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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

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Maybe We’ve Been Doing “Time-Out” All Wrong

Believe it or not, time-out was originally created for parents. It was seen as an opportunity for parents to take a break with the goal of ultimately helping to prevent child abuse. As of last year, in an article titled The Era of Spanking is Finally Over, the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends in a policy statement published in the Journal Pediatrics, that parents not spank, hit or slap their children as it is now seen as ineffective and potentially harmful.

In a connected article, an alternative was use of a time-out – recommending parents send children to sit in a chair by themselves.

Have you tried this? Has it worked for you?

While the alternatives to spanking can be somewhat helpful, many parents find the traditional use of the time-out method as problematic.

Instead of it being used as a means of managing heightened emotions for all parties involved, it is now treated as a punishment for children.

In the way time-outs are implemented now, parents are encouraged to withhold attention and ignore any cries or requests from the child. Although the time out tactic can potentially prevent a behavior from occurring in the moment it can also make children feel abandoned, rejected, frightened and confused.

Indicators your time-out experience may not be working:

*Both you and your child find emotions escalating instead of calming down

*You find your child engaging in the same problematic behavior over and over again. And you feel stuck.

*You find you are placing your child in time-out too frequently – such as daily or even hourly. You feel you may need different options but are not sure what would work.

*Your child perpetually asks when their time-out is over while it is occurring.

*You can’t get your child to calm down enough to even start the timer. You may find you often give up before being able to start the timer

During a training I attended to become a Bringing Baby Home Gottman Educator , I learned a whole new strategy for implementing time-out in our household. In some ways it sounded a little idealistic and too good to be true, but after trying it.. I am now a true believer.

Right after this training, our need for time-out came up during an outing to Target. I know we’ve all seen the sobbing children being carried out of Target, and that day it was my turn. My daughter desperately wanted a pack of Oreos that we were denying her of which lead to an all-out meltdown on the floor.

I was flooded – overwhelmed by her strong emotional reaction, embarrassed of how it all looked, and frustrated in my daughter’s lack of self-control. I first threatened time-out as a punishment for her terrible behavior then remembered what I was taught during the training and decided to try it out.

child using time out effectively to manage emotions
Many articles suggest when using time-out to have your child go to a quiet place, like a corner of a room, but not the bedroom or a playroom where they can get distracted. I learned that actually allowing a child to take a break doing what they love is not necessarily a reward, but an opportunity to teach your child to self soothe as a way to manage their out of control emotional reactions. So it’s OK to send them to their room or in an area where creativity can thrive. The child needs a space to do something positive that can help alleviate their intensified emotions. It is not until these strong emotions are more controlled that the experience can even become a learning opportunity after.

This article shares:

What I’ve learned about children in my years of research is that their brains do not take information in when they are dysregulated (or very upset). During times of emotional upset, children are functioning from their lower brain (which controls the fight, flight, or freeze response) and need to calm down before they can access their higher brain (responsible for logical thought and reasoning).

I shared with our five-year-old that when we got home, she would be going to time-out and explained that the purpose of the time-out was for her to calm herself down. I tried to make that clear several times, as I knew she was parent using time out the right wayminimally listening to me. I shared with her she would be going to her room and could play with anything she wanted as long as it helped to calm her down. I gave her suggestions such as reading a book or playing with a puzzle. As I left the room and closed the door, she was banging on the door which made me think I was nuts for trying what I learned and knew this was doomed to be ineffective. I set the timer on the oven for 5 minutes, because I also learned time-outs should last for one minute with every year of age of the child (she was 5).

The banging stopped, the oven timer eventually went off and I looked at my husband feeling nervous about what I was about to find in her bedroom.

I slowly opened the door to find her sitting on the floor with an open book in her lap. She looked up, tears filled her eyes and she started to say “mommy, I’m sorry.” This was now the springboard for us to be able to talk about what happened. I asked her what she was sorry for and we discussed how she can safely and more effectively share her emotions when she does not get what she wants in the future. I was shocked. My husband was shocked. But we knew we would try this again.

aftermath of time out processing what happened
So did it work again in the future? YES

A few months down the road, my daughter started getting an attitude with me and I felt we were going down a familiar road. I shared with her what I was noticing and gave her an option.

