Parenting, Stress, and Social Distancing

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April is National Stress Awareness Month, and it comes at a very pertinent time.  Many of us are struggling to adjust to all of the new rules that come from social distancing and how difficulty life is now. Here is a “new normal” day for many parents

         I got up early this morning so that I could have some quiet time and get a few things done before the kids got up.  Because once they do, I have to get them ready for “school” by 8:30.  We are trying to keep our normal morning routine, but I’m pretty sure my kids aren’t brushing their teeth every day as they claim to be.  When 8:30 hits, everyone has to buckle down and start working.  My middle schooler spends the day on video chats with her teachers and classmates.  I have already had to replace her school Chromebook because it kept turning off and she freaked out every time it happened.  The first few weeks of distance learning were fine for my son, but now we are back to hours of butting heads every time there is a writing assignment.  He just doesn’t listen to me like he listens to his teacher.  He would never act like this in school, but at home he just shuts down sometimes and I don’t know how to deal with it.  I’m not a teacher  I also have to keep my toddler occupied because her day care is closed and she keeps distracting everyone from their work.  We have given up on potty training because I just can’t deal with that on top of everything else.  And I still have my own work to do.  I try to get things done throughout the day, but every time I get on the phone one of my kids starts yelling for help or they start fighting.  My husband can’t help because he still has to go into work so he doesn’t lose his job.  I am worried about him getting sick or bringing germs home and the rest of us getting sick.  I am dealing with this all day every day and sometimes I just want to scream.

If there was ever a time that we needed to practice stress management, it is now.  Being stuck at home during this time of uncertainty is difficult for everyone. We no longer have access to many of our normal resources for dealing with stress and anxiety, such as going to the gym or meeting up with friends.  Our children are also having trouble understanding and adapting to the changes.  They need to manage their stress as much as we do.  Our job as parents includes modeling stress management activities and encouraging our children to do the same. We all need to find new ways to cope that are healthy.

Physically taking care of yourself is an important part of staying healthy and managing stress.  We need to exercise, eat healthy foods, and get plenty of sleep.  This is easier said than done with all of the limitations that we have due to social distancing, but it is possible.

  • Exercise – You can exercise at home without any exercise equipment.  There are countless workout videos on YouTube that cover a wide range of exercise styles.  Many gyms and professional trainers are now posting free workouts on social media.  While it can be hard to be motivated to exercise when you are stuck at home, it helps to have an exercise buddy whom you can call or text to hold you accountable.  You could even work out together over a video chat.  For kids, this could be something organized like a kids exercise video, or it could be running around in the yard, or playing soccer or jump rope.
  • Healthy Eating – This can be especially difficult as stress can often lead to emotional eating.  It helps to limit the junk food that you keep in your home and to plan nutritious meals.  Ordering takeout is still an option for many of us, but be mindful about what you choose to get.  You control what your kids eat, so provide them with healthy snacks and meals and help them learn appropriate service sizes.
  • Sleep – Poor sleep can increase our stress, but experiencing stress can make it difficult to sleep.  We need to break out of this cycle and find ways to improve our sleep habits.  This can be done by making changes such as limiting screen time and naps, getting exercise, and keeping a schedule. Getting enough sleep also helps us to make better food choices.  Kids do better on a schedule, so make sure they have a set bedtime and wake up time everyday.  Younger children should continue with naps as before.

Maintain your mental and emotional health is just as important as your physical health.

  • Take a break – Make time for yourself.  Recreation plays a major role in reducing stress.  Engage in activities that you enjoy, have quiet time by yourself, or do something fun with others.  It could also mean stepping back when you are experiencing a stressful situation to calm yourself down, possibly by practicing mindfulness.  Our children see how we react to stressful situations, so we need to show them how to do in a healthy manner and help them to do the same.  They also need their downtime, a chance to just be a kid.
  • Talk to others – Don’t lose your social connections.  Reach out to friends, family, and loved ones as much as possible.  You need their support to get through this, and they need your support.  Call, text, email, video chat, or anything else you can do to stay in touch while still safely practicing social distancing.  Kids also need to stay in touch with others.  They can have virtual play dates with their friends or talk to family members over a video chat.

Parenting during social distancing is especially difficult.  We are experiencing significantly more stress than usual due to fears and disruption of our lives due to the coronavirus.  Life is more complicated as we try to get through our daily challenges and not knowing what new ones we will face tomorrow.  Dealing with our children and their stress, emotions, and behavior is a whole new set of problems.  We also need to help our children understand what is going on at their level.  Minimizing our children’s stress and anxiety will help us to keep ours lower as well.

Unfortunately, there are reports that the incidences of domestic violence and child abuse have been increasing since so many of us are now in our homes most of the time.  As April is also Child Abuse Prevention Month, it serves as an extra reminder to us that we need to find healthy outlets for our stress and anxiety.  Be aware of how you are treating your children and get help if you need it.  While social distancing can make us feel very isolated, support is always available.  You can always call a crisis helpline, like Boys Town and the Parental Stress Line.

Being a parent isn’t easy, and social distancing has only made it more complicated.  Make sure you take the time to take care of yourself to stay physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy.  You need to support your children, and get the support you need for yourself.



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