Covid-19 is tipping our world upside down. Your kids are just as sad and worried as you are. No wonder they’re irritable, throwing fits over the most trivial frustrations.
Your toddler has a meltdown when he can’t have his favorite cereal. Your daughter stomps her feet and turns over the game board, because she didn’t win. Your teen explodes when his sister plays his video game without asking first. Your once cheerful preteen son is dejected, because he can’t see friends or go to the summer camp he loves.
Your mood isn’t much better. You worry about the job you lost or your safety if you have to go back. If school reopens, you’re worried about your kids getting sick or bringing Covid-19 home to you and older family members. Or if school doesn’t open, you’ve got concerns about safe, affordable child care. People around you are getting sick, and, so far, there’s no cure or vaccine in sight. Your kids aren’t the only ones who feel like prisoners in their own house. It seems like so long ago when you got to party with friends, go to weddings, graduations, or funerals in person. Without wanting to, you and your kids have become experts at Zoom, Google Meets, and all forms of virtual communication.
The Covid-19 Pandemic has shown us the fragility of our mental, physical health, and financial health. As it ravages our economy and challenges our sanity, many of us feel helpless, stressed, and worried, and then mask those uncomfortable feelings with anger.
In the face of anxiety and depression, anger is something that gives us an illusion of control. Taking concrete action, even if fueled by anger, helps us feel clarity and confidence––even a physical sense of release from the doldrums of depression, worry, and apathy.
Our kids also find relief in anger, which has been shown to wreak havoc on the nervous system, affecting moods, sleep, and health. We can become physically and emotionally sick if we don’t have skills to deal with this overwhelming emotion. And, although anger itself isn’t the enemy, during this pandemic shutdown, we’ve seen a spike in domestic violence and child abuse fueled by out-of-control anger.
To break the stranglehold of anger on yourself and your family, you first need to see those feelings in yourself. As your kids’ role model, you can show them how to identify and handle those powerful emotions before they become unmanageable.
Here are a few tips for finding your calm in the storm:
1. Pay attention to what’s positive. See what’s great about your situation, your family, friends, or your child. No matter how annoying, you can find always find something about them to be grateful about.
• Write down what you love about each of your kids, or about anyone among your friends, family, or colleagues.
2. Nurture your relationships. Find time to have fun with your kids, connect with family and friends, or be friendly to your neighbors.
• Play with your kids, even for 5 or 10 minutes. Let them tell you what they want to do––this encourages connection.
• Make up routines and rituals for you and your kids to share feelings. (i.e., something I liked today; things I like about someone in the family; what bothered me today; what I’m looking forward to tomorrow).
3. Help others: see the bigger picture and be part of the solution.
• Discuss issues that affect your children and let them help you decide which community organizations you’d like to support as a family.
• Help a neighbor with groceries, pet care, or yard work.
4. Be your own best friend by taking care of yourself. Eat healthy. Get exercise. Give yourself enough sleep, even if you have to nap while kids are watching TV. Avoid numbing yourself with alcohol or by overdosing on news or TV. Spend more time outside.
• Try setting a timer to limit the time you spend watching or reading news or social media.
• Read a book, play a board game, take a walk or go to a park with your kids, practice a skill you already know or learn a new one.
5. Recognize the signs of anger in yourself. Is it tightness in your hands or shoulders, a faster heart beat, or your face feeling hot? Don’t worry about feeling these sensations. Name them and know that they don’t last forever. Like clouds drifting across the sky, they simply come and go.
• Teach your kids to meditate. Meditation has many benefits, including resetting the nervous system. Start by ringing a bell or a gong. Have your child focus on breathing slowly and deeply, feeling the cool air coming into the nostrils and the warm air going out. Let her know that, if she’s having thoughts, she can silently say to herself, “thinking,” and go back to feeling the air go in and out. After a few minutes (based on her ability to focus), ring the bell or gong and listen until the sound fades.
• When you feel you’re getting riled up, take a breather. Stop. Breathe. Let go. Connect.
6. Stop what you’re doing. Take a deep slow breath, or as many as you need to feel calm. Shake out your hands. Think about what you might be feeling. What if you were just a fly on the wall, what would you notice? How might you see things differently? Is what you were about to say or do going to be helpful or harmful?
• Do something that’s self-nurturing: wash your face with cool water, listen to calming music, go into another room (if it’s safe to leave your child for a moment), be kind to a pet, give your child a hug (if he’s receptive), or find something silly to laugh about.
During these endless days of quarantine, playfulness, humor, and creative self-care set an example that your children can follow. Your kids look to you to learn how to handle difficult emotions. Instead of unleashing the wrath, give kids tools to put that anger to good use.
To your peaceful parenting!