Parenting your way through the quarantine...
Parents, this is a particularly difficult time for all of us! Not only did our worlds just get upended, but our children’s did too…and we have to manage both at the same time. Whether you’re a parent who is now trying to work from home, still going to work, or temporarily lost your job, this task feels monumental and complicated. As you read on, keep in mind that this quarantine period is about surviving. As we get more clarity on what to expect for the future and begin returning to our previous routines, there will be time for reflection and growth. Until then, read on to learn more about letting the smaller things go, avoiding power struggles, and connecting often in creative ways. We can survive this and even keep our sanity -- mostly! -- intact.
First, keep these two words in mind at all times: Good Enough! Under normal circumstances, we would be getting our kids to and from their studies and helping them complete homework, while balancing sports, play dates, and healthy meals as well. Everything is different now; we are clearly never going to succeed at all of these tasks if we try to do any of them really well. Instead, focus on the basics:
- Most important - remember that the simple connection and affection that you show your kids is going to be protective against negative effects this time period may have on them. There is no need to overcompensate for the losses you are all experiencing right now. Just be present and available and try to implement the basic steps this article lays out to create safety and holding for your children.
- Get yourself and your children some physical activity. Tired out kids + a physical outlet for your anxiety = a win/win.
- Identify the basic educational needs your children have and aim to meet those -- anything else is cause for celebration!
- Track your children’s emotional state and have periodic conversations to check in on how everyone is doing. Watch for signs of unhealthy anxiety or depression in your children, which may look like sleeplessness, not eating, feeling especially angry or irritable, expressing worthless, frequent sadness or crying, or thoughts of death or suicide. If these are coming up, please consult your pediatrician or opt for family therapy. Beyond these red flags, work to let some of the smaller things, like minor irritability, difficulty with listening and task completion, go… because we are all just trying to hit good enough, including your children.
Second, set your expectations. This is actually a three step process:
- First, the adults in your life (like a partner, or other adults living in your home, or a co-parent living separately) make up your “executive team.” In times of change, the executive team comes together to talk about what’s going to happen and then try to predict any potential issues to watch for. If you do not have these supports, reach out to a friend or a therapist to process your thoughts and create a plan.
- Second, the executive team meets with the kids to talk out the plan and take input (but not necessarily make changes to the plan). For example, you may decide that the time of day that your children engage in physical activity is negotiable, but brushing their teeth is not. This process gives a sense of safety to kids, communicating that someone is in charge. This also gives kids the opportunity to feel heard and have a sense of appropriate control over their day.
- Third, the final step is for the executive team (or support team) to come back to process how things are going on a regular basis. Changes can always be made to accommodate unplanned for events or circumstances.
Third, structure and routine are the final step to securing some level of sanity. Healthy structure includes:
- Basic needs like eating regularly, waking and sleeping at similar times, and tending to basic self care hygiene
- Physical activity
- Educational needs
- Downtime to relax
Each day can be structured around the same basic routine, with the opportunity to relax the routine on weekends so the flow of the week still feels relatively natural. Remember that structure is developed first by the “executive team” and second by feedback from the rest of the family…and it’s all guided by the “good enough” mantra.
Now that we know that we’re in this for at least another two weeks -- maybe more -- take some time to review how things have gone these last two weeks. There are probably some things that have gone well enough, and some that may have been mildly disastrous. Not a worry -- take in the above, call in your team or your supports, and start anew. We’re all in this together and we’re all learning as we go.