As a follow-up to “Parenting in the Time of the Coronavirus Pandemic” I wanted to focus on self-care of parents and caregivers. We are 3 weeks into the era of social distancing, shelter in place, e-learning and telecommuting. As weeks turn into a month or more, now is the time to ensure self-care of parents and caregivers during the Coronavirus pandemic.

You remember the airline rule of putting your own oxygen mask on before assisting children? That’s because if parents are struggling, children struggle more. Parents, as well as all caregivers of others, must make it a priority to carve out time for themselves. It is not selfish–it is a necessity.

If you are not 100%, you cannot give the 110% you want to give your children and those you love.

Take care of yourself FIRST if you want to ensure you got the reserve to take care of those who depend on you
Take care of yourself FIRST if you want to ensure you got the reserve to take care of those who depend on you

To flatten the curve, we must practice social distancing and shelter in place for the immediate, foreseeable future

At the beginning of the pandemic, everyone was feeling stressed because of the urgent need to start social distancing and its disruption on life. Educators had to figure out how to translate learning in the home environment as school closed. Parents suddenly needed to balance work at home, overseeing e-learning and keeping the kids entertained. They also had to deal with the emotional aftermath of cancelled events and social gatherings.

Some families have one or both parents who must report for essential work. These families represent healthcare workers and first responders on the front lines, but also grocery clerks, delivery drivers, gas station attendants, and utility company workers. It also includes scientists, manufacturers and public health officials who are working non-stop to figure out ways to manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE), testing kits, vaccines.

A big shout out to those on the front lines fighting the Coronavirus. Thanks to countless delivery folks who risk exposure to get goods and groceries to so many of us. Thanks to all who are operating an “essential” business.

Images of our Chalk Your Walk Art #CarmelCares

Just the other day, we learned all Indiana schools will remain closed for the remainder of the academic school year. This led to the flood of posts on social media in honor of all 5th, 8th, 12th graders and seniors who will be finishing up the school year confined at home. Parents want their kids to know how proud they are, while acknowledging the heartbreak, disappointment and the missed memorable highlights that happen at the end of the school year. Kids will not experience prom, graduation, spring sports, the annual class trip. We are all mourning these losses and disappointment. I know many of us wanted to believe social distancing was a temporary, month-long measure. However, given the Coronavirus case rate continues to rise, it is evident we must continue to stay apart and endure social distancing for a longer period of time.

Self-care is important because as weeks turn to months, chronic stress will take its toll

As weeks turn into a month or more, acute stress transitions into chronic, prolonged stress. No one is immune. We are ALL struggling as a society to survive this Coronavirus pandemic. Many families are filing for unemployment, and others are grappling with the news of friends and family becoming sick or dying from this virus. It is hard to imagine planning anything in the summer or Fall because we have yet to show signs of slowing this thing down.

And when parents struggle, our kids struggle. So, here are some self-care tips to keep in mind:

1. Stay present in the moment and tune in to your feelings.

When we can tune in to our emotions without judgment but sit with it, we are better able to acknowledge and determine the next step. As humans, we get to feel a whole host of emotions–it is what lends color to our lives. Learning to identify what feeling or emotion is happening is the first step towards figuring out what we need in the moment. Often times we are feeling more than one emotion at a time. Take a moment to pause by closing your eyes, taking a deep breath and allowing yourself to name the emotion that is passing by. Give yourself permission to feel those moments of pain, sadness, overwhelm or grief just as much as those priceless moments of joy, happiness, excitement and gratitude.

Do a “mood check” periodically throughout the day. Take note of what you are doing in the moment when you notice NEGATIVE emotions. If you find yourself feeling overwhelm or despair, panic or grief while scrolling through social media, please STOP and change activities. Limit your interaction with social media or any other identifiable trigger if this happens.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

It can be hard to reach out and ask for help–whether financial, food-related, childcare, physical or emotional/mental health. If you allow yourself to reach out to even 1 or 2 within your support circle, someone will rise to the challenge. I have seen posts on Next Door and Facebook asking for help or prayer circles. People support each other with porch drop offs of donations, re-sharing posts and setting up fundraisers to help others in need. Zoom calls are gaining popularity to help people stay connected. During this time, we have been given the gift of time — for our family and for our community. It really is awesome.

