Ready or not, summer is here.
For parents who have been struggling to juggle work-at-home responsibilities with caring for children while overseeing remote learning schedules and educational requirements, daily life since the arrival of the coronavirus has proven to be challenging. Some might even say overwhelming.
“It is imperative, first and foremost, that parents practice self-care. The bottom line is if you neglect to take care of yourself, you will not be able to care for and nurture your children. Self-care is not selfish or indulgent … it is essential,” said Katie Hopper, who manages LifeSkills Child and Family Services.
Tips that may be helpful for parents include:
Don’t expect to be perfect. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Lighten up. These are unprecedented times, and we are all making it up as we go.
Practice positive self-talk. Think about the encouraging and supportive messages we frequently say to our friends. Use some of those same messages on yourself.
Walk away. If you feel like you’ve reached your breaking point, take a break from whatever is making you feel that way. If you need to allow your child some additional screen time so you can have a little space, that’s all right.
Do something calming each day. Everyone is different, so you need to find out what works for you. Is it reading? Exercising? Mindful breathing? Listening to music? Writing in a journal? Watching a video of ocean waves crashing? How about a warm bath?
Schedule your time. When there is a lot of uncertainty, it often helps to focus on specific goals. If you find yourself fretting about upcoming days, devise a plan or a routine to help relieve some of that anxiety. Remember that you don’t have to follow it strictly, but use it as a guide.
Reach out to a friend or family member. Talk to someone who cares about you. It helps to vent a bit and to hear another person’s voice.
Be upfront with your boss about your child care situation. Most employers are being extremely flexible and creative. If you are stressing out over the lack of available child care options, let your supervisor know.
Limit your exposure to the news. It’s easy to get distressed over world events, especially with continuous media coverage. Try to stay informed of critical issues from limited and trusted news sources while at the same time avoiding over exposure.
Remember that professional help is available if you need it. During these trying times, most of us could benefit from talking with a mental health professional.
While parents are struggling to cope with the many changes, children are trying to learn how to survive as well, and they often get information as well as their attitudes from their parents.
“It is important for parents to set a good example and to be as positive as possible about what is going on,” Hopper said. “Not only that, but so many things are ‘up in the air’ right now and can change in a minute. No need to speculate and worry or upset your kids with details that might never come to pass. ...
“As far as having more down time during the summer months, I strongly encourage parents to structure the days for their kids,” Hopper said. “It is my most valuable tip. Just as it is beneficial for adults, a well-planned and understood routine can make a positive impact on children. It doesn’t have to be as strict as what is in place during the school year … but establishing a reasonable bedtime and wake-up time, as well as having regular meals, is extremely important. We all like to know what to expect, and kids are no different.”
Hopper recommended building in some down time as well. She said parents should be interactive and play with their children if they can. “It’s good for everyone to laugh and have some fun each day,” Hopper said.
Kentucky’s “Healthy at School” guidance was recently released in hopes that schools will be able to reopen in the fall. A PDF of this document is at https://edu cation.ky.gov/comm/Documents/Safety%20Expectations_FINAL%20DOC.pdf.
While plans are not definite at this time, Hopper said parents need to stay abreast and review guidelines as they become available in preparation for the upcoming school year.
“There are going to be many changes. Cloth face coverings are going to be expected, and parents can talk positively to their kids about the qualities that make someone a good member of their community. Discuss how protecting others, by wearing a mask, is a good thing,” Hopper said. “You may want to let your kids pick out their own masks, to help them take ownership of the concept.”
Just as Hopper recommended that adults limit their exposure to the news, she also wants to make parents aware of leaving the television on news channels that might be overheard by children.
“As they say, ‘little pitchers have big ears,’ ” Hopper said. “I advise parents to be cautious about what they say aloud, that might be overheard, as well as what is being said on television. Be aware that your kids might overhear or pick up a phrase or one piece of information out of context that might end up causing them undue worry.”
Finally, Hopper recommended parents make a point to check in frequently with their kids.
“Ask them how are they are feeling,” Hopper said. “What might be done to ease any worries or concerns they may have? Sometimes it’s something small that we would never even think about. Listen to them. Give them time to talk about whatever they want to discuss. Let them ask any questions they might have and do your best to answer as best as you can.”
Hopper encouraged parents to reach out if they need additional support.
– Maureen Mahaney coordinates public information for LifeSkills Inc., a nonprofit, behavioral health care corporation that plans for and serves the people of southcentral Kentucky. Her column runs monthly.