Updated: Feb 18
The past couple of years have been challenging for everyone, forcing families to learn how to navigate a whole new obstacle together. There have been unknowns, changes to schedules, disappointment, and loss due to the pandemic. All these things have added to the complexity of parenting. Even though we continue to find ways to settle in and adjust to the changes, the anxiety lingers in families all over.
As a parent, you have the challenge of managing your own anxiety and helping your children learn to manage theirs. Together, your family can learn to address this anxiety and be more resilient. Here are a few ideas on how to get started.
1. Spend time with your family outside.
There are many benefits to spending time with your family outside.
During stressful times full of anxiety, it's easy to get caught up in thinking that everything revolves around that difficult situation or circumstance. We saw this happen when the pandemic began, and it appeared the world shut down. Families were all inside together, and it felt like the entire world, and everything in it was on hold.
During that time, going outside was a great way to see that the world was still there. Birds were still flying, the sun was shining, and there were people still out and about making sure the things that had to get done were getting done. Yes, it was different, but the world was still there.
Even when we're not in the middle of a worldwide quarantine, spending time with your family outside still holds so many benefits. Being in nature can help ground everyone and lower stress levels. The vitamin D from the sun can help boost our moods.
And most importantly, we can use the opportunity of getting outside together to unplug and disconnect from technology and create family memories together. Play kickball, go for a bike ride, picnic in the park, have a snowball fight, go sledding, or simply take a walk around the block. Even if your children argue about it at first, you'll likely find that everyone starts to loosen up and have fun together soon enough.
2. Establish Routines
Routines are important for children, including family routines. Healthychildren.org shares, "Every family needs routines. They help to organize life and keep it from being too chaotic. Children do best when routines are regular, predictable, and consistent."
The problem is our routines have been disrupted repeatedly over the last several years. First, schools are in-person and then back to NTI again. Extra activities are planned, and then people have to quarantine again, causing plans to be canceled. Many of the routines children have counted on for years are no longer consistent.
As parents, it's our job to help establish some routines our children can count on, even when things get a little chaotic. This could be as simple as creating a morning routine for the day, doing Friday night pizza night, dinners at the table, or family game night every other week. Look for ways to add small routines to your family's life that will be easy for you to stick to consistently. It will be something your entire family can count on and look forward to.
3. Express gratitude
When life feels stressful, it's easy to focus on the things causing us anxiety. When we do this as adults, it leads our children to do the same. As a family, it can help to develop an attitude of gratitude.
Talk together about the things that are going well for your family as a whole and each individual member. There are a lot of ways that you can make this a fun family activity:
Talk during dinner about what went right during the day. Have everyone share something good or that they're thankful for.
Create a gratitude jar. You can decorate a mason jar, and family members can write things they are grateful for on slips of paper to add to the jar whenever they want. Your family and spend time reading through the jar occasionally.
Write "thank you" notes together to people who have positively impacted your family. This is a great way to practice gratitude while spreading a little positivity to others.
Choose a way your family can start to do this regularly and tell your children. Kids are great at reminding adults of the habits we want to create!
4. Be open to having hard conversations.
There are a lot of difficult situations that have happened in the last several years, and these situations bring up difficult conversations. Don't shy away from having these talks with your kids.
They may ask you some tough questions, but do your best to answer them. If you're not sure what the answer is, it's OK to share that, and then you can work together to try to discover the answer.
Keep in mind that tough questions often come up at times that are inconvenient for you—like bedtime when all you want to do is go to sleep because you're exhausted from your day. If you can, spend time having these conversations when your children bring them up because they may not be as comfortable asking you about that topic at a later time.
It's also important to talk to your children about how people have different perspectives on topics and ideas in life, and that's OK. Set the example for them now that even if you don't agree with people or share their viewpoint, you can still respect them and treat them kindly.
Along with this, remember that children are always listening. Think about the conversations you're engaging in or the way you're talking about people who think differently than you. Your children might be listening and taking note of the example you're setting.
5. Reach out for help.
As parents, we wish we were superheroes who had all the answers and could make everything better, but that's not always the case, no matter how badly we want it to be. So if your child or your family is dealing with anxiety, mental health challenges, or difficult situations that you're struggling to address on your own, don't hesitate to reach out for help.
Explore the community resources that are available in your area, talk to a social worker at your child's school, or schedule an appointment with a therapist. There are many therapy clinics, like The NEST Clinic, that have mental health professionals specializing in working with families, including those specializing in working with children.
A therapist can work with your child or your family as a whole to address the complex and confusing situations that come up in life, including anxiety and difficult emotions from the past two years. Some of the situations that our team can help address include:
Difficult periods of transition
Blended family struggles
Moving past difficult situations
Anxiety and depression
Domestic violence or abuse
Loss and grief
Behavioral problems in children
Relationships, including family relationships, can be difficult to navigate even during the best of times. The past two years' trauma, challenges, and confusion have added a new layer for families to handle. Don't hesitate to speak with a therapist to help your family move forward healthily.
Remember to take care of yourself
As a parent, you may be tempted to put your own health and self-care on the backburner as you care for your family. It's something that we tend to do as parents. However, it's not always the best decision.
When you're on an airplane, the flight attendant always shares with passengers what to do if the oxygen masks are released. They remind you that you're always supposed to put on your mask before helping someone put on their mask, even if it's your child. Why? Because if you blackout from oxygen deprivation, you're not going to be able to help anyone.
It's vital that you also apply this lesson to life. You're doing your best to keep your family afloat during situations no one ever prepared you for. But, every time you think you have it figured out, it changes. You may feel that you're always running to keep up with addressing your family's emotional needs and trying to keep them happy amid all the chaos.
But if you're not careful, you're going to burn out, and then you won't be able to help anyone—just like on the airplane. So make time to practice self-care and teach your children how to do the same.
Choosing a therapist for your family
It's important to choose a therapist that your family will be comfortable working with. Don't be afraid to have conversations with them before scheduling a session to see if they are a good fit.
If you're looking for a family therapist in Stillwater, we are happy to help connect you with a therapist that will be the best fit for your family's unique situation.