On May 20th, several EB staff members came together for “Parenting in a Pandemic: Tips to Keep the Calm at Home,” the latest in a special webinar series EB is offering to families during this period of distance learning and sheltering-in-place. Our panel of experts included Christopher Colebourn, social-emotional learning (SEL) coach; Magali Noth, head of preschool; Douglas Goslin, Middle School counselor; and Carla Maia, Lower School counselor, all of whom had terrific insights and tips to help parents and guardians maintain calm at home in these unusual and stressful times.
Their advice can be summarized in five key takeaways:
1. Be flexible
These are strange times for everyone. Our normal routines have been interrupted, we’re facing a lot of uncertainty, and we’re being challenged in unfamiliar and uncomfortable ways. It’s important that we give ourselves and our children room to make mistakes, acknowledge our fluctuating emotions, and keep focus on the big picture.
“With distance learning, the main goal is not to replicate the typical school day—that’s impossible,” Carla noted. Instead, she said, the aim is to help children feel connected to their school community, their teachers, their friends, and the learning process in general.
That means adjusting our expectations about what a successful or productive day looks like. Take a break when the going gets tough, give difficult assignments another try on a new day, end the “school day” a little early, and make allowances for nonacademic activities, such as cooking, taking a walk, or even playing a video game.
2. Validate your children’s feelings
At a time when people of all ages are struggling with feelings of uncertainty, loss, grief, frustration, worry, sadness, depression, inertia, anger, confusion, helplessness, and anxiety, mental health is a priority. These feelings can lead to moodiness, tantrums, sleep difficulties, academic disengagement, physical ailments, clinginess, and withdrawal.
These emotions and reactions are very common. The first step to mitigating their impact is acknowledging them. Ask your child how they’re feeling, and let them know these feelings are OK. Often, the child just wants to be heard; having the opportunity to do that—without being judged or corrected—can be a liberating exercise that helps the child feel safe and settled.
“What you want to look at is managing the degree and intensity of these emotions,” said Douglas. Find activities that can help bring down your child’s anxiety level and relieve it, like walking the dog or jumping on a trampoline. And try doing emotional check-ins a couple times a day. This is a new and hard situation; it’s important that children know their parents are there for them.
3. Work together with your child
As parents, we often want to fix problems for our children, but a more successful strategy is to let them make mistakes, then to work on solutions together.
Routines are helpful in establishing a sense of normalcy and familiarity. Work with your child to develop regular expectations for wake-up time, meal times, exercise, school work, bedtime. Post the daily schedule somewhere they can see it, and remind them what’s coming up when. Timers can be great tools for not only keeping kids on task but letting them know when transitions in their daily schedules occur.
Keep in mind that screen time induces fatigue, so make sure to intersperse screen assignments with fun, non-screen-based activities.
4. Stay connected
During this time of social isolation, it’s more important than ever to stay connected—to each other, friends, and nature. Christopher recommended creating regular family time outdoors and talking to your children about the importance of exercise and fresh air. He also advised playing, creating, and reading together; in addition to offering good alternatives to screen time, these activities enhance communication, lift spirits, and offer reassurances to children that everything is OK. Listen to your child, empathize, be receptive and compassionate. And most importantly, stay connected with friends and people you love outside your household, whether through Zoom meetups, socially distant play dates, or writing old-fashioned letters.
“Social time is super important,” said Magali—especially, Carla added, for children who don’t have siblings. Additionally, as children face transitions, like the end of the school year and moves to new grades or new schools, it’s good to find ways to help them mark the occasion, celebrate, and have closure.
5. Take care of yourself
Just as pilots instruct passengers to put on their own oxygen masks before assisting others in an emergency, parents and guardians need to give themselves time and space to feel calm and collected before helping their children. This “oxygen” can be as simple as standing outside in the sun or going into the bathroom and shutting the door—just a few quiet moments can be enough to quell emotional turbulence.
At EB, all SEL instruction begins with a short, guided meditation, which helps students get in tune with their environment and establish a positive mindset. This simple exercise can help parents under stress, too.
“We start with three deep breaths,” Christopher explained, noting that focusing on one’s breathing can be a great centering activity. Then shift your thought to gratitude and apply these feelings to yourself. “You are worthy of this gratitude. Be good to yourself.”
Lest parents need convincing that self-care is worthwhile, Douglas shared an article called “Will the Pandemic Have a Lasting Impact on My Kids?” which explains that loving, calm caregivers are the key to children resuming healthy, productive lives in the wake of traumatic events. Not only do these caregivers nurture an atmosphere of calm, they act as buffers between the children and the scary stuff in the outside world.
Living with this pandemic isn’t easy, and parenting through it often feels even harder. “Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to be perfect,” Christopher counseled. “Take some breaks, take some pauses, and remember that we’re all in this together.”