Chloe Cooney articulates what parents are feeling in her viral post on Medium—we are overwhelmed with worries about health, job stability, home-schooling, and working at home. There are not enough social and economic safeguards for us. Not even close. Not even close to close.
Hard as it is to remember, this isn’t going to last forever. So, let’s take a deep breath and get into feeling-better mode:
Cultivate awareness. Dr. Scott Cypers directs stress and anxiety programs at the Helen and Arthur E Johnson Depression program and suggests talking back to anxiety. Kooky as it sounds, saying things like “silly anxiety, I’m not going to let you take over” is a brain hack that helps us challenge and poke holes in anxiety and it’s close cousin panic, and eventually conquer both. Be aware of anxiety primers like constant bad news consumption via COVID trackers – anxiety can be insidious and looks for opportunities to control our brain. Don’t let it. Allow yourself specific windows of time to check on news and timebox your worries, then put it aside and move on with your day.
Acknowledge your feelings to your kids. Instead of saying “everything’s going to be fine,” which may actually stoke anxiety in already anxious kids, saying “we’re doing all we can” acknowledges to them that all is not well with the world, but we’re working on making it better. If you lose your cool, apologize. This is a great way to model asking for forgiveness.
Ask your kids for help, be honest with them. Let them know you’re having a tough day and ask for a hug (this works with our kids). Or have a frank conversation with them about what our worries are. Psychologists overwhelmingly tell us that we need to “normalize” our fears, and those of our kids, and we can do that by articulating that it’s healthy to worry a little. But, reiterate that we don’t want our worry to control us.
Establish rituals for yourself. We’re at the point where we’re railing against all the conventional wisdom and structure being thrown at us, from color coded schedules on Pinterest to “suggested” daily calendars from schools. But here’s the thing—rituals do actually work and can be a powerful mechanism to control grief and anxiety. Does your morning wake up ritual give you a sense of peace and ground you in the day? Exactly. The trick is to figure out which rituals work for your kids and you. Some techniques that are working for our Prepared families:
- Start your day by checking in with yourself, and with the kids, to assess how everyone is feeling.
- Set a goal or intention for the day. “I won’t listen to the news constantly” can be a worthy goal. “I will acknowledge when I’m feeling anxious and talk back to my worry brain” can be a worthy intention.
- Parenting doesn’t have to be so intensive…or how would the human species survive? Instead of giving hours of attention to your kids, focus on them in . Maybe 45 minutes of reading or math time isn’t working for you and your kids, how about 10 minutes of playing Battleship together instead?
- End your day by checking out with your kids and yourself. Identify what worked, what didn’t, and how you’d like the next day to look.
Use social boundaries. We’re hearing a lot about virtual happy hours and FaceTime/Zoom dates. But anxiety is contagious, and we all have that one person who is always calling to share bad news and stoking your worry. This may be a good time to gently explain to them that you are focusing on staying positive and may not be able to talk as often. When there is an in-flight emergency, you focus on getting your emergency mask on first. This feels similar, and there is no shame in controlling social contagion to focus on your mental health.