Rose Marie Ahrens
And this too shall pass...
5 Tips for thriving during uncertain times
As the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) continues to spread, we are faced with school closures and our lifestyles abruptly changing beyond our control. It leaves all of us concerned and worried. I am hoping that these tips will affirm what you are already doing or help you and your family to continue to thrive during these uncertain times.
Tip #1: Set up a routine
Maintaining routines provides some structure and stability to our day, it reduces anxiety about what to do next and worrying about 'what if's. You may be working from home simultaneously supervising your child's distance learning programme, it may be helpful to set up a flexible family schedule, so that your child can see that everyone in the family has a job to do at specific times of the day. The schedule includes also when the entire family might be together, e.g., at dinner time or working together with the laundry. However, if you find that sticking to the routine is causing more distress to you and your family, then let it be more ‘free-flow’ and that it could be guided by the activities that your child wants to do.
Have your child make a visual schedule for their weekday routine. Here is a short video: What is a visual schedule?
Here is a Visual Schedule Template that you can download and use. Have your child draw, colour and write in the square, then cut out the square and arrange it in sequential order. And have your child put it up so they can see what comes first, next, etc..
Tip #2: Manage Expectations
It's important to maintain expectations of safe and respectful behaviour. It provides psychological structure and stability especially when these expectations remain consistent. It is at this time when things are uncertain that you may experience boundary pushing with your child. The Acknowledge Communicate Target (ACT) model has proven to be beneficial and effective when practised consistently. We can use this method for both our young and adolescent children. It affirms self-worth and self-acceptance, simultaneously, the method does not shame our children when boundaries are needed for safe and respectful behaviour. ACT requires us to guide our children to explore the reasoning behind limits or restrictions and possible other alternatives to safe self-expression. I have described how to use ACT in my blog post: Cultivating Self-Confidence and Grit
Some children have a difficult time understanding that although school premises are closed, learning continues from home, it isn't a school holiday. A colleague shared this infograph: School@Home to help students understand the expectations of distance learning. Perhaps, this may be helpful to you. Although learning is from home, it is not a replica of the full school programme. It is unrealistic to do school work six hours a day. Giving yourself and your child permission to accept this can reduce anxiety and academic pressure.
In times of crisis, we may swing from between over-drive in expecting too much of ourselves and others to pulling the covers over our heads or just remaining in passive inaction- fight or flight or freeze. This may mean that we are overwhelmed - one way out of this may be to manage expectations. Set one manageable goal a day, as you gain success in that goal you may want to increase to another goal. The goal could be as simple as repotting that overgrown plant that you'd wanted to do last week.
Remember the priority is spending time together, building relationships, enjoying shared activities and reassuring your child that this uncertain time will pass. And that we are going through this as a family, as a community.
Tip #3: Self-care
We often overlook ourselves as we rush to attend to our children, our spouses, our parents, our siblings and friends. It is at this time, providing ourselves with self-care is essential. Research shows that nurturing ourselves positively affects those around us, improves our mental and physical health, and enables us to be present to others.
Here are some suggestions for extending self-care. We can:
Carve out 5 minute slots in the day for ourselves and schedule everything else around e.g., taking a few extra minutes to enjoy an activity, e.g. a warm bath.
Have regular exercise/stretch breaks.
Reduce our access to rolling news: Limit our time to hearing, reading or watching the news this will help us not feel overwhelmed.
Set our alarms to ring at a certain time daily as a reminder to breathe and to take a moment to Pause, Notice and Respond, i.e., to centre ourselves by paying attention to what we are saying to ourselves or what we are feeling, and to acknowledge what we are experiencing. We can say to ourselves:
It's ok to feel this way. May I learn to let go.
Give ourselves permission to have what we need.
Remember what is truly important goes beyond this uncertain time.
An article from Greater Good:
Why Parents Need A Little Self-Compassion
Tip #4: Reach Out
It is important to maintain connections and your support systems - who can you turn to when you and your family are in need? Who can turn to you when they are in need? Does your child know who they can reach out to in the event of your illness? Does your child know who can and will be there for them? It may be necessary to establish this with your child.
Although school premises are closed, school is not closed. You will still be able to communicate with your child's teachers, school counsellors and/or school principals. Your child's teachers could be a part of your family's support system.
'It was so good to see and talk to Joe on the phone yesterday!'
-My six year old student to me
Friendships are a key resiliency factor. Your child sees their friends nearly every day of the week at school, not seeing them now due to school closure may be upsetting to them. Help your child stay connected to their friends – Is it possible for your child to talk to their friends on the phone? Could you help your child establish a group Zoom/ Skype or WhatsApp call? Perhaps, they could write letters to each other.
Tip #5: Reflect on one good thing daily
Gratitude has the power to bring hope. Gratitude can help us cope with hard times. Positive psychology research has shown that resilient people draw on good memories to meet the challenges of difficult times. The practice of reflecting on three good things that happened in the day for a week has shown to help keep depression away for six months.
Dr. Martin Seligman explains the Three Good Things exercise in this video.
An article from Greater Good:
How Gratitude Can Help You Through Hard Times
Stories & Activities
When I worry...
I wrote this therapeutic story for my clients for when they were feeling anxious, and what simple action they could undertake to ease their anxiety. Perhaps, this story may be helpful to your child.
You can download this story here.
You may then discuss ways in which you and child can alleviate worry. And together make an origami fortune teller, behind each last flap write one suggestion to alleviate the worry. Watch how to make the origami fortune teller here.
Another therapeutic story that asks us to go outside of ourselves. Some of the suggestions do not abide by the social distancing protocol but perhaps, this challenges us to be creative in how we can extend kindness while practicing social distancing. You can download the story here.
The Color Monster
by Anna Llenas
This is a picture book that helps children identify their emotions using colours and to feel more in control. Anna Llenas has also created a colouring book. The colouring book is a way to help children to be further aware, pause by colouring and then to respond to the emotion they are feeling. If access to the book is limited, your child can listen to the story in the video clip below. Then they can draw the monster doing something, e.g., playing in his room and then colour in the emotion he may be experiencing. And then talk to you about their picture.