“You have power over your mind, but not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength” - Marcus Aurelius, 1st century
How Does Stress Manifest In Myself, My Children or Loved Ones?
- Physiologic changes: difficulty breathing, headaches, sleep problems, upset stomach or digestive problems, heart racing or palpitations
- Behavioral changes: increased emotional responses to trivial events, depressed affect, irritability, inconsistent behavior, poor attention or easily distracted
Be Aware of your Emotions
Young children do not have the awareness or vocabulary to articulate how they feel, and tend to express their feelings through their behavior. There are effective strategies to alleviate these symptoms. Take these steps to help effect change:
- Teach vocabulary and model talking about feelings.
- Create a feelings chart or use a rating scale to express severity of feelings (rate on a scale from 1-10 or use a traffic light image).
- Keep a feelings journal, record them in words or a picture, and then put them away in a worry box.
- Teach and model these skills by discussing situations from movies, TV shows, or books. Share stories from real life where these apply.
- Make time for sharing and reward your child for sharing. All feelings are good, how they are expressed may be the problem.
- Resource: Using Emotional Language: How to Talk to Your Kids About Feelings
Let your child know that you understand they are struggling. Empathy can dispel tension and conflict and lead to a calmer approach to problems. It leads to better cooperation and problem solving, and strengthens relationships.
Take Control of Your Own Feelings
Children do better if their parents are calm and are displaying a state of well-being. Your balanced emotional state protects them from stress long term.
- Use the ABCDE Technique when you feel stressed. Use strategies to aid you when you feel your anxiety increasing.
- Attention: What is your mind telling you? What is your stress response?
- Believe: Should you believe your thoughts?
- Challenge: Challenge your thoughts. Are they true, are they based on fact?
- Discount: Let the negative, unhelpful thoughts go and recognize this is anxiety taking over.
- Explore options: What can I control? Problem solve, try different strategies, talk and reevaluate.
- Model and teach generosity and compassion.
- Model and teach strategies for dealing with stress.
- Stay positive. Remind them what we do have that is good (time together, safety, springtime, good food, etc).
- Reassure and point out how the actions you are taking (hand washing and distancing) are keeping you from getting sick.
- Express gratitude regularly and make time to enjoy the small things.
- Take care of yourself - get exercise, sleep, and eat well.
- Stay connected.
- Be present, listen, make time, empathize and give positive feedback.
- Keep busy and use distractions.
- Be kind to yourself. Give yourself a pass at times, adjust your expectations.
Develop New Routines
We all do better when there is predictability. Maintain routines, but readjust your goals and develop new routines as well.
- Build in self-care.
- Teach new skills. Be creative, use your hands and senses. Don’t worry about the quality of the product.
- Teach activities of daily life and chores, make them fun!
- Have fun with food and cooking, plant a garden.
- Go outside as long as it is safe and you can maintain distance.
- Practice academics, (e.g. reading) in different ways: the cereal box, a magazine, a graphic novel or audio books.
- Get exercise.
- Find an opportunity to practice problem-solving together. Teach resilience and skills that your child will benefit from over his/her life.
- Develop the practice of generosity. Engage in something bigger than yourself or your family.
- Engage in daily practice of gratitude, mindfulness or meditation. Consider daily journaling, purposeful sharing or apps such as headspace or InsightTimer.
Share Helpful, Actionable Information
Based on their developmental level, children might be curious about something different than you expect. Giving them too much information may be overwhelming or they may not be able to give meaning to the material.
- Give only what is helpful to the child, do not overwhelm with excessive information.
- Limit information where necessary - protect your child from too much news.
- Find out what they know and what their questions are.
- Use concrete examples and explanations, avoid idioms and confusing language.
- Use visual charts, books and videos to describe and augment your descriptions.
Remember that while our lives may be upended right now, there are some things we should all remember:
- It’s a great opportunity for children to learn resilience and their ability to overcome adversity.
- It’s a great time to reconnect as a family.
- Take a step back and pay attention to mental and physical needs for everyone in the family, including yourself.
Still feeling overwhelmed with parenting challenges? Call your Capital Area Pediatrics provider and schedule a telemedicine consultation to discuss your concerns and get advice. In addition, Dr. Panitz is offering a Zoom seminar called Dealing with Challenging Behaviors During a Quarantine to help parents deal with challenging behaviors during the quarantine. Call now before space runs out!