Parents suddenly thrust into spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week, staying home with their children might be feeling a little stressed.
Throw in trying to work from home and the unknowns associated with a pandemic, and anxiety levels can really rise.
But there are things to remember when you’re home with the kids and the first and most important is that “you don’t have to be perfect,” said Fred Kaelin, executive director of the Shine Iniative, a Worcester nonprofit that works with more than 40 schools in Central Massachusetts to destigmatize mental health issues.
“Our advice is to not try to be perfect. Yes, it’s true that we don’t want to show the full worry we may have about knowing everything that’s going on around us, especially to younger kids,” he said. “But it’s not healthy for you as a parent if you try to spend a 12-hour day with your kids where you never let anything affect you.”
Children are certainly aware that something is different. They’re not at school. Their parents are home. They can’t play with friends. They sense some worry.
Sometimes sticking to a schedule can help, but really, Kaelin explained, it’s best to settle into whatever routine works for your family - and sometimes that means no routine at all.
“I have a friend whose son puts on his school uniform every morning,” he said.
But whatever plans works best, he reminds those caring for others to check in on themselves, too.
He suggests setting the alarm on a phone for every few hours and pausing, maybe for a few deep breaths or an activity that reduces stress. The Shine Initiative has an app called Mindmatters by Shine which helps people evaluate how they’re feeling and to set up coping skills to employ when they need.
“If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t care for others,” Kaelin said, adding that situations like this bring to mind the adage that on an airplane in trouble, one must put on their own oxygen mask first so they can then help others.
The Shine Initiative’s website, shineinitiative.org, offers help finding mental health support and will be built out this week to include information about coping with the pandemic’s effects on mental health.
Kaelin said it’s OK to acknowledge that we’re in a very stressful time and that the things kids may find difficult, like using less toilet paper or not visiting their grandparents, are being done to help others.
Sometimes simply explaining that we’re trying to help someone else is enough for a child to hear, and knowing they’re part of a community effort is positive. The one thing parents shouldn’t do is make a comparison when children are frustrated by limitations.
″(You shouldn’t) sort of snap and say ... you’re lucky to have any food on your plate ... or at least you’re not in the hospital,” Kaelin said. “You’re not going to have a productive conversation when you’re that elevated.”
Kaelin said adults certainly can become overwhelmed and sometimes, when that happens, they can gently tell their children that sometimes all the changes are hard.
“It’s OK to share with your child how you’re feeling and even to ask them if they want to help you by taking a few deep breaths together,” he said.
Parents should also remember that they’ve navigated tough situations before - deaths, illnesses, losses - and they can draw on the strength of having done that and the resources they have from those experiences, Kaelin said.