Essential advice about family life during COVID-19 from psychologists
With the second week of no-school and now the "stay at home" order, it is likely that your family, like many others, is still trying to find their marks and rhythm. Maybe last week felt like an extra spring break but this week has many people declaring "enough already!" as the reality of home life adjustments, and the stress of lack of work and resources is settling in.
Because your inbox is likely filled with COVID-19 messages and too much advice to absorb, we thought it would be helpful to review and select a few resources that can help you get organized as a family to weather this storm. Here are 10 key points that we noted from various expert resources, including an excellent webinar recorded by My OCD Care, which we recommend watching if you have time.
1. Fight the fears
Check your own anxiety and if you’re not there yet try to bring yourself to a place of calm. If you’re struggling and don’t have someone who can hear your concerns and support you, this article can help. An effective way suggested by many sources is the scheduled and consistent practice of mindfulness meditation or silent prayer if you are religious. It’s a great time to start if you don’t have such a practice in your life.
2. Listen to your children
Allow our children to express their emotions and accept them with active listening. It will go a long way to release any tension that may be building in the family. Be aware that younger children may not verbalize their feelings and rather act them out or experience physical symptoms. Be attentive to them and reassure them that these feelings are appropriate.
The Youth Mental Health Project designed a helpful guide to understand children’s emotions that you can find here.
3. Be flexible with yourself, your spouse/partner and with the children
Despite the perfect-picture stories you may see on social media from others who seem to have it together, no one is really doing this perfectly. We’re all figuring this out and it’s ok. We all need the ability to fail and try again. Same goes with your children: focus on reinforcing positive actions (Good job getting this done!) or gently redirect (Remember what we agreed upon? Let’s try this again) but acting out of anger will make it very difficult for all.
4. Strengthen the bond with your spouse/partner...
...or with other supportive adults if you are a single parent: don’t do this alone. There is strength in unity. Here is an article with ways to nurture this relationship.
5. Model self-care
In these stressful times, self-care may be first expressing our feelings appropriately and showing that we are responsibly managing them. It may also include activities that distract you and your family from the stress such as a board game, exercise or a walk outside, an exciting a virtual field trip online. Staying away from the news and social media can be a helpful way to limit your own stress and that of the children.
Self-care may also include taking care of basics such as washing up, dressing up, keeping rooms clean and orderly, eating real meals, which will help keep a sense of routine and continuity.
6. Help kids become independent
Kids of any age have the potential (and usually the desire) to be independent and learn to function. How are they sharing in the chores to help the family function now? A 3-year old can put away the toys he just played with, a 6-year old can take trash out or help bake, and teens can be responsible for much more. Now is a good time to practice key community living skills.
7. Finding purpose
While we may have temporarily lost the ability to do that job that made us feel productive, or the social interactions that gave us a sense of connection, this situation creates new opportunities to find purposeful activities. We have to be very pro-active in scheduling value-based activities. These can include making a new routine of family meals, writing cards to relatives or isolated people, preparing food for an older neighbor, etc… How can we help?
8. Plan social connections
While physical contact is not possible, social connections are still possible and important. Can your kids play outside with other kids in a way that is safe? (roller-skating is a no-contact hang-out). Can you have an occasional virtual family reunion with relatives?
9. Be collaborative with your kids
This is a great opportunity to engage kids at their level to plan the family life. What can they contribute to the family-life, what kind of value-activity can they think of, what do they think of the schedule. For many of us, the economy will mean sacrifices: where can we save? In this guide we explain the concept of family meetings, a great way to create a sense of connection and team as we face challenges together.
10. Have a schedule
“Children do better when they know what to expect. Structure and routine help children feel safe” writes Randi Silverman in the Youth Mental Health Project blog. Create or adjust a schedule including a variety of activities (work time, own time, community time, play time, value-activities time) in a collaborative way. Don’t be afraid to check on how it’s working regularly.
While the COVID-19 crisis is turning our lives upside down, it also brings opportunities to experience our family and relationships in a new and positive way. We know the storm will pass, and that we can overcome the challenges before us, and that should give us hope. If you can’t find hope or one of your family members is still struggling despite all your efforts, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. You’re not alone and professionals in your community are available to help.