Small Steps that Can go A Long Way
These are not “normal” times and so we are all adjusting and trying to figure out our new normal. For parents, there is a double challenge of finding this new normal for yourselves as well as our children. But know that you are not alone in this journey and there are a few principles that can help guide you at this challenging time.
Many people have been under the Stay-at-Home orders for several weeks now, and have experienced ebbs and flows in their levels of stress. During times when you feel that your stress is on the rise, it is helpful to tune in and notice if there is a need that is being missed. Perhaps there was a bit too much time being spent on the news and not enough downtime between Zoom meetings and math lessons. We may be carrying our same ideas around “productivity” in our previous normal and carrying it over despite the Stay-at-Home directives, but even prior to the pandemic we know that the push for productivity was wearing people down.
There are several quick strategies to get to calm. Some feel calmer after taking deep breaths (inhaling for four slow seconds and exhaling for 6 seconds). Others prefer a grounding exercise to bring awareness into the environment. You can use your senses to notice objects in the room, the feel of the objects around you or the clothes you are wearing, the sounds in the room, the scents around you or on you, and the taste in your mouth. Practicing these techniques can help increase our mindfulness and thus help us stay focused and feel calmer.
2. Adjust Expectations
Expecting yourself or your child to function as usual is not realistic. There have been sudden and unexpected changes that disrupted not just the day-to-day routine that you had, but also the activities that you may have looked forward to for some time. It is absolutely okay to feel sadness, frustration, or worry. We can make space for these feelings and reconsider what the day-to-day should look like for now.
Many families find it helpful to keep the same structure that they had before in terms of getting up, getting dressed and ready for the day. But the challenge may hold again around the idea of getting “enough” academic work done. There are different schools of thought on how to go about homeschooling. There is what is considered “unschooling,” which is based on the idea that children are continuously learning, and thus do not rely on actual academic curriculum in order to gain understanding of new concepts. For example, in the home setting, you may find your child naturally moving towards activities that seem to be more “play” oriented, but there is still learning to be had here whether they are counting Lego pieces needed, experimenting with physics by creating structures, or working through social-emotional concepts, which can help contribute to lifelong success.
Some families, however, continue to find that having structured curriculum is helpful beyond the traditional school setting. In order to address challenges with staying focused, you may want to consider giving your child breaks between activities or after a certain time period. For example, focusing on an assignment or tasks for no more than 10 minutes at a time with physical or pleasurable activities during breaks. This requires some trial and error to determine what works best for your child.
Remember though that there is no “right way” to homeschool, since every child and family’s needs vary and especially at this time.
3. Savor and Play
While the day continues to feel busy for many working parents, you may find more nuggets of time than before to spend with your children. If you are not, then it may be worthwhile to see if you are burning yourself out or wearing yourself too thin. That time that you used to spend in traffic is no more, but maybe the morning routine has lengthened. Creating and finding moments of joy can help us reconnect with our children and vice versa. So enjoy that good morning hug a little bit longer, watch your child as they feed themselves from across the table, and spend some joining them in their play.
Some people have shared feeling helpless and concerned of what is to come, but it is important to remember what we are doing in order to create the best-case scenario. By washing your hands and social distancing, we are working together to create safety in our homes and within the community. We are flattening the curve in order to allow healthcare to those that need it most, when they need it most. Having a mantra around creating safety within your home and community is a great way to remember the power that we each hold.
During such challenging times, it can also be helpful to reach out for additional support. We are here to help you whether it is for a couple of weeks or a couple of months. We understand that everyone’s needs are different and we would be honored to support you at this time. You can call us at (818) 810-7079 to learn about what our services could look like for you.
Azine Graff, PsyD
It seems to happen out of nowhere... you become the primary caregiver in the family.You're the one who chooses ideas for meals, picks out clothes and dresses the kids and takes them out on errands. You become their go-to parent for questions, ouchies, and so much more.
Before you know it, you feel exhausted and depleted, and you are wondering how this came to be. You wonder if biology had anything to do with your mental load or if this was society's influence on traditional masculine and feminine roles. You wonder how your egalitarian relationship took a turn once you had a child.
Many relationships continue in this way. Parents feel exhaustion and perhaps resentment, due to a lack of equanimity in the relationship.
But it doesn't have to stay like this. You can take some steps towards the life you pictured having. A life where you are working with your partner instead of feeling the weight of doing everything.
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Azine Graff, PsyD
When we think of spending time with our children, we probably consider engaging in a scheduled or structured activity. We may even have back-to-back scheduled activities to fill our weekend, which can be exhausting for parent and child alike.
But then we’re missing out on a very different and important need when we over-schedule ourselves: The need for time together with no agenda.
It can be challenging to shift from being busy all the time to slowing down. It is a lot easier, in theory, to put away our phones, to say “no” to another birthday party, to postpone running errands, or to hold off on feeling productive.
As you begin to make room in your schedule for more free time with each other, you are investing in your child and your relationship, and it will pay off now and in the future.
This can look like sitting down to play with your child and allowing them to lead the play. The time you spend with them and follow their lead will help them feel empowered in their lives, give them a chance to feel in control over one aspect of their lives, and make them more likely to willfully follow your requests when they need to.
These moments that you spend playing, joking and laughing with your child also sends them a message--you are showing them that you love them, value them and enjoy their presence.
Know that despite what they may say when they are distressed, they love you, respect you and enjoy being in connection with you. They might just struggle to show it at times, especially if they have no breaks and have a tough time transitioning between the several activities crammed into a day. But small changes can go along way.
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Azine Graff, PsyD
Anxiety is not always easy to spot in children, and since children are often still learning how to identify their emotions, they are not always able to verbalize what they are experiencing. What can make it even more challenging is that a child’s anxiety can overlap with symptoms of ADD/ADHD, as children with anxiety may also fidget, be forgetful or have difficulty concentrating. It is not uncommon for children with some form of anxiety to be misdiagnosed with ADD/ADHD.
Anxiety can also be disguised as irritability or defiance, which makes it all the more confusing for adults to spot.
Most of us have long forgotten the pressures that children face and the various scenarios that can spark worries—starting a new sport, taking a test, making a new friend, and answering the teacher’s question when called upon, to name a few. With a variety of factors coming into play, when a child does not know how to manage their emotions, they will likely exhibit their feeling through a behavior. They may act out and they may withdraw. They may look like they are angry, and even make harsh statements.
Children with anxiety may make statements that are code for something else. Here are eight common examples:
1. “I don’t want to go to bed” may mean “I am afraid of being alone in my bed.”
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