Originally published October 1. Updated on October 5 with an additional resource, the Science of Parenting.
AMES, Iowa – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, everyday life often involves masking up, keeping our distance and sending children to school online. Many Iowans also have experienced one or more natural disasters including flooding, drought and a derecho.
“If you are feeling worn down or discouraged, you are not alone. It takes a lot of energy to support and grow your family, even more so with the stressors 2020 has brought us,” said Cheryl Clark, a human sciences specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
Clark, who specializes in family life issues, offers some ideas for parenting through times of long-term crisis:
Be kind to yourself. This is all new territory and it’s OK if things don’t get done the same way as before. Make time to rest, eat well and unwind. This is critical for all caregivers because you can’t continue to care for others if you are completely drained.
Acknowledge your feelings. Anxious, sad, scared: all feelings are OK. You don’t have to do anything about the feelings. Simply recognizing what you are feeling is a step in letting it go instead of letting it continue to cause concern.
Stay in touch with family and friends. Our support systems are especially important in a crisis. Call, text or video-chat as often as possible. When social distancing is possible, pair up for coffee and conversation. Your friends and family need you now as much as you need them.
Retreat! Media can be mentally draining so limit your exposure. Remind yourself that you can’t directly influence the daily news or change someone’s opinion on social media. Let it go for 12 hours or more. It will still be there when you get back and most likely, not much will have changed except your own stress level.
Clark said there are ways you can help your family deal with this long period of uncertainty.
Stick to routines. Even in “normal” times, we know children do better with structure, so keep bedtimes and mealtimes as regular as possible. Keep it simple. Continue daily chores, set aside time for schoolwork and build in some physical activity.
Listen for feelings. Children may not be very good at identifying how they are feeling but you can listen. Teens may be disappointed about canceled Homecoming events — let them share and avoid the temptation to minimize the loss. Elementary-aged children may be lonely on virtual school days — ask them to tell stories about their friends while you share a smile and a hug. Preschoolers may have scary thoughts about getting sick — hold them close and talk about simple ways to stay healthy (wash hands, wear a mask). To your child of any age, offer extra hugs and say, “I love you.”
Don’t forget to have fun. Laughter and smiles are real stress-reducers. Maybe this would be a good time to start a new family tradition. Could you start a knock-knock-joke-of-the-day? Would you try a family game night once a week? Perhaps you could leave silly notes on each other’s bedroom doors.
“Life always has surprises and challenges in store, but one day this pandemic will be behind us,” Clark said.
To learn more about ways to survive and thrive during the pandemic, visit the Science of Parenting from ISU Extension and Outreach.
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