Whole Heart Therapy

Pamela Boysen, LCSW             714 844-7282

September 29, 2020

Parenting in a Pandemic: 5 ways to help you and your children cope 

Are your children experiencing?

  • Irritability with having school on the computer
  • Sad at not being able to do things they used to do such as sports or friends over after school
  • Scared someone in the family is going to get sick

Parents are seeking therapy because they are worried about their children and their ability to parent.

2020 has been overwhelming. From COVID-19 significantly impacting how we connect, protests for racial injustices, wildfires and unhealthy air quality, and political unknowns in an election year,  all of these events can trigger our brain into a trauma response.

What is trauma? 

Trauma is simply the brain detecting a threat. This threat can be life threatening, such as a car suddenly swerving in your lane, or it can be the fear of the possibility of something,  such as a family member getting COVID-19. 

When our bodies feel threatened we can feel hopeless, unprotected, vulnerable, irritable, or angry. We can become angry with family members. We disconnect from our family by escaping with Netflix binge-watching, video games, or TikTok. We can feel fearful, become avoidant, and lose interest in activities. Each family member has different feelings. Parents are concerned for their family and extended families. Children are worried about getting family members sick and in some families with parents not speaking English, they even act as protectors being the eyes and ears for the family becoming a part of conversations that are not intended for them to handle. 

Let’s explore 5 ways to lessen your child’s irritability, sadness, and fear, and instead offer  ways to connect and increase joy at home.

#1- Calming the Body

The body releases endorphins when we participate in activities that engage the parasympathetic nervous system.  Endorphins are the feel good hormones. 

Try these to calm the body:

  • Think of something that makes you smile and place your hands on your heart and slowly breathe in and out.  Do this with your kids and let them know they can do this whenever they feel stressed.
  • Give each other a 2-minute back massage.  Get the kids involved in both receiving and giving.
  • Take a book (or magazine) and inhale when you open the book and exhale when you close the book.  Then let your child do this and follow their speed of inhale and exhale. This is a great calm down strategy when tempers rise.

#2 Name it to Tame it

Have conversations with your children about feelings.  The first step in regulating emotions is to be able to name them.  Young children can identify happy, sad, mad, and scared. When the family is together, each member of the family will show what a happy face looks like then a sad face, a mad face, and a scared face.

Once children are able to make feeling faces and notice your child exhibiting certain behaviors, you can ask them “What feeling are you having?,” or say “you are having a big feeling, it looks like you feel (insert feeling). I would feel that way too if that happened.” 

By identifying feelings first, we can then begin to move towards taming them. The best way is to validate and offer connection. Connection can be a touch, a hug, or kind words. 

#3 Set Boundaries

It is essential to set boundaries with limited private space in the home. Find ways to be able to both verbally and nonverbally say “No, not now.” Each family member (children too!) get to share what their nonverbal “No, not now.” looks like. One family chose to have the palm facing outward to say, I need to be left alone and a palm facing inward saying you can come here, but be quiet. Have fun with this and, above all, respect family members’ needs.

#4 Get Outdoors

At least weekly and better yet daily do at least one of the following: take family walks around the block, play games in the backyard or at the park, play catch, ask your child what game they want to play and follow their lead. Our minds shift perspective when we go outside and movement releases stress.

#5 Family Activities 

Find age appropriate games or activities to do as a family such as puzzles, boardgames, charades, making critters with playdoh, etc. Here is a unique idea - Take slips of paper and have each family member write down a way the family will interact for one hour.  Examples are whisper, sing, talk without words, lights off, holding hands, etc. Then each day, select one paper and the family must do that for one hour.  

These are such unusual times, I wish that you find new ways to support each other and find calm.