Taking Care of Your Mental Health & Talking to Kids about Coronavirus
By Ellie Pelc, PsyD, clinical psychologist, JFCS Center for Children and Youth.
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is something none of us has ever experienced before. It is a time of tremendous change and disruption for everyone. Parents are being asked to do the impossible, especially working parents, who are suddenly taking care of themselves, their houses, and their kids.
The key to meeting this challenge, while taking care of your own mental health, is to be kinder to yourself.
Remember That You Are Doing the Best You Can
“I never thought I would yell like this. I never thought I’d be this version of myself.” At JFCS’ Center for Children and Youth, this is a common refrain that we are hearing from parents right now. My response is: these are unprecedented times that are challenging and frightening. You are doing the best you can. Try to lower your expectations and resist comparing yourself with others. Different families have different needs. Tell yourself that whatever you are doing is okay.
Be Honest with Your Children
Children sense when we are keeping feelings from them, and even from ourselves. Try to talk to your kids about the reality of the situation. Remember that anxiety is a natural part of the body’s survival system, and it is appropriate to feel anxious right now. Discuss the ways that your children can feel safe, and the things you’re doing to keep them safe. Teach them how to sense anxiety in their own bodies, and methods for dealing with it.
One such method is to check in on your breathing during an activity that is already routine:
While washing hands for 20 seconds, practice deep breathing: inhale for a count of 5, exhale for a count of 5, inhale for a count of 5, exhale for a count of 5.
Try to Reframe Loss as Potential
For parents, there is a huge loss of adult time and the sense of a separate identity right now. There is loss of potential experiences. For many, there is loss of income or feelings of stability. Grief is part of what we are all experiencing right now.
At the same time, there is also the potential for new and different experiences to have as a family together. Consider what you might want your kids to remember from this time. Would they remember that the schedule was kept to a T, or that they once got to have ice cream for dinner? Use this opportunity to ask tabletop questions, to think, share and get to know each other better.
Set Your Environment Up for Success
Parents are suddenly being asked to be teachers, on top of doing their own work. To help with juggling these many responsibilities, try establishing different zones within your space for work and for play.
Make Yourself Feel Good
If you do crave comfort or change, use your senses to help lift your mood. Print a picture of a favorite place that you’ve visited or rearrange the photos in your home so you can appreciate them in a new way. Listen to calming music and sounds. Light scented candles, spray room freshener, bake cookies. Clothe yourself in materials that feel good.
Consider Implementing a Forgiveness Ritual
Spending so much time at home with immediate family can cause tensions to rise. I often recommend this 5-step forgiveness ritual for families:
- “I’m sorry for …” (try to be as specific as possible: e.g. “raising my voice after asking you three times to clean up your toys”, “slamming the door when you asked me to turn off the TV”)
- “It was wrong because …”
- “Next time I will …”
- “Is there anything I can do to make it better?”
- “Will you forgive me?
Remember to forgive your kids, forgive your partner, and most of all, to forgive yourself.
Ask for Help If You Need It
If you need support or guidance during this time, or are facing other challenges as a parent, JFCS’ Center for Children and Youth is here for you. Our team of parenting experts and clinicians can provide online counseling to help you and your family cope during this uncertain time. We can also help you establish healthy family routines, connect with other parents, plan activities at home, and receive critical assistance when you need it most. Contact us online or call 415-359-2454.
Dr. Ellie Pelc is a licensed psychologist with specialized training in infant and early childhood development, attachment, anxiety, ADHD, challenging behavioral problems, and adoption-related issues.