If the last few weeks have been a trial for you as a parent, you’re not alone. Between working from home, making meals, managing homeschool schedules and household tasks, and navigating interpersonal dynamics between family members, there’s been little time to think about the emotional response to such a scary time. You may be feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and frightened. Your children may be feeling the same way and looking to you for comfort. If you’re unsure how to help them, or yourself, consider the suggestions below. We asked Angelika Sadar, a licensed psychologist with Sadar Psychological and Sports Center, for tips on how parents can manage their own mental health and provide reassurance for worried children.
What parents can do to manage their own anxiety:
- Keep a daily routine: Get dressed, eat a healthy breakfast, and keep to a regular schedule.
- Maintain healthy sleep patterns: Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up as if you are going to work.
- Exercise regularly: Go outside, take a walk, do yard work, stretch. If you need to stay inside, go up and down the steps each hour or find exercises for your fitness level on sites like YouTube.
- Eat well: Take pride in feeding yourself healthy meals. This is a perfect time to cook and get away from processed foods.
- Engage with family and friends: Visual connections will become increasingly important as time goes on, so stay connected via telephone, WhatApp, FaceTime, etc. Look up virtual games to play with friends, such as Jack Box Games or Tabletopia.
- Discuss a plan with family about how to support each other: Bring food to elderly relatives, check in on one another, and coordinate home-schooling (Most schools are recommending that one hour of reading and one hour of math can be sufficient for grade school kids).
- Keep in touch with your employer: Ask about the best way to keep in touch (don’t overwhelm them with phone calls and emails). This will help reduce your anxiety related to not knowing what your job future holds.
- Practice mindfulness: We recommend UNYTE. Ten minutes a day can help relieve stress, the biggest deterrent to a strong immune system.
- Limit the amount of time you spend engaging with social media and news sources: With the constant flow of information about COVID-19, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Limit your intake to no more than two hours per day from reputable sources like the WHO and the CDC.
- And of course: Wash your hands, often, and the right way.
- Know when to ask for help: If the above suggestions do not help ease your anxiety to a manageable level, you may benefit from talking to a psychologist or other mental health professional.
What parents can do to reassure anxious children:
- Don’t be afraid to discuss COVID-19: Children will sense the fear behind the silence. Not talking about something can actually make kids worry more.
- Make your message developmentally appropriate: Be prepared to answer (but not necessarily prompt) questions. Don’t volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, simply try to answer your child’s questions. Invite your child to tell you anything they have heard about COVID-19 and how that makes them feel. Do your best to answer honestly, clearly, and concisely. It’s okay if you do not have all the answers; what’s most important is that your child knows you are available to them.
- Seek to be calm: Children will react to both what you say and how you say it. Thus, if you are feeling especially anxious, find another time to talk with your kids about what’s happening with the coronavirus. Your goal is to help your children feel informed and get fact-based information, which will likely be more reassuring than what they may be hearing from the news or overhearing from others.
- Aim to reassure: Children may worry that they or people they love will catch the virus. It will be helpful to explain how rare the virus is (the flu is more common, for example) and that the vast majority of people, kids especially, seem to have mild symptoms if they do become infected.
- Focus on what you are doing to stay safe: Emphasize the precautions you are taking. Kids feel empowered when they know what they can do to help themselves. So, talk with them about washing their hands (perhaps practicing by singing a song together while doing so) and the importance of social distancing.
- Get outside, safely: Just as exercise helps adults manage their anxiety, spending a little time outside everyday can help children decompress, avoid boredom, and stay engaged.
- Set up virtual playdates: Some of the stress children are facing stems from the sudden changes to their daily structure and the loss of support systems like friends and family. Helping them remain connected, even from afar, may alleviate anxiety by letting them know those relationships are still intact.
- Keep talking and listening: Tell your kids that you will continue to keep them updated as you learn more. Let them know that the lines of communication will remain open and they can approach you anytime.
If your questions extend beyond what we’ve covered here, please join Angelika Sadar for a webinar on managing anxiety for parents and children on April 22nd at 8PM EST. We’ll be discussing more tips and tools on how best to handle this uncertainty and reassure ourselves and our loved ones. RSVP here, and, if you find you need more support, don’t hesitate to contact Sadar Psychological or Private Prep. We’re here to help.