During the winter months, it continues to be important to stay connected to family and friends, either virtually or through proper physical distancing. This may be more challenging for children who have been taken out of their usual social interactions both in and out of school. It is expected that your child may have some apprehension or nervousness about reconnecting with friends and peers. However, finding ways to have safe social interaction is essential for their emotional well-being.
Holding everything together while tending to the emotional well-being of your family, and yourself is no small task these days. Here are some general tips about how you and your family can stay connected to others and each other.
Schedule times throughout the week to see friends or family online or outside. If scheduling a video meetup, consider the age range of the kids involved. You may want to structure the date somewhat with an activity to help maintain the focus and keep stress for the adults at a minimum. If arranging to see others in person, be sure to keep safety considerations in mind. Remember to stay at least 6 feet away and wear your mask at all times. After any in-person visits, practice proper handwashing techniques to protect you and your family.
Consider developing new weekly rituals that help mark the passage of time and the transitions between weekday and weekend. Examples include Friday night celebrations, ice cream for dinner, pajama day, fancy dinner, and Saturday night living room camp-outs. Whatever makes your family’s hearts sing.
Try to build in outside time every day. Connection to nature intrinsically builds resiliency and is a proven source of stress relief. Most remote learning plans include breaks during the day for movement and screen-free time – take this opportunity to go outside! Consider scheduling, depending on the weather, an after-school running race, a hopscotch tournament or a snowman building contest with kids in your neighborhood so they can practice social distancing and get some physical activity outdoors. For older kids and teenagers, encourage them to research local trails (cities often have historic walking trails) or map out a walk in your neighborhood to build in some outdoor physical activity.
As much as you can, work on boosting calming rituals and routines to help you and your family get into the habit of self-care. Walking, yoga, and mindfulness activities are all simple ways to build calm into a chaotic day. For kids who have been sitting all day, consider jumping or swinging or making snow angels, as more active versions of mindfulness.
Wherever possible, bring joy and playfulness into your life. Make time for dance parties, or snuggle-fests, family joke time, or opportunities for silliness. Humor and joy are wonderful antidotes to stress and inherently build connections.
Limit the amount of news and social media consumed in your home. Be mindful of the media your children are watching and try to limit their media to age-appropriate content.
It is also critically important that you take steps to care for yourself. Children and teenagers rely on their parents for evaluating how to react and respond to the world around them. If you are feeling overly burdened by the consumption of news media, fearful about COVID-19, or stressed by recent events, the primary mood in your household will likely be similar. This is not to make you feel worse; instead, it is a gentle reminder that you are important, too. As your child’s parent, you must take care of yourself first so that you will have adequate emotional and mental reserves to care for the rest of your family. Much like in the airline safety speech, you must secure your own mask before helping others. Only this time, it isn’t oxygen. It’s an active, consistent, and persistent reminder to yourself that you are doing the best you can. Taking care of yourself is part of this process.
The secret is that by taking care of yourself, you ARE taking care of your kids. You are modeling healthy coping skills through co-regulation. Co-regulation suggests that children and parents have a symbiotic relationship and the emotions of one impact the emotions of the other. In other words, if you stay calm, your child will calm. Alternately, if you get stressed, your child will get stressed. This is why, when you take the time and space to take care of your emotional needs, your resiliency will expand AND your child’s capacity for resiliency will expand. Gotta love a two-for-one deal!
It is also important to remember that there are opportunities to engage in certain activities outside to improve mood and overall well-being. Just remember to always wear your mask! For example, you might consider taking a walk or jog once per day to have a moment to yourself. As I outlined earlier, exercising can improve mood, increase energy, jump-start your metabolism, and give you instant stress relief. Find your quiet moment to help restore your energy, and thus your connection to those you love.