“It seems as though you are feeling frustrated and you are starting to say things that can hurt other’s feelings.”

I made it clear it was not a punishment and offered her the opportunity to take a time-out and go in her room to help calm herself down. I instructed her she will know it is time to come back when she was feeling better. I didn’t think she would do it, as she honestly does not tend to like being in her room by herself even to get dressed in the morning. She looked at me and walked off.

Into her room.

And came out moments later with a new attitude, apologizing for the way she had talked to me.

Some parents have found now that they are replacing their time out chair for a calm down area. Other parents are opting more for “Time In.” 

The Gottman Institute teaches positive parenting:

When we don’t accept feelings, we inadvertently cause children to feel frustrated and possibly think there is something wrong with them because of how they feel.

It is our job to teach our kids that feeling negative emotions is OK and teaching them to appropriately express those emotions is the key. This may mean giving them the words to express anger or sadness such as “How you feel is important to me. Instead of flopping on the ground, I would love it if you would tell me you were feeling angry.” It’s also important to check ourselves with how comfortable we are in holding those emotions in our children. A lot of us grew up in households where expressing anger meant danger or feeling sad was not allowed. We want our children to know they can feel sad.

When we accept feelings and limit behaviors, we teach children that their emotions are a normal human experience and they are responsible for…their actions surrounding those emotions.

It does not mean we do not discipline. It just means discipline comes after the opportunity to self soothe.

There are many things to do to teach a child how to regulate his emotions, from deep breaths, coloring, hugs, visualization, and jumping jacks. Different things work for different children, and you will know what calms down your child.

calm down area or time inRemember just like your child needs to learn skills in self soothing, so do adults! Giving yourself a time out as a reasonable way to take care of yourself when feeling overwhelmed. Allowing yourself a time out is really for everyone’s benefit!

strengthened relationship after a time out

Want to learn more skills in managing strong emotional reactions in children? Check out Gottman’s Emotion Coaching Program.

Thrive Therapy Florida is ready to help with any parenting concerns or challenges in the couple’s relationship. Call today to schedule an appointment.


Welcome to Thrive Therapy!

I am excited to announce the opening of Thrive Therapy in Tampa!

While my blog will mostly contain content related to relationship enhancement, increasing relationship satisfaction, and tips for supporting closeness as a family, this first post will serve as an introduction to my practice.

As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, my passion is serving others who are struggling with depression, anxiety, reactions to a traumatic experience, grief over the loss of a loved one, and relationship dissatisfaction. For many clients, while they feel happy in their relationship, they want to maximize their experience and establish healthy habits to sustain a thriving relationship.


Can I Benefit From Seeing a Counselor in Tampa?

Counseling can certainly help those who feel healthy but want most out of this life, A healthy relationship with self and others is the goal and that is where I feel I can help. Each experience in the counseling room is going to look different, because each story, each person, each perspective is unique. I see it as my role to meet the client where they are at, and allow the expertise of the client to be revealed in order to solve the presenting concerns or issues.

Why Did You Choose the Phoenix As Your Symbol?

I chose the phoenix as the logo for Thrive Therapy very intentionally, as it represents what I hope my practice will offer to the Tampa community. I previously worked with a client that had experienced a sexual assault. Through the counseling process, this client resorted to painting to represent their healing journey. At the termination of counseling, this client donated a painting of a phoenix to the agency where I was working to represent their transformation and to be able to help inspire others who had experienced what they had.

A phoenix represents rebirth, victory, and renewal. It represents overcoming, that he or she has arisen from the flames of life’s challenges. This is what I hope for those I work with, to feel empowered by their experience, for beauty and meaning to be revealed in the struggle and “ugly” that this life presents, and to leave feeling as though they are the best versions of themselves. Thriving.