How to keep calm with your children at home during COVID-19

These are unprecedented times for you and your children, and we are all trying to figure out how to cope and adjust to our “new normal” while still juggling our responsibilities on a day-to-day, often minute-to-minute basis.

How To Parent Through Stressful Times

While in isolation, you are sharing about 8 hours per day more with your child and your partner than usual. You may all be crowded in a small space, taking phone calls at the same time, sharing a computer, or the dining room table. There is not enough time to do all the things we need to do, and as far as your children are concerned, there are not enough hours in the day to be with you.

Parenting while both you and your child are stressed is, you will be relieved to know, the same as parenting during non-stressful times. Here are a few key rules:

  • Model good behaviour
  • Set developmentally appropriate expectations for your child (for example, older children may be asked to make their own breakfast while you work, or younger children can use their inside voice if they play next to you)
  • Notice when your children do something good, 5 times more than when they do something bad
  • Stay calm (and use your inside voice at all times – avoid being loud)
  • Follow a routine (same time to get up, same time to eat, same time for bath and bed, keeping everything routine as children crave routine, especially when stressed)
  • Focus on the positive things they do and take time to be with them completely. The more time you spend with them, the less they will “act out” to get your attention.

During COVID-19, your children might act out more than usual. In addition to that, if you are working, is the fact that they see you all day, but they can’t have your attention, so they may try all the strategies they know to get it. Young children especially don’t fully understand why you are there physically, but not with them. Instead of making your interactions negative, offer kindness and encouragement, and keep rewarding good behaviour when it occurs. Reassure them that even though you as a family (and the rest of the world) are going through a stressful time, everything is going to be ok, and you are together in this.  Read my article on how to deal with your child’s anxiety.

We all experience some form of stress during our lives, but these last few weeks, the level of stress, albeit temporary, is more serious, and more damaging. For both you and your child, what will make it more manageable, is staying close and feeling supported by one-another. It is those connections to the meaningful people in our lives that will reduce this stress and help us cope, but in isolation, this is easier said than done!

Here are 7 strategies for parents (and children) to reduce stress and anxiety:

Sleep, Exercise and Eat Healthy
You probably already know this, but since many of our usual routines have been interrupted, you may not have resumed your healthy habits in the past few weeks. Find a way to exercise at home. It does not have to be your usual gym routine, it can be some push ups, abs and lunges in your living room, and a walk or run around the block. This will take care of some of the stress you feel. For your children, I recommend the same. They can ride their bikes around the neighbourhood or go for a walk with you. Invite them to play in the backyard if you have one, maybe jump on a trampoline, play tag, or anything that gets them moving.

Eating plenty of fruits and veggies has been more challenging than usual while in isolation, but if you can, have salads or steamed veggies and healthy protein with your meals. It is more difficult than usual for some people to sleep while stressing over finances and children. If this is your case, try having a nap in the afternoon to catch up on sleep and feel refreshed for the rest of the day.

Take 5 Minutes to Truly Connect with Each Person in Your Household

  1. Ask your partner how their day was. Eat lunch together, even if lunch is 10 minutes. Listen to one-another. This will greatly relieve stress.
  2. Hold your child and ask them what they are thinking about, and just listen to them. Share a story from your day, give each-other a long hug, no matter what age your child is, or a back scratch. Give your child the opportunity to make you feel better also, as it is teaching them empathy, and it is making them feel valued and important.
  3. Do this for each person every day, and watch the stress dissipate little by little.

Give More of You
Research shows that when we feel stressed, the more we give, the better (and less stressed) we feel. Take the time to do little things that will help your partner feel closer to you, and appreciated, despite both of you feeling frazzled all day long. Make them a tea in the middle of the day and bring it to their desk while they are busy working; Give them a “happy day” where they don’t have to worry about cleaning the house, making dinner, or doing anything both of you normally do – just let them have a nap after work, read a good book, or watch a show without feeling any guilt. The chores will still be there the next day, but you both will feel closer; Leave them a post-it note that reads “I’m glad we’re in this together”; find ways to show them that you appreciate them. Do the same with your children. This will relieve your own stress and show your family that they matter to you.

Ask For A Few Minutes When You Need Them
If you feel that you are about to “lose it”, that you’ve just had enough, and you’re about to yell at the next person that asks for something, take a deep breath, and tell you child (or your partner) that you need a few minutes to yourself to regulate your emotions. Take a few minutes away from everyone to regain your cool, and when you feel like yourself again, you can go back and handle whatever it is that you needed to do. There is no shame in showing that you too need some time to cool off. In fact, you are modeling this for your children and showing them what they can do when they feel they are just about to have a breakdown.

Be Mindful
Make some time for mindfulness, meditation, yoga, or deep breathing. Make it the way you start the day or end the day, or do some yoga poses as a family. Take a few deep breaths when you begin to feel overwhelmed by stress.

If Possible, Lessen Your Hours of Work
If your children are young and still need you, and you cannot get all your work done, it is easy to begin resenting them for getting in the way of your responsibilities. It is difficult, however, to be a full-time parent of young children and work full-time. Your employer might be happy to give you 5 or 6 hour days while your children are home, instead of your full shift. That way, you don’t feel absolutely drained each and every day, trying to fit it all neatly as it did before the pandemic.

If You’ve Done Everything You Can, Don’t Worry!
If you are no longer able to work due to the pandemic, you are facing a different type of stress. This is when I recommend you use one of my favourite sayings: “If you can do something about your situation, then just do it and don’t worry about it. If you can’t do anything about it, then there’s nothing you can do, so don’t worry about it!” I apply this all the time! If you are being laid off or have lost your job or even your company, and you have no options for work, then there is no point in stressing over it until this is over. Instead, work on updating your resume, starting a new project you have been putting off, playing with your children, organizing your house, or anything else you have been wanting to do but never seemed to find the time. Keeping your mind busy with other things will ease the stress (not to minimize your situation, of course, it is terribly stressful to be in this position and not have any idea what the future holds). This might be an amazing opportunity to build an even stronger bond with your children, which will last much longer than this temporary situation. Make the most of this stressful time your family is going through.

When you feel stressed, you often pass on that stress to your child, whether directly (by yelling at them, for example) or indirectly (they can sense that you are stressed, and worry about you and about themselves. It is important that we minimize our stress and help them also minimize theirs. Prolonged stress can have very damaging consequences in your child’s development. Depending on how old your child is, you can share these tips with them too, as they work for children and adults alike! Even your one year old can take some deep breaths with you or give a long warm hug.

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