Ask The Expert: Dr. Rona Shalev, Psy.D. (COVID-19 Resource)

Parenting Tips To Manage Stress In This New Quasi-Alternate Universe

Who could have imagined we’d be quarantined and hunkering down with our families at the start of springtime in NYC? Instead of our kids playing baseball and hanging upside down on monkey bars, we parents are doing our best to cope in this alternate reality. In times like these, we have a profound need to stay informed and involved by connecting with each other, as well as with experts in our community. For the latest Q&A Corner: “Ask The Expert” Dr. Rona Shalev, Psy.D., The Chapin School’s Head of Counseling Service, provides some useful advice and strategies for parents.

Q. How would you recommend that we manage anxiety and stress for ourselves, as parents, and for our kids?

A. ​The first thing I would do is adjust your news notifications. It’s important to stay informed, particularly in New York City, where there are now many restrictions. However, exposure to too much news can create more anxiety, which you’ll unwittingly pass onto your kids. I would stick to one or two trusted news sources and check them no more than twice a day. The second time in the day should be at least an hour before going to sleep. Never check your newsfeed too close to bedtime!

Anxiety is also stemming from the major disruption this has caused to our daily routines. Basic activities such as food shopping have now become sources of stress. It’s important to focus on what you can control and to let go of what you cannot control. If you find yourself or your kids drifting off into “what-if land” (this is a term I use often with kids), stop yourself and determine whether you can control any of it: Those of us living in NYC will have to do our grocery shopping less frequently. We’ll likely have to choose one day in the week, and order our groceries farther in advance. We also have to come up with contingency plans for items that are sold out.

Exercising looks different as well. Ask yourself what online options work best for you? Does it make more sense to just take the stairs a few times a day? Or make a hopscotch board out of masking tape on the rug for younger kids?

​Our kids are probably very disappointed about canceled plans and playdates. They miss their friends and it’s important that they have the opportunity to connect with their friends as much as possible through the phone or Face Time.

Q. Do you suggest different strategies for younger kids vs. older kids? 

​A. Younger kids are probably having a harder time adjusting to the idea that they are home with their parents but that their parents are working and aren’t necessarily free to play all day with them. They will benefit from knowing what times their parents will be available to eat or spend time with them during the day. Consistency and predictability is still important for them, so letting them know exactly when you will spend time with them will be very helpful. Also, younger kids will be more likely to come to their parents when they are bored. I would encourage parents not to jump to save their kids from boredom during these times. This is a time for growth and resilience for all of us. Encouraging your kids to figure out what to do is not the same as ignoring them!

Older kids will need more encouragement to move regularly. Remind them to take a walk outside or to find an online dance workout or even take the stairs with you once a day.

Q. Do you have any advice for helping our kids stick to a routine in a non-school environment, especially for families with working parents and young children?

A. ​As much as you are able to help the kids stick to specific meal times, school will help with the rest. You don’t have to create a schedule with an activity for every hour. As long as there is some structure during the day, which for older kids might include showering, being active for 20-30 minutes, and eating meals, and for younger kids will include the exact time you might be able to spend with them, they’ll have some sense of predictability throughout the day.

Q. Are we damaging our kids with all the additional screen time? (This writer can’t help but ask this question…)

A. ​Kids around the world are experiencing this incredible disruption. The additional screen time over these several weeks is not likely to damage them or set them back in any meaningful way. Their mental and physical well-being is more important now than ever. They’ll be more likely to remember how they felt during this time than what they learned during these few weeks. Kids all over the world are in front of screens now, and it’s ok.

Q. Do you have any suggestions on how to keep families from imploding and getting on each other’s nerves?

A. ​Make sure every person in the house has some time every day to be alone. Even in the smallest corner, time to read on your own, time to watch a show or listen to music on your headphones, any activity that you find restorative, should take place daily. Just because you’re all home together, does not mean every moment needs to be for family bonding.

Q. Can you offer parents any additional advice on having to quarantine?

​A. Try to model a sense of acceptance. As much as you are able to accept that this is what life is like right now, rather than waiting for things to go back to the way they were, your kids will also become better able to appreciate living in the moment. You may want to try a family journal, for each person to write one memorable thing that happened each day. This can be something you save to look back on when we’re all out of quarantine.

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