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Ways Parents Can Manage Their Mental Health During COVID-19

As I’ve worked with struggling parents who are not only trying to manage their own internal battles with the impact of COVID-19, they are also having to carry the weight of their children’s upheaval from their daily routine and expectations.

The challenge of having to navigate your own feelings of stress while supporting a child’s reaction in a space where you do not feel you have all the answers can be unnerving.

As therapists, one of our main jobs in working with our clients is to support movement towards tolerating the uncomfortable – not necessarily changing it or taking it away. To tolerate – A gift parents can offer to themselves and to their children during these beautiful and rough moments.

So how do you even begin learning to tolerate this level of stress? Start by modeling how to cope.couple getting over an argument

Whether we realize it or not, our children our witnessing our responses. They take it all in and then also respond accordingly. Our responses inform theirs. They can learn a lot from how you respond to this level of stress.

MOVE – Sometimes all it takes is adding in movement even if nothing else changes. In the middle of a math problem meltdown, I had my daughter simply take a walk to the front door of our house. This required her to walk the length of the house and come back to the room where we were working. She sat down and figured it out. It was like magic.

Moments later I felt exasperated trying to explain what “the tens place” meant and realized it may not have been her that needed to move, but me. So I took a lap to the front door, came back and we completed the worksheet. Don’t be afraid to tell your kids to jump up and down between problems, stretch, do jumping jacks, cartwheels or tree pose. But also, do it with them. Even beyond that, find moments to move on your own in a way that feeds you and feels good – try a yoga video online, go for a walk, ride a bike, learn a new dance, etc. Moving helps lighten your mood and may make some experiences feel a bit more manageable.

Take healthy breaks during the day from crisis schooling – Crisis schooling is not meant to be the same as school, and is also by far not the same as homeschooling. Crisis schooling is stressful, you may have limited resources or limited time due to work expectations. This is a unique situation where the expectation is that you do the best you can. When things start to feel overwhelming – take a break! Do something with the intent to self soothe like: take deep breaths, watch a funny show, or read a magazine you enjoy. On the day of the math problem meltdown, later on I wondered – why didn’t I just take a longer break? Yes moving in the moment helped, but why didn’t I go for a bike ride or quick walk? That could have possibly helped to prevent the meltdown in the first place.

Name your emotions – Just because a feeling feels bad it does not mean it is wrong or bad. We want to teach our children that negative feelings are not bad. By being able to check in with yourself to acknowledge what you may be experiencing, it helps to externalize what is going on. Externalizing the problem can be very empowering. By naming and externalizing how you might be feeling, you can then start to evaluate why you may be feeling more irritable, or sad and make choices as to how you want to tolerate that emotion. Do you want to talk to someone else about it? Do you want to journal? Or Exercise? Or both. When you can name the emotion attached to the moment, it inherently helps to calm you down. This can be surprisingly powerful yet so simple that even Daniel Tiger teaches it to children. If you want to be let in on a big secret – that’s actually the magic behind therapy itself.

Find time to connect together and with others you love – Often couples are really good at learning about each other during the dating season of the relationship, but forget to remain curious with each other over time. With the increased time together, take time to date your spouse again! The Gottman Carddecks app can be a great resource to help you get to know each other again especially if you find yourself unsure as to what to talk about. By using the love maps and open-ended questions activity, you and your spouse can connect in a fun way and actually be able to talk about something other than the news or the Coronavirus.

Offer a sense of autonomy to your children – Remember to give them choices so they can take ownership over their school experience. This also prevents  you from feeling like you are always making demands or begging them to do their work. Reasonable options could include “which subject do you want to complete now? Science or Social Studies?” Or you could offer more flexible options “Do you want to work harder today so you can relax a bit tomorrow? Or vice versa? If we relax today, it means we will have a lot to do tomorrow.” You know your child best. Offer choices that feel reasonable to you and that you know you will be able to follow through with. Allowing them to have choice can be helpful so you do not feel like you have to fight them every step of the way.

Be reasonable in your expectations of self and also your children – Some days you may find yourself really productive, others may be a bit more slow moving. Tell yourself that it is not worth the cost of your relationship with your spouse or your kids, and it should not also be at the cost of your mental health. If things do not go the way you preferred that day, name the emotion in order to be able to tolerate it, move, and remember to be kind and gentle with yourself.

Be willing to say sorry when you mess up – if your children saw you being short with your spouse, make up in front of them. With kids it’s important they see their parents make up both verbally and also physically, so make sure it ends with a hug or a kiss. If you regret yelling at your kids, tell them. When your kids have witnessed your overwhelming feelings get the best of you and maybe you acted in a way you regret, do not be afraid to tell them you are sorry

You are human and everyone messes up. It can be good to teach your children how to make repairs for when they will inevitably mess up in the future. Making things right can be as impacting (or more) as the regrettable incident itself. Modeling this will help them in their relationships in the long term.

Avoid comparing yourself to what you see others doing on social media – There is a lot of available time to spend on social media these days. You may be scrolling through and seeing parents creating amazing art projects or sticking to a regimented schedule you could only dream of. Remember each family unit is different and all function in their own unique way. Yes, structure and routine are beneficial, but so is flexibility. Finding balance is a never-ending journey. If you are finding your social media use linked to feeling lower, maybe try to limit your social media intake for a bit.

Find moments of Gratitude – Get in the habit of having your family each name 3 things they are thankful for from the day. It may also be reasonable to name where you have had some frustrations and acknowledge feelings of loss. It can be easy to forget while we may be having difficulty, that are our children may be struggling too and may benefit from an outlet.

“See” a therapist – If you are finding your functioning to be limited and it feels too overwhelming, counseling is more accessible than ever. Do not be afraid to try counseling for the first time. Most providers have made it easier than ever and are offering services online. Find a therapist you like (as this is what will predict your success in therapy) and use that time as your self-care for the week. You deserve it!

Want to learn more skills in managing strong emotional reactions in children? Thrive Therapy Florida is ready to help with any parenting concerns or challenges in the couple’s relationship. Schedule an appointment today.


Megan Richardson, LMFT, NCC