As the reality of COVID-19 sets in — and Westporters realize just how isolating “social distancing can be” — emotions run high.
Like many doctors, Westport’s Village Pediatrics group recognizes the wide range of issues facing children and parents. Here’s their advice:
As we slowly adjust to the new normal of isolating and “social distancing,” emotions run the gamut.
Anxiety seems to be at the forefront of much of what we’re experiencing: How are we going to manage this? Have I been exposed? What if I get sick? What if a family member gets sick? How long will I have to worry about this? What’s going to happen to my job/retirement fund/vacation plans?
We are inundated with unknowns. All the while, we’re being advised to keep our children at home and isolate ourselves from the world around us. This request alone is enough to send many parents into a state of panic.
If you’ve been in a grocery store in the past week and laid eyes on the empty shelves, you can see evidence of this panic in action. Which serves only to increase our sense of panic!
So how can we manage, as parents and as individuals with our own emotional needs?
First, let’s acknowledge that life as we know it will be different, indefinitely. We will have to adjust to this new normal. We are wired to resist change. But allowing ourselves to fall into a place of acceptance — “ride the wave,” “go with the flow,” etc. — will help reduce the feeling of stress and worry.
Clearly, this is easier said than done. But the more we do this, the more “normal” it will feel.
Here are ways to help embrace this new normal, as both parents and individuals, and manage the anxiety that comes with it:
Turn off the news and disconnect from social media for as long as you need and as long as you can — certainly before bed! Unfollow people and mute groups whose posts you find particularly unsettling.
Engage in calming activities: meditation, yoga, stretching, moving your body.
Take advantage of technology: schedule FaceTime parties with family and friends, and with friends of your children. Stay connected to others this way.
Get outdoors! Spring is coming. The weather is getting warmer and the days are getting longer. It’s nature’s way of reminding us of the cycle of things. Get outside and go for a nature walk. Notice where flowers are poking through the dirt and what kinds of birds you hear chirping. Fresh air is amazingly therapeutic.
Slow down!: Anxiety has been rampant in our society far longer than anybody had ever heard of a novel coronavirus. This is a chance to reset and reconnect with our passions, and take a break from the everyday grind that raises our stress level constantly. Forced downtime can be a gift!
Show yourself grace. Be kind to yourself. These are unsettled times. It’s okay to feel worry. Accept these feelings and take comfort in knowing you’re not alone in them.
Engage in self-care activities. Find time for yourself each day — even if this means setting an alarm before the kids get up each morning for a cup of coffee or a workout session in silence. Focus on eating nourishing food and on getting as good sleep as you can.
Reach out to loved ones, and share your worries and frustrations. Venting is incredibly effective at helping reduce overwhelming feelings.
Seek professional guidance and support if you need it. This situation can leave many feeling overwhelmed in many areas. If you feel as though you’re having a hard time managing your stress level/anxiety/fear on your own, mental health professionals are available by phone or videoconferencing. You can reach out to the office for names of local clinicians who are able to provide this service. (If you have a therapist, please reach out to see if teletherapy is available.)
Here are some ways to help our children manage this time of uncertainty:
Create new routines for both yourself and your family. Maintaining consistency of meals and bedtimes is important. Many people feel more secure and in better control when they have a routine for the day. Many sample schedules are floating around on social media. For some people, these schedules are a godsend; for others they serve to increase anxiety unnecessarily. Go with what works for you. However, it is important to remember that children benefit from structure and predictability, especially when the typical school routine is upset.
One way to create some structure while managing the “how much longer?” anxiety of school closures and self-containment (this can work with children of all ages once they are aware of the alphabet or color names) is to practice “Alphabet Days.” Beginning whatever day makes sense for you, start with the letter A and focus activities around that letter (Art! Acting! FaceTiming a friend whose name starts with A! Eating apples! Watching movies and discovering songs that start with A!) for each day until either you get to Z or (fingers crossed) the containment request is lifted.
If self-containing must continue beyond 26 days, next up can be “Color Days”—pick a color of the rainbow and focus on activities/foods/games that are associated with that color. This will take some planning and creativity but, even if not followed exactly, it can help kids understand the length of time of quarantine in way that makes sense to them.
Go outside with the kids. Play ball, blow bubbles, draw in the driveway with chalk, ride bikes, count the animals you see, listen to the sounds you hear, look for budding plants and trees.
Schedule FaceTime parties. Reach out to family members and friends. Plan to engage in the same project or activity together. Younger kids can do a craft together, show each other their favorite toys or lovies, and give video tours of their bedrooms. Older children can watch the same movie together, read book chapters to each other, play “I Spy” games, have scavenger hunts (“Find something in your living room that’s blue”), etc.
Seek out resources on social media. A number of educational companies have made much of their material accessible either free or at very low cost. Many parents have taken it upon themselves to crowdsource ideas about how to fill the days. There are some brilliant ideas available. If you’re having a hard time finding things, ask friends. Chances are they’ve come across ideas that they’ll be happy to share. You can also follow Dr. Lindsay’s professional page (Lindsay Blass, Psy.D.) on Facebook for regular updates and ideas.
Access educational resources — but don’t fret if it feels unmanageable. Our dedicated teachers and staff have worked hard to provide students access to the curriculum while schools are closed indefinitely. Do your best to get your children engaged in learning activities appropriate for their grade level — but do not stress if you’re met with resistance from them. The best we can do is try. Some kids love the daily activities and structure. Others will avoid at all costs. If nothing else, make sure reading is happening each day in some capacity, whether it be by them or to them.
Create house projects. Pick a room a day and see what you can all do in it to make it cleaner/neater/more comfortable. This can be an opportunity to clean out old toys, organize closets, remove and donate old clothes, etc.
Here are some great resources parents can turn to for guidance and support, and for activities that can help keep children engaged and active:
Child Mind Institute: wonderful mental health resource with great articles on a range of topics related to child development and psychology www.childmind.org
Go Noodle: fun videos and songs that encourage kids to get their bodies moving www.gonoodle.com
Scholastic is providing educational curricula for home-based learning www.scholastic.com
Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube has great videos to get kids moving mindfully
This link will take you to a Google doc with dozens of activities to keep children occupied:
Don’t be afraid to reach out. As isolating as this feels, it truly does take a village, and none of us is alone in this!
(Hat tip: Stacey Henske)