For a little over a year, all of us have had to adjust our lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This once in a lifetime collective trauma has impacted everyone, especially those with families and young children. As kids lost school, activities, and connections that helped them grow, parents had to take on work, childcare, and homeschooling all at once. To say this has been a hard, stressful, heavy year would be a massive understatement.
Each of us have dealt with the stress in our own way, and likely most of us have struggled at some point to cope. As a parent, it is overwhelming to understand how to guide not only yourself but also your children through this time. Below are some ways you can attend to the anxiety that may be pulsing through your home.
1. Understand what anxiety looks like for each family member. Anxiety manifests in so many different ways. Kids in particular may exhibit anxiety through acting out, physical symptoms such as stomach aches, or exhaustion. Recognizing that your children may not deliberately be misbehaving but just trying to cope can help you support and empathize with them much better.
2. Consider the background noise in your home. Children absorb and mirror what they hear and witness. If the news is playing throughout the day on your television or in your car, chances are you feel stressed and your child does too. Consume small bits and pieces at a time and be mindful of what is playing and what you are saying when your child is near.
3. Attend to yourself and your children. Parents are full-time workers and caregivers right now, and balance can be so extremely difficult when the boundaries of work and home are almost nonexistent. Taking just five intentional minutes to yourself can be key to honoring what your body and heart are holding. Similarly, if you see your child on the brink of a meltdown, engage in the 30 second burst of attention. Drop whatever you are doing before they begin screaming or kicking and give them just 30 seconds of naming what they are doing well. Redirecting their energy to the positive, instead of telling them to calm down or stop their misbehavior, gives them a place to put their energy.
4. Emphasize and engage in play. This is key for both adults and children. Parents need time to come back to something enjoyable. Again, you may only have five minutes to work with. Use those precious moments to mindfully engage in something that fills you rather than disengage with scrolling through the phone. Play with your child as well—this is the language they use to speak. You can learn a lot about what your child is feeling in a game of Candyland.
5. Create and re-create family rituals. So many of our rituals have been lost due to COVID-19. Where soccer games and pizza parties used to be are now Netflix and Zoom calls. No matter what the new ritual is, name it and establish it. Know rituals can also be changed as activities open up. Developing them together, with all family members input, can bring unity.
Even though we are over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not too late to start these habits. They can be extremely useful as we adjust to all kinds of change in our lives. If you or your child has struggled throughout this time and you are in the Chicagoland area, please feel free to contact Olive Branch Counseling Associates, Inc. at 708-633-8000.
Written by Kathryn
2021 Graduate Intern
Allender, D. (Host). (2021, March 19). Play, anxiety, and resilience: How to help kids in a pandemic [Audio podcast episode]. In The allender center podcast. The Allender Center. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/play-anxiety-and-resilience-how-to-help-kids-in-a-pandemic/id936250143?i=1000513700865