Families around the world are experiencing unprecedented amounts of time together and, for many of us, the struggle is real.
Have you noticed your family dynamics seem exponentially magnified the longer we socially distance? You’re not alone!
Whether it’s heightened sibling conflict, non-stop bickering, anxious thinking, or adjusting to new routines, many parents feel like they don’t have the necessary tools and resources to get through this period of uninterrupted family time.
Here are six ideas for boosting your mental health while at home with your family:
1. Practice self-care
Self-care can sound like a buzzword for overindulging or emotional numbing. As caregivers, we often find it difficult to prioritize our own needs without feeling guilty or selfish. But we need to change our thinking. After all, our ability to stay centered and balanced during this time of global hardship will be critical to our family’s well-being.
Whether you find something that energizes your mind and body or one that relaxes it, doing a small act of self-care each day can help you feel refreshed and ready to help others.
2. Plan for your child’s energy level
Do you have a high-energy kid who thrives on having places to go and things to do? Or is your child a “homebody” who does best with lots of downtime? Remember, every child will have a different response to social isolation based on their own unique personality traits, temperament, and energy level. Create a daily routine that matches your child’s natural energy to promote consistently positive behavior.
3. Harness sibling rivalry
Are your children becoming more competitive with each passing day? For many families, sibling rivalry is heightened during this time of togetherness. Rather than trying to stop the competitiveness, parents might encourage a little “friendly competition” such as relay races, scavenger hunts, obstacle courses, or treasure hunts.
If you’re feeling really creative, you might even find ways to incorporate housework into these challenges! (Example: “First person to put on all their dirty clothes, run to the laundry room, and take off their dirty clothes is the winner!”)
4. Limit children’s exposure to news
For many of us, watching the news helps us feel up-to-date and in control during a time when things are very much out of our control. Although we might be comfortable riding the wave of news briefings and global developments, this can lead to more anxiety and uncertainty in some children.
Be mindful of kids’ exposure to information by limiting the amount of time spent watching the news. Depending on your child’s age and developmental level, one or two check-ins per day should be sufficient. If you want more frequent access to information, consider getting updates online to avoid overwhelming children’s ability to cope with current events.
5. Choose screen time wisely
This is understandably probably not the time you're cutting back on screen time or video games for your kids. But keep in mind that not all games are created equally.
Games that mimic high-intensity situations (such as theft, war, or survival) can actually produce a fight-or-flight response in children. Instead, consider screen activities that foster connection, learning, movement, or problem-solving. Visit www.commonsensemedia.org for expert reviews and hand-picked lists of quality online entertainment for kids.
6. Get creative
Social distancing is stressful and lonely, especially if you can’t be with your children and loved ones. It is especially important to be creative and stay connected during this period of isolation.
You might consider playing games that can be played across screens. For example, Battleship and Catchphrase can be adapted to play virtually over FaceTime or Skype. Send kids on a scavenger hunt around the house, read them stories, or create art projects together. Bring back old games like Pictionary or Charades, ‘I Spy’ or 20 Questions. The most important thing is to find meaningful ways to connect and engage, even from a distance.
Just like caring for our physical health, mental health requires daily attention. Try out these strategies to see which ones help your family during this time.
Reach out for help if you believe your family needs professional support to manage the stress of the COVID-19 crisis. If you or your child are currently working with a therapist, check to see if they offer online ‘telehealth’ therapy. School counselors and previous therapists can also be a valuable resource during this time.
For families that don’t have an existing relationship to a counselor, now is a good time to seek help from community mental health centers such as NAMI-National Association for Mental Illness.
Author Rachel Heuchert holds a bachelor's degree in psychology and communication and works at Conifer Play Therapy in Conifer, Colo. This story originally appeared in Macaroni Kid Evergreen-Bailey-Conifer, Colo.