In these trying times, it’s more important than ever to manage stress and anxiety, both at home and in school. Children are just as susceptible to these as any adult, and it may be difficult for them to articulate exactly how they’re feeling, or manage their own stress without outside assistance.
To adequately prepare your child, our counselor, Ms. Neha Qazi, has written up a detailed article that can help you manage not only their stress levels, but your own as well.
Inhale and exhale…Relax! So here is a quick fix, let’s color code schedules, ask our children to take ‘deep breaths’ on a count to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (breathe in, breathe out). They are still worried? Let’s Google and find something else, maybe ‘mindfulness’ this time? Ah! This sounds so Zen; let’s post this on the parent forums we are on. All you need to do is play a video, give them mandalas and you are sorted. Fantastic.
Again, inhale and exhale…Relax! Let’s take a step back from our children and focus on us first. How do we feel? What does self-care look like for us? Are we engaging in self-care? Am we able to? The first step to helping our children is to block all Instagram profiles such as ‘mummyclubs’, ‘perfectparent’. No, I am kidding! (I am not).
Let’s try that again. The first step to helping our children is helping us. It is understandable to feel worried, stressed, uncertain, and helpless and these feelings may translate into…drumroll…Anxiety. When we hear this word, we panic. ‘Something is wrong, let’s fix it!’, ‘Let’s rearrange our lives’, ‘Let’s take a yoga class’ etc., etc. Here is what we will actually do.
- (I didn’t say relax, I just said breathe)
- Take ten steps away from your children.
- Tell yourself how you feel using I statements, for example, I feel…
- Check in with yourself; tell yourself you’ve got this. (No one will judge if you do a voice imitation of the joker)
Keeping your feelings in check will help your entire family navigate their wellbeing. Beyond a feelings check, I encourage you to engage in and model solution-focused thinking for the family. For example, we can take the following steps as parents to control the stress in the home environment.
Limit and filter News consumption. While it is important to stay up to date with recent developments, it is also essential that we filter helpful vs. unhelpful news and exposure to social media reactions, especially in a family environment. Uncontrolled exposure to exaggerated news may feed our anxiety and contribute to the stress.
Alternatively, choose balanced media platforms and follow sources that may help take your mind off the crisis. With regards to children, keep them informed but keep it simple.
Stay virtually connected to friends and family. Socializing will help us give ourselves a break, ground us and regulate our moods. It also normalizes our feelings towards the situation as we connect to others.
Include your children in this process even if they are not allowed access to social apps otherwise. Let them remain in contact with family, friends from school etc. while supervised. The apps we can use in Dubai are, Botim, Zoom, TikTok, Google Hangout etc.
Make plans for the family. Futuristic thinking is integral to maintain a solution-focused thinking approach. Making plans will help us regain control over our lives. For example, creating a family schedule that includes a family routine, making a list of activities children can add to, plan virtual play dates, create a cooking schedule with favorite foods. I encourage a lot of parents to date back to the classic 80’s style and think of family activities that we can plan for while remaining safe. This planning process will prove to be calming and reassuring for the family, especially children and will help them feel in control.
Stop! Don’t go anywhere, it’s coming. By now you have probably already opened three new tabs on ‘How to manage anxiety in children’ while still feeling anxious. Remember, Stop and Breathe. All of the above helps you manage your own anxiety and build stress tolerance, which inevitably helps our children and reassures them. Now Let’s crack some beautiful strategies to help children manage their anxiety.
- Belly Breathing: Teach children how to relax and slow-down breathing.
- Mindfulness Exercises: Step away from video tutorials and practice family mindfulness. Teach children how to remain in the present, see, hear, smell and ground themselves in the moment. These exercises can be practiced while eating, taking a walk, learning activity etc. The purpose is to pull away from anxiety and relax in the moment.
- Coping Statements: Teach children how to label their feelings and talk back to them. For example, ‘I am feeling worried but I can handle it. I will…’ We can turn feelings into characters that they can talk to. For example, ‘Butterflies in the stomach’.
- Acceptance: Acknowledge and validate their feelings, for example, ‘I understand you feel…’ It may help to share an example of a time when you felt similarly and how you handled the situation (if successful). This helps normalize their feelings.
- Reframe Worries: Teach children how to positively frame worries and problems using a growth mindset and the ‘power of yet’. Reframing worries means that children should turn thoughts into believable and realistic thoughts, not just positive.
- Consistency in Routine: Routines are reassuring for children as it promotes predictability in a child’s environment, especially in this time. However, routines can be consistent while remaining gentle and realistic. I encourage you to set realistic expectations of your children and personalize routines based on your child’s needs.
- Be responsive, nurturing and affectionate: Distance yourself from the ‘ideals’ of staying at home and distance learning. Observe your child’s behavior. There is always an underlying unmet need that translates into unfavorable words and actions. Be forgiving and understanding, accept how you may feel towards your child and build a partnership with your child.
- Remain in contact with the School: Please remember you are not alone. At SISD, we continue to promote togetherness. Don’t hesitate to ask for help for yourself or for your child. Maintain communication with teachers and the pastoral care team for the wellbeing of your child.
Now let me go try all of the above on my crying, hyperventilating three year old refusing to take a nap! Before I go, one last thing…
Remember; be forgiving towards yourselves, your children and those around you.
Our teachers work hard to ensure that your children are engaged, but we can’t do it alone. Make sure that your children get the support they need to help them cope with these times, and keep their minds healthy and receptive for distance learning.