As we move into the fall, everyone is facing new challenges. Your child may be getting ready to start distance learning for the fall, or you are navigating keeping your child safe in a daycare center or school open for live instruction. Even families of new babies hoping to nurture their developing minds are finding themselves isolated at a time that we usually want to surround them with support and wisdom. We know that it can be incredibly overwhelming trying to figure out how it is all going to work. Here are some tips that may be helpful in any circumstance:
- Maintain Healthy Routines: Staying up late on screens can make the day extra tiring and exacerbate anxiety. Rest can be incredibly helpful in resiliency and decreasing stress. We recommend setting a shut off time for all screens an hour before a regular bedtime. Create a bedtime ritual with time to read and connect with your younger children. For those who need to attend to different demands right before bed and can’t read at that time, consider trying an audiobook from the library rather than letting your child watch a screen. Mindfulness with guided imagery is also a great way to reset before bed.
- Focus on Healthy Nutrition: Healthy foods nourish our minds and bodies and help to avoid mid-day energy crashes. Set regular mealtimes, and make sure that your child eats at the table. This will help to prevent unhealthy grazing on snacks throughout the day. Your physician is a great person to help connect you to local resources if you find yourself worried about paying for healthy food for your family.
- Take Things One Day at a Time: Trying to think too far ahead and figuring out what things are going to look like next summer or even next week can be a rabbit hole that leads to increased stress and worry. When you find yourself becoming overwhelmed thinking about things in the future, stop to take some deep breaths and focus on the next small step that you need to do. Breaking things into goals that you can accomplish can make getting through each day a little easier.
- Set the Stage for Success: For those of you facing distance learning, set up a place to learn that minimizes distractions. Utilize foam board dividers and headphones to minimize distractions if you have multiple children working at the same table. For families doing some in person instruction, set up an area for clean and dirty face-masks near the door and remember to stay vigilant with hand hygiene.
- Strengthen Connections: Connections with others strengthen our ability to cope with stressful circumstances. Although we need to continue to distance ourselves from others outside of our close family pods, we can still build connections in safe ways. Schedule zoom calls with relatives or meet a classmate outside while wearing masks to protect yourselves. As parents we are pulled in so many different directions while trying to care for our children right now, but we can try to be intentional about being present with them and staying off our own devices whenever we can.
- Re-frame Your Expectations: This is a fall like no other. Remember that all children need first to feel safe and loved before they are going to be ready to learn. If your child is suffering from anxiety, worrying about a grade on a test may not be helpful without addressing the anxiety. Focus on the basics first and the rest will come.
As always we love your children and are here for you. Don’t hesitate to call if you have specific concerns!
Sarah Knight, MD, FAAP