Tips for Parenting in the Time of COVID-19
Updated: Apr 17, 2020
We’re living in a strange time when all of humanity is facing a collective crisis. This isn’t something any of us ever really expected to deal with. It’s something we’ve heard about in movies, but it’s not meant for real life. Nevertheless, this is our current reality and we’re all looking for ways to cope – for better or for worse.
To make matters more difficult, there aren’t any manuals on how to successfully handle a global health crisis. Again, it’s all new. No experts in the field. Furthermore, many of us are parents and we aren’t sure how to navigate this strange new landscape in a way that will minimize trauma to our children, let alone support them in feeling safe and comforted.
But I’m willing to argue that this experience doesn’t have to be nearly as complicated as we think. Here’s what I know we can do.
Let's focus all of our energy on the things we CAN control.
This means getting back to basics with tried and true strategies for taking care of ourselves. Our ultimate goal is to support calm minds, healthy bodies, and connection in our families.
So, here are some simple strategies that my clients use to stay healthy and grounded. I myself have found them to be immensely helpful in dealing with my own stress and minimizing stress to my children. In fact, in many ways, our family has never felt more calm and connected!
STEP 1: Stabilize Yourself First
As every parent knows, our children are geniuses at reading energy. They know when something’s off with us – even before we do sometimes. Not only does this leave them feeling unstable, it also leads them down a spiral of anxious behaviors themselves. For that reason alone, it’s absolutely critical that we find ways of keeping ourselves healthy and sane.
Beyond that, your overall health will be improved by your ability to stay grounded and calm. We’re constantly uncovering new evidence about the inextricable link between our immune systems and our stress levels. COVID-19 is something that most of us would likely recover from, but it’s more important than ever that we support a strong and balanced immune system so that we’re prepared to heal from this new virus.
In my research and work as a life coach I’ve found that creating stability and calm within ourselves is dependent on having a daily practice: a set of habits or rituals that nourish your mind, body, and soul. I recommend that my clients make a commitment to do at least one of these habits every day. Even better if you can commit to 2 or more. But be careful not to overwhelm yourself. Read on and decide which habit(s) you want to practice:
Meditate: Yup, there’s that annoying word again. But the reason it keeps coming up is because it really is as powerful as everyone keeps saying. And yet, all you have to do is commit to 5-10 minutes of quiet time per day, ideally right after you brush your teeth in the morning.
Unlike what you’ve heard, the goal isn’t to stop thinking altogether. It’s to stop thinking about all the juicy stuff. You know, the things that you worry about or that get you excited. In order to do that, you have to give your brain something else to do. Count your breaths, count backwards from 100, visualize your chakras glowing and expanding, listen to the air conditioner, chant, whatever it takes to occupy your busy mind. When you notice that a typical ‘juicy’ thought has re-entered your brain (and it will), gently tell it to keep moving and send it floating away in an imaginary cloud.
After about 2-3 weeks of committed practice you’ll find that your days are getting easier. You’ll feel like you have more time to get things done, your emotions are more stable, and you’ll feel more connected with your loved ones. That’s the weird thing about meditating. You don’t feel the effects right away. It’s something you discover by looking around and noticing that your life is getting better and easier.
Move Your Body: Notice I didn’t use the dreaded word ‘exercise’. I don’t want you to think of this as work. I want you to think of it as a natural part of every day, just like when you were a kid. So, in that vein, make a quick list of activities that you loved doing as a child. Did you ride your bike to friends’ houses? Did you swim? Dance? Play tag? Play a sport?
I’m here to tell you that there’s no reason that you can’t start doing those activities again. Sure, they may need to be modified to accommodate your current lifestyle, but they’re still doable. Not to mention, your kids will probably love doing them with you.
I love playing with my kids now that we can do activities that I enjoy too. We play frisbee, freeze tag, monkey in the middle, volleyball, Marco Polo, tickle fights, dancing to YouTube, a game we’ve titled ‘Shark’ which is pretty much just a game of tag in the pool, and we even rock climb. None of these activities feel like exercise to me, and yet I’m moving my body more often, and with more vigor, than I did when I had a regular exercise routine.
All that said, I must acknowledge that I also have enormous privilege in being able to access safe local parks, a community pool (although it’s obviously closed for the time being), and pay membership dues for a rock-climbing gym. Which brings me to the next practice on our list.
Practice Gratitude: First things first, I want you to think about this a little differently than what you see constantly in popular media. This isn’t so much about listing all the things you’re grateful for (although that can be helpful as well). It’s more about shifting your thoughts to focus more steadily on what’s going right in your life, instead of what’s going wrong.
This will probably feel like a pretty tall order at first. I mean, we’re trained from a young age to face problems head on. Tackle them, beat them down, and move on. I’m forever guilty of this pattern, and I actually take great pride in my problem-solving skills. That’s one of the reasons I became a coach and a counselor.
