Keeping It Together While You’re Together

I’ve been thinking a lot about families stuck inside, especially those with kids who have nothing to do. It doesn’t take long to start going stir-crazy — it brings to mind those never-ending last few weeks of summer. Given that this is an unplanned and unexpected event, and there is no Florida vacation to look forward to, I anticipate some pretty tense moments while we all hunker down.

Importantly, I want to assure you that whatever you are feeling is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. We all respond to stress in unique ways. This situation is completely foreign and also frightening. Keep in mind that your kids are feeling the same way. Unfortunately they have less ability to process what is happening and make meaning of it. Instead, kids may be more emotionally reactive (even if they deny that they are affected by recent events). This is different than 9/11 or a school shooting. We can’t see the danger in front of us but we know that it is out there, and could be anywhere, just waiting to make us sick. This is hard for an adult to believe and accept sometimes. I imagine it must be confusing and even terrifying for a child.

There are a few ways to help your kids feel more secure and cared for as we muddle through. For example, limit your child’s exposure to the news. I don’t know about you but at times I feel overwhelmed by what I am hearing. I would even think about limiting your child’s exposure to other frightening stimuli, such as scary movies and video games, especially if they seem to be on edge or anxious. TV and games can be great diversions but you may want to be selective about what your kids are exposed to right now. Or perhaps limit their watch time or game play time and definitely don’t allow it before bed.

Also, have some structure for your kids during the day. If they have online learning, create a schedule for them to do their schoolwork. We will eventually be returning to “normal” life and the transition will be easier if your child has had some structure all along. I know that some of the kids are really struggling with the online school, so please be patient and supportive. In the best of circumstances kids can have a lot of trouble with this form of learning and in this environment it is much harder to adapt. If you are working from home this will make your life a little easier too.

When you can, spend some “downtime” with your kids. Play a game, read a story, do a craft. This will bring you closer together and relieve both your stress.

Above all, listen to your kids and talk to them too. Often we believe that if we don’t let our kids know what is going on they won’t know any different, or we think we can hide our feelings from our children and somehow that protects them. Kids are much more perceptive than we give them credit for. They may not know exactly what’s happening, but they know when something is not right. Trying to keep it from them just creates confusion and fear. Of course, kids only need to know what they are able to understand, so share only what they are old enough to hear. Similar to when they ask about sex: answer their questions but don’t go into detail if they don’t ask. It’s okay to tell your kids that you are feeling anxious too. Let them know that this is hard for you and that you understand this is really hard for them. But then reassure them that “everything is going to be okay” even if you aren’t sure this is the case. As a parent, it’s your job to let your kids know that when things are scary or dangerous, you are there to protect them and keep them safe. You can do this with your actions AND with your words.

One more thing…be sure to hug your kids and tell them that you love them. Even after the toughest day, they can use a little tenderness and so can you.

***BTW, if you or your kids need additional support during this stressful time, please reach out to a professional. You can contact me or another mental health professional for help. We are making ourselves available via video or phone. We are all in this together and we are here to help you through this.***

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