Rollercoaster or Marathon?
Hello families of Wellington Counseling Group
During a recent Zoom call with friends, one parent surveyed the bunch to ask, “So, who in your family has been having the most meltdowns through all this?” It was such a relatable question and one that elicited a range of responses, including “everyone in the family,” a specific child, or in some cases one or both parents. Though family dynamics vary from one household to another, the heightened and unyielding nature of stress these days is very apparent. Some days it may feel like a game of hot potato, with family members passing a proverbial ball of stress to each other, quick to deposit it to the nearest person before the music stops (Or maybe that’s just my family???). Other days it may feel calm, with hints of joy, gratitude, and confidence lingering in the background. Though it can certainly feel like a roller coaster without seeing what emotional climate is around the next bend, it’s all so very normal during this extremely uncertain and stressful time. While we can’t re-engineer the roller coaster we’re on mid-ride, we can absolutely influence how we navigate this ride and the overall experience of stress within our families.
~Focus on family dynamics
Without a doubt, parents are expected to take care of so many things for and alongside their children right now. The increased demands inevitably lead to more frustration and stress, and very likely more yelling and tension within the home. When emotions are high in one or all family members, little from the to-do list is going to get accomplished, and certainly not when it comes to distance learning. As parents, the most important task we should be focusing on is the emotional health of ourselves and our children. When calm and positive interactions are maintained, we can all approach challenges with a more agreeable disposition, flexible attitude, and the necessary patience to respond to emotional ups and downs.
~Give permission to take a break
The path to emotional calm at home may not always be the path you intended to tread at the beginning of the day. In fact, it may exist within the much-needed moments of deciding to take a different path altogether. For example, if distance learning isn’t going so smoothly today – be it from technology issues or actual resistance from your child – consider taking a break rather than getting in a power struggle with the software or your child. Use those moments to take a break from each other or reconnect by doing something fun. Revisiting school obligations at a later time will be much more successful when emotions and attention are better regulated, both things that come from deeper experiences of interpersonal connections. Making it to the other side of this public health crisis will not be measured by our children’s academic success or how many closets we’ve cleaned in the short-term. Rather, children feeling safe and loved at home through this very stressful time can create a foundation for emotional resiliency and healthy interpersonal relatedness for years to come. Remember, you are the teacher, principal, recess monitor and parent these days so you call the shots.
~It’s okay to put yourself first sometimes
As if we didn’t already know before the shelter-in-place order, children have a lot of needs. A LOT. The laundry and constant meal prep alone is enough to fill a day’s schedule, not to mention the continued requests to play, craft and do things together. Getting through this experience is a marathon and, to run it successfully, parents need to take care of themselves, too. It’s okay to decline an invitation to play and instead take some time for yourself. It is healthy for children to see and hear their parents wanting separation – it’s good for the parent-child relationship and a valuable opportunity for kids to problem-solve around engaging their minds independent of parent collaboration. Moreover, if you are feeling particularly drained or stressed, it’s healthy to let your child know “I am feeling tired right now” or “I am going to take 30 minutes to myself to recharge.” This message and demonstration of self-care is a valuable one for kids to witness and internalize for healthy stress-management skills throughout their lives.
Take good care of yourselves and loved ones. We will continue seeing you online until we can see you again at the office!
Allison Lobel, Psy.D.
Director of Child & Adolescent Services
Three great activities to keep kids engaged
Make your own stress balls at home with these simple ingredients and materials:
- Plastic bottle
- Flour or Cornstarch
- Pens and crafts for decorating
- Using paper to make a funnel, fill the plastic bottle with flour or cornstarch. Don’t worry about an exact amount, just eyeball it depending on how big you want the stress ball to be.
- Blow up the balloon and place over the top of the plastic bottle without letting the air out.
- Turn the balloon and bottle over and shake dry ingredients into the balloon.
- Once all in, carefully remove the balloon and slowly let the air out.
- Tie a knot and decorate your stress ball. Squeeze and enjoy!
Make a homemade worry box using materials found around your house. There’s no doubt that everyone in the family has some variety of worry these days and we could all use a place to name and store those worries. Have kids decorate an empty shoe or cereal box and create an opening at the top. When you or your children are feeling worried about something, write down the worry and then place it in the box. This is a helpful exercise for many reasons: a) it gives children a creative outlet to organize their worries around a purposeful activity to get worries out of their minds b) it normalizes the idea that it’s natural to have things to worry about and c) it creates an opportunity to engage kids in a dialogue about their thoughts and feelings. Also, if the worry subsides it can be quite meaningful to physically remove the worry from the box. For an alternative version of this exercise, call this a “Stress Box” that all family members contribute to or take away as needed.
Build an indoor obstacle course. Keeping kids active indoors is not always an easy feat, so finding creative ways to keep them moving and interested is often the key to success. Challenge kids with the opportunity to use materials around the house to create an obstacle course for the family. In between the obstacles are great opportunities to insert brief physical challenges, such as running in place, jumping jacks, and crab walks to keep kids moving, energy flowing, and emotions regulating. Not to mention, it kinda sounds fun!