Tips for Parents During Social Distancing and Isolation
By Graham Reynolds, Ph.D.
Many of us are experiencing significant changes now that most Americans are under orders to stay home as much as possible. Schools have been closed and are now switching to online learning programs, leaving many parents to juggle work, parenting, and now teaching responsibilities.
Here are 6 tips for you and your family to keep you psychologically healthy during these times:
Create a schedule, both for yourself and your children.
Identify what tasks need to get done and lay out what time you will work on each activity. Set limits on screen time for kids that are realistic given our circumstances and within your values. Helpful guidelines can be found from the American Academy of Pediatrics here. If you are a parent of an infant or young child, choose which parent will spend time with the child while the other works. After bedtime for the kids, make sure to schedule both some time for yourself to be alone and some time to be with your partner. Look at this as a joint effort – it is great to have a teammate and more importantly, to be a good teammate yourself!
Once you have your goal in mind, pick a small step in the service of that goal. If your plan is to read more, choose one book and begin with just the first chapter. If you are still struggling, you may need to break down goals even further. In the past, I had an exercise goal to exceed my previous workout each time I went to the gym. After only a few days, I found it extremely difficult to manage. Instead, I chose the very simple goal of putting on my workout shoes. I knew that once I was dressed to exercise, it would help me get to the gym and I was able to have more long-term success without the additional pressure to be better every single time.
Look for opportunities for gratitude.
From a cognitive standpoint, identifying things that we are grateful for can be an effective way to inject balance into our thinking. There are any number of things we can point to that are causing stress in our lives, but by looking at the other side of the coin we can take a more helpful view of our situation. Even if it feels like a stretch, find at least one thing that you can appreciate each day.
Engage in pleasant activities as a family.
Plan activities that everyone can do together and add them to your schedule. Taking a walk together while maintaining social distancing, playing games as a family, watching a movie or TV show can all be welcome distractions and can help increase bonding.
Validate yourself and avoid self-criticism.
Working and parenting full time (at the same time) is difficult. Self-criticism and judgments about how things “should” be can easily come up during periods of high stress. Instead, try to matter-of-factly describe what your experience, feelings, and thoughts are without expectations of how they ought to be. When you make a mistake, remind yourself that you are human and it is okay to make mistakes.
Communicate with your partner.
Pick a time when stress is lower to speak with your spouse or other co-parent about ways to be more effective in your day-to-day routine. When stress is running high, we are not at our best interpersonally. When discussing issues of parenting and working from home, try to stick to the facts and frame things from your point of view. Rather than saying “you made me mad when…” instead describe the situation in a non-judgmental way and use “I feel” statements. Don’t forget to praise and validate your partner, as they are likely just as stressed as you are.
Allow for flexibility.
As important as it is to create structure and keep routines as consistent as possible, flexibility is necessary to adapt and respond skillfully to stressful events. More standards in recommendations are coming out and the guidelines seem to change almost daily. It’s important to have a plan but also to allow for that plan to change as the situation evolves.
Graham Reynolds, Ph.D., practices as a full-time clinician at the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy and specializes in working with adolescents and adults struggling with anxiety, OCD, social phobia, PTSD, personality disorders, depression, and mood disorders. Dr. Reynolds approaches treatment with an emphasis on creating meaning and collaborates with clients to help them live a valued life while helping to foster change in problematic behaviors.