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McLean Hospital: How to Help Kids and Families Keep a Healthy Mindset During the Coronavirus Crisis

With the spread of the coronavirus, families face trying times. More and more information about the crisis comes every day, but the information isn’t always complete or even accurate. Confusion and anxiety plagues everyone—adults and kids. It’s hard to be calm and feel safe.

Here are a few tips for families coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parents, Be Kind to Yourself

Many families are finding themselves in the unique situation of working remotely while managing children who are out of school and stuck at home. Kathryn D. Boger, PhD, ABPP, program director of McLean Anxiety Mastery Program, explained that “it can be easy to fall into the trap of self-blame when children are fighting, and workdays aren’t going as planned.”

Boger recommended that parents go easy on themselves. She suggested catching self-punishing thoughts and repeating mini-mantras throughout the day, such as “This is not the time for perfection” and “I’m doing the best I can in a really tough situation.”

Accept What You Can and Cannot Control

According to Boger, “Anxiety breeds on uncertainty, and this is a time of great uncertainty for everyone.” In an effort to grasp for certainty and control, people can get stuck in unhelpful patterns of behavior, including watching the news on repeat and hoarding certain supplies, like toilet paper. Instead, Boger recommends that we “acknowledge the ultimate lack of certainty and control that we all have in this situation and determine the things that actually are under our control.”

For example, you can limit exposure to the news for yourselves and your children, and you can plan your days to include structure. You also can create lists for needed food supplies and medications. Make sure that contact information for your health care providers, work colleagues, family members, and friends is up to date. Reach out to those close to you and stay in regular contact to support each other.

Focus on the Present

“When our brains are anxious, they tend to live in the future, worrying about what’s to come,” said Boger. She recommended practicing bringing your brain back to the present moment throughout the day. Focus your brain on one thing in the current moment, such as the feeling of your feet on the ground and the suds on your hands as you wash dishes, the smell of the food in your kitchen, or the sound of your child’s voice.

Model Healthy Coping

Yes, the COVID-19 crisis is creating new and unusual problems for families and kids, but the basics of self-care remain the same. We all need plenty of sleep, healthy meals, good hygiene, and regular (now largely virtual) social interactions to be well. And don’t ignore tried-and-true techniques to manage stress and anxiety, like daily physical activity, breathing exercises, and mindfulness.

Stock image of man and woman on couch and young girl drawing on floor
Keeping a healthy mindset is important for kids and parents alike

Boger recommended that parents practice these activities alongside their children to model effective coping. “You can run up and down stairs and do jumping jacks with your children and practice meditations or paced breathing with them in brief, several-minute intervals between work meetings. Notice together how these activities can influence your mood and energy levels,” she said.

Talk to Your Children

Boger encouraged parents to have regular conversations with their kids about COVID-19. Tell them that there are experts who are working hard to combat the crisis and that you will share important information with them. Also, ask them what they have heard about the coronavirus. Encourage them to share their feelings, and let children know that it’s understandable and OK to feel the way they feel.

Give Kids a Plan

Just like adults, children can benefit from following clear plans to cope with COVID-19. Let kids know that the risk of contracting the coronavirus is low, and prevention is the best way to keep safe. Emphasize the importance of handwashing and create clear plans for practicing good hygiene. Also, encourage them to talk to you regularly about their health and report any symptoms they might have.

Get Good Information

Finding accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus can be a full-time job. Make it easier by checking trusted sources, like the Centers for Disease ControlWorld Health Organization, and Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress.

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