Madison, Virginia, U.S.A.
Parenting has always held its challenges, but family life in the time of coronavirus brings its own unique issues. This is an unprecedented time in known history, when, practically overnight, life has changed drastically for people all over the world. Countless parents are in crisis due to sudden joblessness and financial losses. Food supplies and other necessities are in short supply in many areas. Lockdowns and other restrictions have isolated millions from friends and extended family, and thrown immediate family members together in limited space, with little privacy. For millions more people than before, just keeping a roof over their heads is a struggle.
In the midst of all this upheaval, how can we help our children and have a good family life—at least, as good as is possible under the circumstances?
The following are suggestions to help families cope in these times. Everyone’s situation is different; admittedly, these ideas will not be possible for everyone, but hopefully some will be useful.
It Starts with You
In such uncertain times, it’s normal to feel more stressed and anxious. Learning to manage these feelings will go a long way toward helping your family to cope.
–Children take their cues from the adults around them. If they see you handling the changes fairly well, it sets the stage for them to react calmly, too.
–To whatever extent is possible, take care of your own health and stress management. Agnihotra Ayurvedic healing fire, practiced at sunrise and sunset, is a powerful tool for stress reduction, and can help other household members as well. (For more information, visit agnihotra.org.)
–Practice of Pranayama rhythmic breathing exercises after Agnihotra can promote calmness.
–Get regular exercise. It can reduce stress, uplift mood, and boost the immune system.
–Support wellness by eating healthy meals and using herbs and supplements for immune boosting.
–Get proper rest! Getting enough sleep is one of the most important ways to help the immune system.
–Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. When so many are suffering worldwide, try to be thankful for every positive thing in your life.
–Uplift your spirit by helping others.
–What helps you to relax? If possible, carve out some time for yourself. Yoga, meditation or enjoyable hobbies can help one to recharge and face the challenges of the day. The adults of the household may need to change their routines and share responsibilities in new ways, to best support each other.
–If you suddenly feel overwhelmed, see if you can take a mini-break by stepping away from the situation and taking some deep breaths, taking a shower, reading from a favorite book, going outside, etc.
–Limit your exposure to the news and social media. Staying informed is sensible, but endlessly reading and watching disturbing stories can feed fears and anxiety.
–Practice forgiveness. With all the changes that virtually everyone has had to face in recent weeks, chances are that you will have to deal with angry, upset or unreasonable people. Remember that not everyone is capable of coping well, and everyone has their bad moments. (Forgive yourself when you react badly, too.)
–If you are a person of faith, now is the time to draw on that faith through prayer, meditation, reading of devotional literature, etc.
–Stay connected to others as best you can, by phone or internet. Keeping in contact with loved ones helps us feel supported, and can be a valuable way to share solutions to everyday problems that have cropped up in these fast-changing times.
Helping Your Children Cope
For countless children, this is a time of great loss—of friends, of activities they looked forward to, and many other things that formed their daily life. Accept your children’s feelings—they are natural—and let them know that you understand if they feel sad.
Young children may not understand what’s going on, but they can still feel upset by changes in the household routine, or by seeing others around them who are distressed.
—Routines and consistency help children feel a sense of security. Regular wake-up times, mealtimes and bedtimes give structure to the day. If you children’s school is closed and they are home with you, a simple schedule, alternating periods of schoolwork and play, can be calming and make life feel less chaotic. In the morning, it may help to go over the day’s plan together as a family, so everyone knows what to expect.
–-Some schools have arranged for distance learning by computer or sending books and other materials home with students. Myriad websites and online educational activities have popped up in recent weeks to serve children at home. If possible, take advantage of these free resources.
Keep Communication Open Between You and Your Children
—Ask your children how they are feeling. Help them label their feelings. Are they worried? Confused? Scared? Angry? Bored?
–-If your children want to talk about COVID-19, first find out what they know about it. They may have gotten incorrect information, or may have misunderstood what they heard. A child who is acting out may be reacting to scary news he has encountered.
–Assure your children that in many people, the infection is mild—like a cold or the flu.
–Encourage your children to let you know if they’re not feeling well, so that you can help them. Not every illness or symptom will be COVID-19.
–Tell your children that there are things we can do to help keep ourselves and others safe and healthy, such as frequent hand washing, avoiding touching our faces, and social distancing. Giving your children actions to take to make things better is empowering. By helping reduce the spread of COVID-19, they are helping themselves, their family and the community; value their efforts.
–Praise, praise, praise! These times can be very discouraging for adults and kids alike. Help lift your children’s spirits by giving your kids positive messages about themselves and their good actions. Whenever your children are doing something helpful, be sure to acknowledge it. Talk about their good qualities. That which we “feed” with our attention will grow.
–Focus on the Positive. Talk about some of the positive things that have happened since COVID-19, such as the reduction in air pollution worldwide, and inspiring news stories of people helping their communities.
–Depending on your children’s ages, monitor/limit your children’s exposure to news and media reports about COVID-19.
–Letting school-age children use social media (with supervision) to keep in touch with friends can help them feel supported, as they see that their peers are facing similar struggles, too.
–This time could be an opportunity to explore new family activities: cooking together, playing games, drumming, or passing on skills to your children, such as gardening, sewing, or playing musical instruments. Think about the pastimes you enjoyed as a child, and see if you can do them with your children: arts and crafts, putting on plays, playing board games, etc.
–Use creativity! Drawing, dance, music and other art forms can provide emotional release and a means of self-expression.
–Discuss with your children the uniqueness of this time in history. Suggest that they keep a journal of things that have changed in their lives in recent weeks–their own personal historical record. Journal writing can help kids to process their feelings during these dynamic days.
–Exercise is especially important now, for the whole family. If permitted, outdoor activities could include family walks or riding bikes. Indoors, the internet offers a wide range of exercise programs and routines for various age groups.
Help Others as a Family
–Helping others can help children to feel good about themselves and can inspire gratitude. You might drive together to your local food bank and donate some canned goods or other supplies. Your children could write thank-you notes to hospital workers or delivery personnel. You could bake something together and share it with a neighbor.
–Humor can provide much-needed relief from the stresses and problems of the day. Watch a funny movie or TV show together. Share funny, age-appropriate songs and stories from the internet.
—Tell your children that people all over the world are working together on COVID-19, and that throughout history mankind has survived countless challenges.
–While COVID-19 has undoubtedly brought great hardship worldwide, it has also caused people to reevaluate their lives and priorities. For example, it has given some an extraordinary
break from the “rat race” of their jobs, freeing up time to spend with family or pursue interests. In families the world over, lockdown measures have awakened interest in gardening, baking from scratch and other aspects of sustainable living. With older children and teens, talk about ways in which these changes are helping to reshape the future in positive ways.
–Activities such as planting a garden (or even a few seeds in pots indoors) can give kids something to look forward to, and help them feel hopeful about the future.
Now is the time to call forth the highest and best in ourselves. With LOVE and compassion, family life can thrive.
Lisa Powers and Parvati Rosen-Bizberg are co-authors of The Fivefold Path Parenting Program.