These are unprecedented times. As soon as we seem to have a handle on things: business, entertainment venues and places of worship are opening up again, COVID numbers spike, there are more closures and most school districts have delayed the beginning of school in person to after Labor day. Living with the threat of a dangerous illness, wearing masks everywhere we go and having no one including– the government and the healthcare community– knows when the pandemic will come to an end.
Everyone agrees that quantity time spending time with your kids is important and valuable, but it is way more challenging when this quantity time goes on and on! These days families feel on top of one another all the time especially since parents are working remotely and for kids summer camp and family vacations have been cancelled this year. On top of all of these disappointing cancellations, there’s distance from important family and friends, financial difficulties and fear of illness that feels immanent.
Both parents and kids are carrying around a lot of extra stress these days. It is easy to become irritable or overwhelmed (sometimes without even knowing why) and self-care for adults and kids is more important than ever. Here are some self-care practices that may help your family function better during COVID-19.
Create a new structure
It can feel great to take a Saturday and sleep in, have everyone wear their pajamas all day, watch movies all day and get mark absolutely nothing off your to-do list. But now that we are all home together much more often it can be helpful to have a schedule including meal (& snack) times, getting dressed, work and educational time, do chores, time for physical exercise, time to intentionally connect with your partner and your kids (even though you’re home together all the time, date nights, one on one time, focused family time still need to be a priority you can all count on), engaging in spiritual practices and a consistent bedtime, for kids and grown-ups
2. Be flexible
Schedules are important to help everyone feel secure, but life in a pandemic is unpredictable. Flexibility is required and parenting guilt isn’t helpful for anyone. You may work hard to limit your kids’ screen time and encourage indoor and outdoor play but maybe you have a day full of important zoom meetings and the only way you can guarantee your kids will stay occupied and won’t interrupt your meeting with questions like, “Where is my light saber?” or “Can I use the paints now?” is letting your kids have ongoing access to the iPad. Life is about balance. Sometimes you make a healthy dinner and your kids eat every bite and other times you order pizza and call it a day. The same will be true with your kids some days they might be eager to learn or excited to help fold the laundry. Other days they might beg for more screen time all day long or melt down when you ask them to do something as simple as putting their plate in the sink. Sometimes it’s best to set firm limits and other times you just need to read them a bedtime story and try again tomorrow.
3. Voice your feelings (and take others’ feelings seriously)
Of course, there are the big things like the family vacation to Disney is cancelled or the family reunion is put off until the Fall, are big disappointments. Make sure you are aware of your own feelings about these losses: anxiety, sadness, frustration, irritation or maybe even relief. Just like you can feel lots of different things at once so can your kids. Make time to process your own feelings. Help your kids identify their own feelings and express them in a healthy way. An example might be: Using a feelings chart to help kids identify their feelings and then letting them express their feelings by drawing or releasing pent up frustration on the trampoline in the backyard. The earlier you can tackle your (& your child’s feelings) the better, stuffing feelings leads to emotional complications. If things feel out of control often or if your child seems to be regressing, it may be time to consider therapy either in person or with telehealth.
4. Find ways to stay connected with important people outside of your family
It is a loss to not have the summer to spend with friends and extended family members. For some families it helps to have regular FaceTime dates with grandma and grandpa or having the neighbors over while maintaining social distance with each family playing on their own driveway or sending fun care packages to the cousins every few weeks.
4. Look for new things to celebrate and new ways to relax
Before COVID you may have looked forward to a weekly date night with your spouse but pandemic date night may be date night in once or twice a week. Instead of going out to dinner or to the movies you could order in new foods or cook family favorites together. Also, you could introduce your kids to your favorite childhood movies this summer. Maybe instead of spending one on one time with your son while your daughter has her weekly ballet lessons you can take a walk around the neighborhood or take him to Sonic for slushies once a week.