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Seven Ways to Help Your Family Cope During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Advice

By Cara Natterson, MD

As we practice social distancing to keep ourselves and others as healthy as possible during this time of coronavirus, it can feel stressful and can cause anxiety in children and parents alike. Here are some tips for supporting your family’s mental well-being:

Listen and Support

Your kids may have a lot of questions, fears, and worries about what’s going on. You probably do, too, and it’s OK to not know all the answers. Ask them what they are thinking about and listen carefully to their answers. It helps to acknowledge their worries and fears and to let them know that you’re feeling some of the same feelings. Allow your kids to feel and express the anger, sadness, and grief they have as they let go of the normalcy of what life used to be and settle into this new unknown way of life.

Teach Coping Skills

Use this moment to talk about healthy ways to cope during times of stress. Share how you’ve handled tough times in the past so that your kids can see that you know how to deal with hardship, even though this particular situation is new to everyone. Brainstorm together a list of simple ideas for recharging, such as taking an alone-time break in your room, watching a favorite video, or going outside for a quick bit of fresh air. Post the list as a reminder to the family of all the ways you can cope. Finally, emphasize healthy habits: eating well-balanced meals together, exercising daily, and getting enough sleep.

Set Up a Routine

Because there are so many unknowns about this time—such as how long isolating ourselves will last and what new restrictions are coming, for example—you and your children need to feel even a little bit in control. Create and write down a simple daily routine, post it for everyone to see, and then stick to it. Schedule time for schoolwork, getting outside, meals, family time, screens, and quiet moments alone. Knowing that there’s a solid plan for every day will ease anxiety.

Limit News

Of course you need to stay up to date with what’s going on, but having the news on in the background all day isn’t healthy for anyone. Limit the amount of time you and your kids spend consuming news of any kind, including on social media. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, so take in what you can and then turn away.

Look Beyond Yourself

Even though you’re stuck at home day in and day out, that doesn’t mean you can’t be with others you love and care about. As part of your daily routine, write cards to, draw pictures for, or video chat with others who are not in your home. Remembering that we are not alone, even if we are self-isolating, will help your family stay connected to friends, family, and the community.

Be a Role Model

Your kids are looking to you to see how you act in this uncertain time. Model appropriate coping skills, including taking time for yourself to recharge. Take the pressure off yourself to be the perfect teacher, the perfect parent, or the perfect caregiver. You’re going to make mistakes—and so are your kids. But by modeling healthy behaviors, your kids will see your strength and resiliency, and they’ll follow suit.

Practice Gratitude

These are uncertain times, but this is also a time to gather with family and be grateful for the big—and little—things in life. Take a little time each day to write down at least three things each person is thankful for. It could be as simple as a yummy breakfast, a good book, and sunshine. Remembering the good things right now will go a long way in spreading happiness and cheer in your home, the most important way to stay mentally healthy!

Dr. Cara Natterson is a board-certified pediatrician and the author of the bestselling The Care & Keeping of You 1 and The Care & Keeping of You 2 as well as Guy Stuff: The Body Book for Boys.

Illustrations by Maike Plenzke.

 

 

 

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