We have been at this for about two months and while families are doing the best that they can, interrupted family routines, and drastic changes in day to day life all have caused stress and anxiety for many. And, this may continue as we phase in reopening with additional changes in daily living in the coming months. Communication patterns, expectations, and tolerance levels are just a few things that can result in stress for the family system as well as for individual family members.
When all of this started, our daily lives were turned upside down and we instinctively went into survival mode. As we stumbled to find our bearings, some things required immediate attention while others seemed less of a priority. Now that we are more settled in, if you feel that getting through each day feels hectic and stressful, it may be time to do some fine tuning.
Parents and caregivers pretty much have to possess super human qualities to simultaneously manage daily routines, get children to focus on and complete their school work, keep younger ones occupied – all while you are keeping up with household routines, cooking, and checking in in with loved ones and friends. This is even more challenging if you are working from home.
While I realize that what I am going to suggest sounds easier said than done, I want to emphasize the importance of maintaining, or re-establishing some routines and daily rituals. The thought of doing a cartwheel on a balance beam may seem more promising than rallying your troops to get dressed and brush their teeth, sit down to do school work, stay quietly occupied during your “Zoom” meeting or settle in bed when asked, but the fact is, children do better with routines. Humans, especially children, do well when there is some level of predictability in their lives – even more so at a time like now, when most aspects of our lives have changed at such a rapid rate.
The basis of many of the best-practice therapeutic work with children and parent education involves focusing to some extent on routines and rituals. Whether it is behavior management, attachment, relationship building, social skills, or emotional fluency, routines and rituals play a part in addressing these areas. As with anything else, change can be difficult, so as you try to pull in the reigns to whatever that you feel is necessary, expect some resistance. If you stick to it and are consistent, you will notice that each day there will be some gradual improvements. Start off by choosing things that will make the most difference for your household and mix it up with some easy changes as well.
Some areas that you may want to focus on that will not only decrease feelings of stress for you and your family but will also help build resiliency are a healthy diet, assuring that all family members have consistent night time routines and are getting enough sleep, modelling a positive attitude, and encouraging time each day for family members to participate in an activity that is relaxing and regulating. Examples may be reading, arts, crafts, painting, drawing, coloring, puzzles, and sensory activities. Finally, communicate – ask your children what they are thinking about, how they are feeling, and what their ideas are. Share your thoughts, ideas, and feelings.
Each day may bring on different challenges, but thankfully, the family unit is capable of adjusting to the new situation. With the added predictability of routines and expectations, there will be more time and energy for some of the positive things like spending time together on common interests or exploring new ones and time to talk, especially with older children. There will be more opportunities to offer support and reassurances, and to share thoughts about hope and dreams for the future.
If you are experiencing heightened anxiety, Howard Center’s Access and Intake Main Number, 802-488-6000, is available M-F 8 am – 6 pm. Our staff will offer support and connect you with services. Also, our First Call for Chittenden County crisis hotline, 802-488-7777, is available 24/7/365. www.howardcenter.org. Help is here.
Karen Prosciak, Psy.D., Howard Center.