BUILDING RESILIENCE IN YOUR CHILD
In times of difficulty and uncertainty, it is more than ever necessary to build resilience so that your child can face obstacles that will help her work through challenges and cope with stress. None of us is born resilient, it a skill that we can develop as we grow. Resilience helps children navigate stressful situations such as losing friends, coping with grief, dealing with divorce, taking tests, handling bullies and cyberbullies. The more they bounce back the more they internalize they are strong and capable.
Here are a few strategies to build resilience:
1. Build a strong emotional connection with your child. Since children develop coping skills when interacting with caring caregivers, spend quality one-on-one time with your child. If your child feels the unconditional love and support from her parent, she will seek guidance and attempt to work through difficult situations.
2. Encourage healthy risk-taking. Taking healthy risks push your child out of his zone of comfort and may result in little harm if they are unsuccessful. Examples include trying a new sport, participating in the school play, or striking up a conversation with a shy peer. If your child avoids risks, he internalizes the message he is not strong enough to handle the challenge. When he embraces the risk, he learns to push himself.
3. Resist the urge to be a helicopter parent. The most common response from parents when her child comes to them with a problem is either to find a solution or to lecture her. However, these approaches do not promote self-reliance. Instead, ask questions to your child, brainstorm potential solutions, encourage her to come up with a list of ideas, and weigh the pros and cons.
4. Embrace mistakes. Avoiding failures shows a lack of resilience while embracing mistakes helps promote a growth mindset and teach your child that mistakes can help her learn. Focusing on the result instead of the process of getting to the end leads your child in the pass/fail cycle that induces high anxiety.
5. Model resiliency. The best way to teach resilience is to model it. If, as a parent, you use coping and calming strategies when encountering stressful situations then your child will witness a positive response. This will incite her to replicate your way of being and acting.
Resilience teaches your child to navigate the obstacles they encounter when growing up. Avoiding stress is not possible. However, resilience is one of the best tools to cope with it.
HANDLING BACK-TO-SCHOOL ANXIETY
Each and every year, anxiety for parents and children spikes around back-to-school time. This year, with the pandemic still going on, school stress is even higher than usual. Two main points are at stake: deciding what to do and dealing with uncomfortable feelings that could arise after that making decision. While almost no parent is feeling particularly confident about the school options available to them, it is possible to feel good about the process used to make those decisions.
Here are a few strategies that can help you feel more confident about the process:
1. Learn to accept the uncertainty. While it is evidently difficult to accept the unknown, it is also a healthy emotional coping skill to develop. Being conflicted is normal when facing confusion and perplexity. The goal is to make a realistic plan that will make students, teachers, and families as safe as possible.
2. Accept your feelings. To be a parent in the pandemic is to be worried and uncomfortable. Those feelings are unavoidable and, indeed, healthy psychologically speaking. So, the issue is not to have these feelings, but how you manage them. To avoid being hooked by one thought or feeling, instead try to view yourself as an observer of your mind. You can imagine these overwhelming thoughts or feelings as leaves floating down the stream that are detached from yourself and that go away from you.
3. Pay attention to grief. Sometimes, grief can be hidden below anger and rage over the prospect of more homeschooling. Instead, let yourself feel the sadness of your child not having a full experience of her new school year. You will then probably experience a relief.
4. Cultivate compassion. Instead of spending time chasing certainty and second-guessing your decisions, work on being self-compassionate; nurture a sense of good will toward yourself for facing this hard decision. Monitoring your self-talk is a key component of self-compassion. Are you holding yourself to an impossible standard by trying to predict the future? Are you blaming yourself for a situation that is completely out of your control? Let go of self-judgment and try developing some positive self-talk, such as: “I’m making the best choice for my family with the information I have” or “this decision works for us and our level of risk tolerance.”
Parenting is one of the most difficult tasks to handle. The pandemic has only intensified this role as uncertainty and confusion loom large. More than ever, parenting is an exercise of making the best decisions based on our current knowledge and then surrender.
HOW TO ENTERTAIN YOUR KIDS OVER THE SUMMER
Kids usually long for a long, hot, and worry free summer. However, this year is different as we are in the middle of a pandemic. So, as parents, you may wonder how to entertain your kids through the whole summer. Working from home with (small) children may seem overwhelming. Yet, it is feasible.
Here are a few strategies to help you and your children to have a fun and relaxing summer:
1. Go old school. A lot of play is social by nature. While it is a difficulty in the pandemic, the desire for innate play remains intact and can be fed if we can supply our children with basic toys such as kites, cards, blocks, dolls, balls, paper boats, paper airplanes, a garden hose, sticks, rocks, and dirt. If children can play in a safe place, they will find a way to have fun with this rudimentary material.