3. Focus on what you CAN do NOW, rather than on the CAN’T DOs or NEVERs.

While quarantine/shelter in place can feel it is dragging on indefinitely, it is important to try to not let this get you down. Take a breath and remind yourself of the small things you can be grateful for and for having the choice at the moment. So many of us were over-scheduled and always on the go. Now we suddenly don’t have as many obstacles getting in the way of finally learning a new hobby, sitting down to write or read that book, trying out a new recipe or taking a cat nap. Don’t take this new found time for granted.

Rather, use this time wisely. Don’t feel bad about sitting and enjoying a half hour or hour to work on a puzzle. Do art or read that book. Sit and do nothing. Take time for an audio or video call with a friend or family member. Listen to music or just pet the dog.

Write up your list of things you always wanted to do and pick one to start-TODAY. Keep reading.

4. Upon awakening, set your daily intention.

Are you a list person who loves to cross things off and feel that sense of accomplishment? But are you also the type of person who had a checklist a mile long and never felt like you could get through it all? You want to set yourself up for success each day. So I recommend thinking of the ONE THING you want to do for yourself PERSONALLY each day. Make a mental note of it or better yet, write it down. Get ready for the day, have your cup of coffee and then make sure that ONE THING gets done first or at least in the first part of your day when you have the most energy. Anything beyond that becomes icing on the cake!

This approach can apply to personal goals, family goals and work goals. Extending this strategy into more than one arena really means you may have three MUST DO things on your daily list. But, just think, you can feel accomplished across the board after doing those three things. If you want more on this, check out the book, The One Thing.

5. Find your new family rhythm with huddles and check ins.

Let’s face it, everyone likes some structure and routine. There is something calming about knowing what is coming next. In a time when life feels like a moving target, it can bring about feelings of overwhelm. This does not feel good. You’ve heard me suggest visual schedules for kids, but sometimes having a family command center can help everyone feel anchored day by day. If you have felt like you are aimlessly floating without land in sight, let’s get to work on taking control and plotting out your new family rhythm so you can ride those waves.

Start by convening a “morning huddle” at breakfast or first thing in the morning with your partner/spouse and your kids. Everyone reports out their own one things that must be done so that all members of the household are mindful of what everyone else has to accomplish. See where we can help each other out by prioritizing who gets what quiet space when, who needs help from who when. [Psst: This is also a time to role model these time management and organization/prioritization skills!]

Before the huddle is over, make sure to call out when everyone should check in with each other and how to do this. Again, this prevents long stretches of time for kids to get bored or distracted from doing schoolwork and gives you permission to check in and monitor screen time. By chunking your day into segments, over time your new family rhythm will revolve around the morning huddle, check ins at meals or breaks. This also ensures some flexibility to the day should things pop up.

When everyone else is aware of the plan of the day, you can relax a little more and feel ready to take on the hours ahead. By getting buy in and involving everyone, it preemptively cut outs misunderstandings and improves family communication.

6. At dinner time or whenever your family convenes together before bedtime, make sure to celebrate successes or wins.

Setting small, achievable goals for everyone is no small feat. But with this mindset, you want to take the time to celebrate those small victories and call them out. You can do this by going round robin around the table or start by asking for volunteers. Or make it more formal and ask for a HIGHLIGHT of everyone’s day. It’s ok to also allow sharing a moment that could have gone better, if people feel comfortable and willing.

Another variation is to ask everyone to share a quick story of the Thumbs up or Thumbs down moment. Make it a priority to carve out time to discuss these moments. It can keep our motivation and momentum moving forward. It also creates time to brainstorm how to help each other get through challenges. The one caveat is to never put down others during this time. It is all about finding the silver lining in the every day moments. Praise and role modeling self-compassion are two great positive parenting skills to use with your kids but also with yourself.

