then we close our eyes and “go there” in our minds…Very slowly. While we’re there I calmly suggest they think about what they see, hear, feel, smell. What colors? Is it warm or cold? Do they feel the sun on their skin? Sand between their toes? Have them experience it in as much detail as possible and guide them very slowly and calmly, breathing slowly and deeply through the process. And after we go through this process (the length of time depends on the age of the child) we gently come back into the room and then talk about what it felt like to do this and how they feel now that it’s over. I encourage them to take these trips at home when they’re feeling stressed. This is guided meditation, although I rarely use that term with kids. It works for adults too, of course. So if you and your children are feeling stressed these days cooped up in the house quarantined together it may be time to take an imaginary trip!
The current pandemic is causing stress and anxiety in varying degrees for most of us. Coming up with ways to handle this stress is going to be important especially since we don’t know how long this is going to last. There are simple techniques for handling stress and anxiety that can be helpful for adults and children as well. During times of stress our limbic system is highly activated. Our limbic system is the part of our brain that controls emotion, among other things. So if we can calm our limbic system we can reduce our experiences of stress and anxiety. Here are some ways to try and do that:
- Exercise (Highly effective)Walk, run, bike, do yoga, dance. It really doesn’t matter, just get moving. The research shows that for mild to moderate depression exercise may be as effective as antidepressants.
- Get out in nature…taking a hike is great but hanging out in your backyard works too.
- Meditation and/or breathing exercises…deep, slow rhythmic breathing
- Rocking in a hammock or rocking chair ( think rocking a crying baby to soothe her).
Anything that engages your senses…such as:
- Music-Listening or Playing
- Warm baths or showers
- Scents- such as lavender
- Warm drinks (decaf)
- Petting your cat or dog
This is not an all-inclusive list but it’s a good start. What you DON’T want to do is hibernate alone in your dark bedroom in front of a computer screen watching Netflix for hours on end! You will end up feeling sluggish, more depressed and more anxious. Give some of these suggestions a try!
School is out for an undetermined amount of time. It could be months before it’s back in session. And most adults are working from home or likely will be very soon. All of a family’s routines are now out the window! This could be a recipe for disaster for family relationships, but I don’t think it has to be. One of the most helpful things parents can do immediately is put some new routines in place. Children fare much better when things are predictable. I encourage you to make a daily schedule for your children just as they had when school was in session. Wake up at about the same time every day and get moving. Put a “homeschool” schedule in place where kids know at what time they’ll be doing school work and when they will have free time, just as they would on regular school days. Keep mealtimes and bedtimes regular. Make sure to include lots of outside play, rest time, and time for household chores. (Yes. Children need chores). Also include alone time where family members agree to be separated to relax, each in their own spaces. Togetherness 24/7 can be very challenging for even the healthiest relationships! This is a very stressful time for everyone but keeping a predictable routine will be a big help!
Due to the need for social distancing to prevent the spread of Covid19, all sessions are temporarily being offered via video conferencing. Please contact me through email if you have not received the link for your appointment conference.
Friends, since schools are closed and many adults are not leaving home for work I’m anticipating a few challenges for families and also for adults that live alone…boredom and loneliness. The temptation for parents is to allow kids to zone out in front of video games for the next few weeks. I really encourage you not to do that. It will increase behavior problems and irritability. Decide now how much screen time your kids will be allowed and stick to it. Otherwise you’ll be in a constant state of arguing about it and negotiating. Maybe this is the time to teach your kids to cook, or read a book together as a family, or (until the medical community tells us differently) take everyone and get outside. Play in your yard, dig in the dirt, throw a ball with your dog.
Being outdoors is good for your mental health…The combination of sunshine and exercise can actually raise your seratonin level and help with depression and anxiety. One can only “Netflix and chill” for so long without it affecting your mood!
