Elizabeth Reitz, PhD
How to keep your family sane during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Updated: Mar 13, 2020
Wow, what a week. I think we can all say our heads are spinning. This is certainly uncharted territory for all us parents! We have a lot on our plates – we have to keep our families healthy, figure out what to do with our kids while schools are closed, and thoughtfully answer the anxious questions of our little ones. So, what are the best ways to maintain our children’s mental health through this period?
Check Your Own Emotions
First, kids are hard-wired to pick up on the emotions of their caregivers, especially anxiety. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense for children to notice anxiety in adults — if they are looking scared, the people who protect me and ensure my survival, then things must be bad. As a result, we need to pay attention to our emotions and be aware of the narrative we are providing for our children, of how we are telling the story of this time period. Keep the narrative optimistic but realistic. Narratives that emphasize the positive and the things we can control, will promote resilience in our children. For instance, “I know a lot of things are changing right now, and that can feel upsetting. It’s disappointing when events we were really looking forward need to be canceled or rescheduled. There is a good reason for these changes though, they will help everyone stay healthy, which is a kind act we can do for others. And, as a family, we are in this together — we will come up with solutions and alternatives!"
Second, encourage your children to talk about their emotions. It sounds simple but asking our kids to label their emotions has been shown to lower stress levels significantly. We often hang out on the behavioral level, talking to each other about what happened that day, who said or did what. We rarely say aloud how those events make us feel. Doing so can help us calm down and understand our experiences in a more meaningful way.
Third, engage your kids in developmentally appropriate problem-solving. Encourage them to be part of the dialog so they feel empowered and informed. For instance, kids can help make a list of the supplies we want to have on hand in the house. They can help us organize the pantry so they can see the staples we have, and how we are thinking things through to be prepared. Kids can also be part of the discussion of how we will structure our days during breaks from school while parents need to work. Encourage them to understand that we don’t need to be scared, but we can feel good when we are prepared.
Finally, try to keep healthy routines in place. Make sure bedtimes don’t vary dramatically and ensure they are getting sufficient exercise. Sleep and activity go a long way in maintaining our mental health.
If you or your child are struggling with anxiety or depression during this time, know that you not alone and that there are resources available to help. Many psychologists and therapists are offering teletherapy (therapy over online video) so that you can gain support and learn coping skills from the convenience and safety of your home.