Check out my #FamilyGoalGetter JumpStart Kit for more tips to encourage this skill as a FAMILY activity

7. Create and talk with your partner/spouse and then the kids on your Coronavirus emergency plan.

Create an emergency plan to be ready for anything. Doing so will provide piece of mind. Things to include are:

  • Select a room and bathroom reserved for whoever is sick (ideally in a separate part of the house)
  • Identify who will care for pets or children if one or both parents fall ill
  • Make a list of emergency contacts so that even one of the children will know how to connect with them

8. Allow for short cuts & life hacks and don’t be worried about involving the kids in chores.

My go-to essentials are my InstantPot, involving the kids in age-appropriate household tasks and encouraging child autonomy whenever possible. Having an 8-quart InstantPot has been such a lifesaver when preparing meals that otherwise requires hands on time in front of the stove or grill. Using a crockpot is also useful, but usually requires 6 to 8 hours of cook time. I routinely search Pinterest and have an InstantPot Board of interesting or go to recipes. Given it takes 5-7 days after placing and getting online grocery orders, I think about a week worth meals at a time. I pick 1 to 2 new recipes, 2 to 3 recipes I routinely make, and 2-3 frozen meals to just bake.

Don’t take on everything all by yourself. It is ok to have your kids pitch in. Involve them in cooking or meal prep. Ask them to tidy up common areas or their bedrooms on a regular basis. Require children help with yard work. Look at mundane tasks as opportunities to help your children learn independence and contribute to helping the household run. For some help implementing this plus managing screen time, check out my Screen Time and Chore Tracker Family Jumpstart Kit!

9. Get outside (but continue to practice responsible social distancing)

Sometimes a change of scenery helps, especially if everyone is going stir crazy. So get those shoes on, sunscreen and sunglasses and get outside. Bring out your portable chairs and arrange on the driveway or porch. Listen to the birds chirping. Get out for a walk with your dog. Go solo while listening to your favorite podcast or music. Get out for a hike (check local listings to see if places are still open) but ALWAYS practice social distancing. Consider wearing masks when going outside to places that might be a little more busy (such as the grocery, pharmacy) as per recent CDC recommendations: “I protect you, you protect me.” Join the #Masks4All movement.

10. Focus on the positive, spread kindness and practice gratitude.

Practicing visualization or creating your positive affirmation helps to remain focused on what matters, especially when the going gets tough. Whether you draw your inspiration from your community of worship, spiritual prayer, meditation and yoga, or doing acts of kindness/service, make sure to sprinkle these things into your day.

Sometimes you need to get away from the daily grind and enter a headspace of relaxation and calm. I came across an online hypnotherapy program called Success Theory 101 by The Key Hypnotherapy. The course includes 7 sessions by the instructor, a Registered Nurse and Certified Hypnotherapist.

In-person hypnotherapy programs can be on the pricey side, but this course offers a high-quality yet cost effective experience. Plus, they’re currently in the launch phase of the course. My blog readers can get it for an even bigger discount using coupon code “20-OFF”. Learn more about Success Theory 101 here.

Make homemade masks for yourself and others. Create care packages for ill or lonely family members or friends. Find your creative artist and chalk your walk (check out our pictures above). Make and send postcards or cards to friends you miss or send them to the local hospitals. Create a facebook fundraiser for a cause important to you right now. These are the moments or opportunities that can renew you with positivity.

Make sure to grab my free Hello Today worksheet to help you stay on task and on track with your own self-care. Because it’s important.

Stay well, continue social distancing and hand washing, take care of yourself.

RELATED: Working and Learning from Home During the COVID-19 Outbreak (Healthychildren.org)

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Written by

Nerissa Bauer

I am a behavioral pediatrician, consultant, child advocate and blogger. I am a wife, mommy to 2 amazing children and a golden retriever. Love cooking, travel, reading, tap and creating.