Finding Balance for Your Family During COVID-19

By Tracey Dowdy

While some parts of the country are moving into Phase One (Safer at Home) and reopening to our new normal, others are still under Phase Zero (Stay at Home). For those already itching to reconnect with family and friends, the glacial speed at which the process is moving can seem discouraging and more than a little frustrating. 

We can all agree that no one wants to see a spike and have to start this process all over again, so following the guidelines and observing the guidelines is crucial. Your children may find it especially disheartening and feel it’s unfair when they see friends or family out and about while under stay-at-home orders. 

These tips can support their mental health and help with perspective while you wait. 

Stick to a routine. While the days at home may have devolved into the Wild West, it’s important to remember how much we rely on schedules in our daily lives. Before we all went into self-isolation, we got up, exercised, walked the dog, made breakfast, sent the kids off to school, then headed to work. Though it was often hectic, our days had a beginning and an end. During stressful times, consistency and structure are calming. Children, especially younger children or those who struggle with anxiety, really benefit from knowing what’s going to happen and when. With little ones, stick to regular bedtimes, set timers for school or playtime, and allow time for transitioning between activities. 

Focus on the positive. This may sound “easy for you to say” as you juggle your roles as parent, teacher, employee, referee, chef, bouncer, and housekeeper all at differing levels of success, but there is a lot of good happening. Focus on the positive – parts of the country are reopening, scientists are making progress on finding a vaccine, and summer will be here soon.

Get creative. Dr. David Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, recommends going back in time to your childhood, before tablets and Nintendo Switches became ubiquitous. “I’ve been asking parents to think about their favorite activities at summer camp or at home before screens. They often then generate lists of arts and crafts activities, science projects, imaginary games, musical activities, board games, household projects, etc.” Bake your way through a cookbook, learn to paint with watercolors, start a massive puzzle, plant a garden, or take a 30-day fitness challenge. 

Get moving. Plenty of studies have demonstrated that exercise boosts mental health, so encourage your kids to get up and get going, and while they’re at it, join in. There are plenty of home workout options, while gyms and playgrounds are closed. Staying healthy and getting fit while quarantined is possible and promises tangible benefits for both mind and body. 

Make plans. One simple way to boost your spirits is to make a list of all the places you’ll go, all the restaurants you’ll visit, and all the family and friends you’ll travel to see when this is done. Looking ahead instead of around can elevate your mood by reminding you there’s hope for the future. 

Turn off the news. When 9-11 happened, my daughters were in kindergarten and second grade. I was very mindful that the images and the verbiage used by newscasters were not age-appropriate and kept the TV and radio off when there was a chance they’d be exposed. Use the same discretion with COVID-19 coverage. While staying informed is essential, your nine-year-old doesn’t need to hear the death toll in New York or see images of funeral homes and patients on ventilators. 

Finally, take care of your mental health. Finding time for self-care has never been more challenging, but finding ways to unwind, de-stress, and treat yourself is vital to being able to lead and support your family. Get up a little earlier to run, pray, meditate, eat the last of the chocolate cake before anyone else gets their hands on it – whatever blows your hair back and gives you the boost you need to face the day. Be kind to yourself. No one was prepared for this, so forgive yourself – and your family – if the laundry is piling up and there are dishes in the sink. It’s okay if third-grade math is making you swear like a longshoreman in your head, and those worksheets aren’t quite right. 

“We should forgive ourselves the image of perfection that we normally aspire to as parents,” says Dr. Anderson. “Maybe your kids don’t have TV or screens on the weeknights during the school year, but now that school is canceled or online, we can give ourselves license to relax these boundaries a bit. We can explain to our kids that this is a unique situation and re-institute boundaries once more when life returns to normal.”

Find a balance for your family – don’t expect what worked three months ago to work now. The rules have changed in the Game of Life. You’re not cheating if you take some shortcuts.