By Amanda Reineck, MSW, RCSWI
Work. Stress. Socially distant schooling.
It’s never easy being a parent, but this fall brings more challenges than most – and right now, one of the toughest challenges of all is helping our kids feel safe in an uncertain world. As the school year begins, here are some ideas designed to reduce the pressure – for yourself and your kids:
- Create a routine. Adding structure to the day is one of the best ways to feel “normal” –even when the world around us isn’t. For kids who feel anxious, it’s reassuring to know what’s going to happen and when. Start by setting a regular time of day for touchpoints like studying, family meals, daily walks or nightly chats before bedtime. Keep it loose, but consistent. Don’t worry if your day goes off track, or if a mess at breakfast spills into a chaotic morning – just do your best to get back to your routine tomorrow.
- Cultivate calm. An organized, quiet environment helps reduce stress and anxiety. Turn off the TV, and make sure that distractions like games, toys, phones and tablets are put away during school and study hours. Consider playing quiet music during the day and do what you can to minimize clutter.
- Get active. As the days get shorter and wetter, it can be harder to get outdoors – but fresh air and exercise are still essential for your family’s physical and mental health. Exercise is a well-known mood booster, in part because it decreases the stress-causing hormone, cortisol, and increases endorphins. Kids should spend at least 30 minutes a day engaged in physical activity, whether that’s frisbee in the back yard or an impromptu dance party in the kitchen.
- Encourage expression. Anxiety and worries are natural – especially now – but you can help your child process negative feelings in a healthy way. Give your children space to express themselves as they are ready. Don’t pressure them to talk, but let them know you’re always ready to listen. Frame the conversation in a way that matches your child’s maturity level. For younger kids, it may be easier to share feelings through imaginative play or storytelling. Older kids and teens may want to start and lead the conversation at their own pace.
- Find your support system. It’s understandable to feel stressed right now, but you don’t have to deal with it alone. Call a family member or a friend when you need to talk to someone: Socializing is a great way to express and process your negative emotions.
Take time – even a few minutes throughout the day – to reflect, unwind, breathe and do something that makes you happy.
Times are still far from normal, and it looks like that won’t change any time soon. But with care, honesty and plenty of self-forgiveness, your family can make it through together. It’s also important to know that it’s okay to ask for help. There are a number of community resources available to strengthen families and guide them through difficult times. To learn more, visit www.EmbraceFamilies.org.
Amanda Reineck, MSW, RCSWI, is a behavioral health coordinator with Embrace Families, Orlando. She has worked with youth in and out of foster care for 14 years, beginning as a volunteer in 2005.