These are scary times, and everyone is feeling the worry that comes from the news, disruptions to routines, and the general angst of living in 2020. Kids are not immune from the stress and worries of our time. Luckily, there are many strategies and tools that can be helpful in supporting our kids (and ourselves) in reducing anxiety and increasing calm.
1. Take Care of Yourself.
“You can’t pour from an empty cup,” “Put your own oxygen mask on first,” “If Mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy.”
These cliches all contain the nugget of truth that the emotional well-being of our kiddos starts with parents who are caring for themselves. Please do not hear this as me saying that if you’re anxious, your kids will be anxious or any such nonsense. In fact, parents who deal with anxiety and model healthy coping may be uniquely qualified to support their kids. Investing in your own well being (via sleep, nutrition, relaxation, social support, time outside, or whatever else it is that helps you thrive) is one of the most important things you can do to support your children’s positive coping. Modeling self-care communicates to our children that we are capable of dealing with difficult situations and that they can trust us to do so.
2. Maintain Structure and Routine.
Humans crave predictability, especially when life is stressful. To the extent possible, maintain routines and consistency. When you can’t, explain this. Let your kids know the daily schedule (bonus points if they can see it), and also let them know what may or may not need to change.
3. Limit Screen Exposure.
An abundance of research has found a connection between increased time on screens and increased anxiety. This applies to both children and adults. In times of stress, it is particularly important to limit exposure to the news. Children do not have the maturity to be able to effectively process and understand news reports. As adults, we can remain informed without being glued to our devices. Less time on screens and more time connecting will reduce everyone’s anxiety.
4. Go Outside.
Being outdoors is proven to reduce anxiety and improve mood. Children thrive on times in the outdoors. This is a great time to become experts on the ecology of your yard or neighborhood and to nurture a sense of connection to the patch of earth where you live.
Exercise reduces anxiety and releases the hormones that help us feel good. Walks, dance parties, bike rides, kids yoga videos, you name it – find a way to move that your family enjoys.
6. Teach Coping Skills.
Coping with worry is a learned skill, just like anything else. Deep breathing, visualization, and muscle relaxation exercises can all be helpful in increasing calm. Below are some resources that may be helpful in teaching these skills to the little people in your life.