2. Embrace boredom. Of course, there will be times when your child will come to you saying she is bored and whine about it. What should you do about it? Answer is simple: nothing. As parents, we believe that our children need to be busy and entertained all the time. However, this idea is relatively modern, and parents managed their children for thousand of years without daycare, schooling, or camps. So, instead of fighting boredom, welcome it and see what your children will do. Boredom will necessarily lead to creativity. So, spending one hour or so every day being idle is a good way to encourage your children to be inventive.
3. Change up your approach. When summer is ahead, most parents have a list of activities to do: outdoor theaters, museums to visit, concerts in the park, … This year, since we cannot bring our children to cultural events, then bring culture to them. Children can make up fantasy plays, write newspapers, craft costumes, stage their own circus, or act out stories. It does take effort, time, and energy, but the result is worth the preparation.
4. Organize housework. Summer can be the opportunity to either do regular house chores such as separating laundry or making breakfast or start more ambitious projects such as cleaning the attic, planting new flowers, or painting a bedroom. Remember that most young children like to help, so try to get them into the habit of doing some household chores. Discuss with them what they would like to do.
This summer is special because of the pandemic. However, it can be a memorable one if you are open to let your children explore new ways of having fun and entertaining themselves.
PROTECTING OUR MENTAL HEALTH DURING THE PANDEMIC
Since the beginning of the shelter-in-place, our lives have changed drastically. We work, eat, sleep, date, socialize, and parent in different ways. While we still don’t know when this surreal period will end, most of us have entered a period of mental fatigue. Although we lost some control in our lives, we can still cultivate positivity and resilience.
Here are a few strategies to help you deal with the mental health effects of the pandemic:
1. Building resilience to stress. The first step is to recognize that the negative emotions you are experiencing during this period are inevitable. In fact, they are healthy. So, don’t be afraid to acknowledge that you are feeling bad.
2. Processing the strong emotions. Since the options are endless, you need to experiment to determine what is best for you. Activities include meditating, journaling, running, talking to a friend, painting, gardening,… Try one or more daily and see how you respond to it.
3. Cultivating mindfulness. Even small acts of mindfulness can help you tune into the present moment, notice bodily sensations of calmness or tension, and get more comfortable with uncertainty. Taking five to ten minutes to settle your mind and grounding yourself can have benefits.
4. Combatting fatigue. Being dutifully confined to your home may make you feel more tired. Stress and anxiety drive poor sleep. Since we are living through an uncertain time, we don’t know what tomorrow can bring. That can prevent you from getting fully rested. Studies show that adults between 18 and 64 years old are supposed to sleep between 7 to 9 hours. Here are a few tips to help you sleep better:
Since we are in quarantine for the long haul, it is vital to take good care of ourselves on a psychological level. If we develop a healthy relationship with ourselves, then we will be able to better manage our anxiety and stress over the pandemic and its duration.
HANDLING STRESS/DISTRESS OVER A PANDEMIC
Living week after week in a confined space without knowing when it will stop creates psychological impacts on all of us. Fear is the predominant response as we fear for survival as well as we fear of infecting others. Emotional distress and stress are extremely common as we face the unknown. However, fear can be beneficial as it helps us adapt to social distancing more readily.
Here are a few strategies to help us deal with distress/stress:
1. Maintain a routine. Our routine changed suddenly, and we had to adapt quickly to a new way of living. As human beings, we do better if we stick to a routine. So, it is essential to keep structures in place. Have a family discussion about how to develop and implement a new routine so that everyone, you, your partner, and your children, have an adapted schedule to follow.
2. Engage in self-care activities. Sleeping, meditating, doing yoga, eating healthy, exercising, practicing mindfulness, connecting with nature if possible, are all essential activities that will help you decrease your level of stress and anxiety.
3. Shelter-in-place is an opportunity to reconnect with your immediate and extended family. For instance, the whole family can decide to do one activity all together once a day: walking in the neighborhood, playing a board game, create a story in which everyone invents a section, making a puzzle,…
4. Avoid too much information. Watching too much media coverage may increase your level of anxiety. Get information in moderation so that it feels “just right”. Too much pandemic news can be overwhelming to people of any age. So, protect yourself and your children by limiting the news you are receiving.
5. Contact friends and family. In these challenging times, staying in touch with our loved ones will prevent social isolation. Talking, but also playing some board games, or even doing some dance or sport moves together are strong ways to remain connected with one another.
The stresses over the pandemic and social distancing are substantial and may be long-lasting. The persistent, pervasive thoughts and emotions going through your mind and running around in your body are common. Everyone is experiencing some degree of worry and upset, and it’s not taboo to talk about those thoughts and feelings.
As a parent and a therapist, I want to offer some tips on how to raise happy and healthy kids. Please feel free to comment on my posts.