If you have young children in your care please be mindful about how all the conversations about the coronavirus may affect them. There is really no need for young children to be party to these conversations and it has the potential to increase their anxiety needlessly. Please just cut off the tv when they’re around and have adult discussions when they are not in the room. Let the adults take the proper precautions and protect the kids not only from the virus, to the extent that they can, but from the hype and anxiety it may cause. Young children are not developmentally capable of appropriately processing this information and they don’t have the same coping strategies that adults do. I’m sure that in the coming weeks I will see kids who are very anxious about this and it’s unnecessary. If young children do hear about it from others reassure them that adults in charge are taking care of the situation and they don’t need to worry about it. And of course it’s important for the adults to stay calm as well because children will sense our anxiety and it will escalate theirs.
When did the concept of RESPECT go out of style? When did it become okay for kids to be disrespectful to their parents and other adults? When did it become tolerated for children to curse at their parents or to say ‘No. I’m not gonna do that’ when given a direction from an adult? One of the advantages of practicing for over 30 years and raising my own children, is that I have been able to witness parenting trends. Some trends have been positive ones, such as less use of corporal punishment. However, many trends have not been as positive. It seems that in many areas, the parenting pendulum has swung too far from the parenting of previous generations. Thankfully, we rebelled against, ‘Children should be seen and not heard’ but we replaced it with a lack of genuine parenting! What I see in my practice is that parents today are often too concerned about the less important things, such as where their kids go to school, whether they make the right sports teams, or if they’re in the right social group, and they’re too unconcerned about the important things such as whether their kids are respectful, mannerly, kind, hard working. Parents are over involved in areas where they shouldn’t be and are really under-parenting in areas where kids truly need to be guided, directed and taught. I believe the hearts of today’s parents are absolutely in the right place. They love their children and want to do a good job raising them, but somehow being a parent that is in charge and has high expectations for their children’s behavior has gone out of vogue. I find this disturbing. A generation of children is suffering because of it. Anxiety in kids is more prevalent than ever. Instinctively they feel that no one is in charge! And parents are more exhausted than ever. Children relax when they know someone responsible is in charge. They respond positively to healthy boundaries, limits, and high expectations for behavior, and the tension in the home decreases. It won’t happen overnight but it will happen if parents are consistent. Let’s make RESPECT fashionable again! If you need help doing this in your family call me.
Summer is here. School is out. And so it begins. The arguments over the video games, smart phones and computers are in full gear. So here is my advice: Turn off the screens. Just turn them off. No debating. As parents you are in charge. That is so important and so overlooked these days that I feel the need to say that again louder. AS PARENTS YOU ARE IN CHARGE! You are the ones given the job of deciding what is best for your kids and making it happen to the best of your ability. In 1965 the typical American spent 10 1/2 hours per week watching TV. Today the average 9 year old American child spends more than 50 hours per week in front of a screen. The average American teenager spends over 70 hours per week in front of a screen. We are just beginning to learn what impact this is having on our children, including rises in childhood obesity, attention problems, and behavior problems, as well as a decline in social skills, family relationships, and a big problem with kids not getting enough sleep.
You can not leave it to your children to monitor their own use of screens any more than you can leave it to them to choose broccoli over chocolate cake. Parents have to set the limits. And it’s not easy. But you can do it. Here are a few suggestions:
- Remove screens from your child’s bedroom and insist that they turn in to you all electronics at a certain time each night. (Parents determine the time!)
- Tell the kids what the summer rules about electronic use will be. It may be they can have screen time at a certain time each day. Or only on weekend evenings, or whatever works for you. But don’t make it complicated or you won’t be able to enforce the limits. And you have to enforce the limits once you have set them.
- Do not allow screens during mealtimes or in the car when you’re all together. Have a conversation!
- Get outside and have fun with your kids.
- Once you have set the rules do not debate them. End of discussion.
Expect some pushback from your kids if you have not set limits on screen time in the past. But once you’ve set the rules stick to them and who knows what creative, fun, experiences your family may be in for this summer.