Buuuutttt, there’s a difference between strategically facing an issue that’s bothering you (which can be healthy), and that thing we do where we habitually look for the next problem to tackle. It’s just one task or problem after the next.
Instead I invite you to spend more time indulging in the things that make you feel good, like slowing down and really snuggling with your little ones, or taking a long, soothing bath, or curling up with a book at bedtime. Make a point of adding more of these activities into your day.
And practice thinking about all the good stuff around you. Talk to your kids and your partner about all the things you see that are going right in the world. Watch inspirational videos on YouTube, or discuss cool ways that people are helping others in the community. Tell your loved ones what you appreciate about them. Thank your bed for being so cozy. You get the idea.
Now the next part will seem a little harder, but it will get easier with practice – especially if you really make a point of focusing on the good stuff mentioned above. I want you to completely ignore things that make you feel mad, sad or frightened. This includes avoiding gossip or complaining, stopping the fight with your spouse before it starts (tell him/her what you want, then move on) and ignoring your kids when they misbehave while giving them lots of attention when they’re behaving well. And – for the love of all that is merciful – STOP WATCHING THE NEWS!!!
Yeah, I said it. I know this will take a huge leap of faith, but I assure you that you will survive being ignorant of the most up-to-date stats on the COVID-19 spread. In fact, with the removal of all these chronic stressors from your environment, your actual stress hormones will gradually come down so much that you’ll have a much lower chance of getting sick or having complications if you do become sick. Nope, I’m not a licensed medical doctor, but I do know what I’m talking about.
Side note: I’m not asking you to become some uninformed citizen. There are many more productive, and accurate ways, of keeping yourself knowledgeable about politics and current affairs than watching the news. And even if you don't stay totally informed, the world won't fall apart.
So, in summary, focus on the good stuff and ignore the stuff you don’t like. I know this may sound like a recipe for disaster, but the truth is that focusing on the good stuff will help you be receptive to solutions for the things that aren’t working. Suddenly, you’ll be inspired to move the washing machine for some unknown reason, and you’ll find that piece of jewelry you thought you’d lost forever. Don’t believe me? Try it for a week. I dare you.
Eat Real Food: And now for a biggie. Try eating only real food for just one week and see how you feel. When I say real food, I mean whole foods. Only real ingredients. Sorry, the Pop Tarts are being furloughed until further notice. This means that most of your food will come from the refrigerator. Foods that come out of the pantry should have short ingredient lists composed of actual food items, not chemicals or food additives.
Also be mindful of the tendency to fill up on grains. Try replacing some with veggies and fruits. And whenever possible, be mindful of how your food was produced, especially your animal products. Oh, and go easy on the alcohol.
Eating real food will give you so much energy. I’ll admit that you’ll probably go through some withdrawals at first. But, if you can manage to hang on, you’ll enjoy some amazing benefits.
STEP 2: Slow Down and Connect with Your Family
With these tools for maintaining your own stability put into action, you can expand your efforts outwards to your family. Here are some simple strategies that can help your children feel protected and supported during any time of instability.
Keep a Daily Routine: This doesn’t have to be a schedule. It’s simply an outline of activities that the family commits to doing daily. This could look like having at least one meal together every day (no matter what time it happens), going for a daily walk, spending time on schoolwork, and having family time at the end of each day.
Having these rituals of connection will help your children feel safe and loved. And it will allow the entire family to feel more connected.
Cuddle: For those of you who are able to self-quarantine, cuddling can be a safe and comforting way to spend your time. Make sure to hold, hug, and encourage your loved ones as much as possible.
Read Together: Pick up those books you’ve been meaning to read for ages. Or download lots of free ones from your library’s e-book collection. In my household, we each have about 2-3 books on loan, and several others on hold. Invite your kids to snuggle in your bed and read to them or have everyone read their own books.
Use Screen Time as a Tool: I know this one can be hard right now, but my best piece of advice is to have children earn their screen time. Let them know how much time is allowed per day, then set expectations about what they need to accomplish to access their devices. For example, it would be reasonable to expect them to complete their chores, homework, and play outside prior to vegging out with their iPad or phone.
The best part is that you don’t need to use devices for punishment when you make them an incentive for healthy behaviors. Put another way, it’s much harder to take a device away from a recalcitrant child than it is to say “I’m happy to give you your device as soon as you’re done doing x, y, z.”
That puts the ownership on the child instead of making you the punisher.
Spend Time Outside Daily: This will fit in great with your habit of moving your body daily. If there’s one thing you do with your family every day, let it be something outside. This will provide everyone with much needed Vitamin D, exercise, a change of scenery, time to talk as a family, and a sense of normalcy.
And there you have it. This isn’t rocket science. It’s just the simple stuff that makes us feel safe. By taking care of our bodies and our relationships, we can weather any storm…together.