Struggling to juggle the various pressures placed upon you as a parent during lockdown? You’re not alone. These tips might help to lessen the stress.
As many parents have discovered during lockdown, trying to juggle childcare, homeschooling and work is no walk in the park. With little chance for downtime (or even a single moment of solitude) each day, it can play havoc with your stress and anxiety levels, and leave you feeling distinctly frayed around the edges.
But the truth is, we cannot be all things to all people, all of the time. If tensions are running high in your home right now and you feel your mental health may be suffering, it’s time to take a deep breath and pause for a moment.
We spoke with Joanna Fortune, a child and adolescent psychotherapist, child attachment specialist and author of 15 Minute Parenting, for her top tips on how to take care of your own mental health as a parent during lockdown. Plus, she reveals how you and your children can navigating this period of uncertainty together.
Being good enough really is good enough
Suddenly becoming responsible for your school-age children’s educational needs is a huge mental adjustment. Add to that 24/7 childcare, a work schedule of your own and numerous other daily chores, and suddenly life is probably feeling more chaotic than calm. It’s therefore vital you’re gentle with yourself.
‘This multiplicity of roles – parent, professional, teacher, cook and even entertainer – is immensely stressful and demanding, and is seeing parents under huge pressure at what is already a stressful time,’ says Fortune. ‘This is a time to truly embrace the fact that good enough is good enough, and that starts with being kind to ourselves.’
This multiplicity of roles is immensely stressful and demanding, and is seeing parents under huge pressure at what is already a stressful time.
Fortune reveals even short bursts of me-time during the day can make a big difference to your state of mind.
‘Taking a 15-minute break to enjoy a hot cup of coffee, or to stand outside and just draw breath, helps to take us out of those spiralling thought in our heads and ground us in the “now” moments within our bodies,’ she says.
She also suggests the following grounding technique:
- Name five things you can see
- Name four things you can hear
- Name three things you can smell
- Name two things you can touch
- Name one thing you can taste
This short exercise can really help to anchor yourself in the present moment, which can stop anxiety spiralling.
Taking the stress out of homeschooling
It’s important to recognise that children may be feeling anxious about the current situation, too. Their routines have changed overnight, with schools, clubs and playgrounds closed, and they too will likely be missing friends and extended family.
Because of this, a home learning environment in which they feel pressurised may add to their unease.
Sometimes, stepping back and simply letting your children be can be a good way to invoke feelings of happiness, calm and connection.
School staff and teachers are doing a fantastic job of sending home learning plans each week, but if your child is getting stressed or you’re struggling to keep up, don’t panic. Sometimes, stepping back and simply letting your children be can be a good way to invoke feelings of happiness, calm and connection.
‘Play is the language of children,’ agrees Fortune. ‘It is literally how they learn, and how they process the learning and stimulus of their day. If your child is playing, then they are learning.’
Benefits of play for kids
This knowledge alone can help to take some of the pressure off.
‘Play is something children choose to do – it’s where they feel comfortable and calm,’ continues Fortune. ‘Being under pressure to sit still and complete coursework in an environment that may not be conducive to cognitive learning can be hard: a busy home, with other siblings with competing needs, may not provide the type of environment they are used to learning in. But spending time playing, be that alone or with their siblings or parents, offers numerous benefits.’
Fortune says the benefits of play include:
- Allowing them to process any feelings or thoughts they are having
- Helping them make better sense of their world and the people in it
- Helping them work through any confusions and tensions they might be holding onto
- Strengthening and enhancing their social engagement systems, psycho-social development and relationships with others
Parental guilt: learning to let it go
Of course, we all know that one of the first things we do as a parent is give ourselves a hard time if we don’t feel we’re doing a good enough job. From too much screen time, to not enough one-to-one time, to failing to persuade our child to complete their learning-from-home tasks, the list with which we can beat ourselves up is endless.
Fortune says learning from our guilt and then moving on is key to improving our mental health.
The list with which we can beat ourselves up is endless.
‘Guilt can have pro-social benefits,’ she says. ‘It can allow us to reflect on something that has happened, experience regret and wish we had done something differently. It can enable us to make amends, by saying sorry to someone and learning to do something differently going forward.
‘Holding onto guilt, however, is not good for us and over time can become a toxic experience.’
How long should a child have screen time?
Let’s take screen time as an example, because it’s something many parents will be wondering about right now.
‘This goes back to the “good enough is good enough” piece,’ reminds Fortune. ‘Remember, ALL children have increased access to screen time right now, because so many parents are juggling so many demands, without our usual supportive infrastructure (school, childcare, family members, friends, workplace) to lean on. This means we are relying on it as a distraction.’
Fortune suggests that, if the screen-time guilt is really getting to you, try implementing some play activities simultaneously, so your kids can dip in and out while you work.
If the screen-time guilt is really getting to you, try implementing some play activities simultaneously.
Instead of using tablets, she suggests having the TV on in a family room.
‘If there is also access to toys and jigsaws etc, it means a child might watch a bit, then play a bit, then watch a bit more.
‘If you’re in need of a chunk of uninterrupted work time and you decide to put on a movie, why not make it an engagement activity by giving them a list of household items they must tick off as they watch the movie, turning it into a movie scavenger hunt.
‘Or, if the screen time is increasing and becoming problematic in your family, declare a screen-free day and instead leave a pile of blankets, scarves, a broom, an umbrella, some clothes pegs and other random items in the room, and say their challenge is to work together to make a fort in the sitting room using the items you have left for them.’
Communication is key
Of course, emotions may well be running high during lockdown, and there will be times when you lose your temper or shout. But even when you feel you’ve had a bad day with your kids, there are lessons to be learned and ways to repair the situation.
‘Taking a deep breath and saying sorry that you snapped or yelled at them is important,’ says Fortune. ‘Be truthful: say you are tired and have had some worries today, and it made you shout, but you are calmer now and sorry. This teaches them that even grown-ups can flip our lids and lose our tempers, BUT we can also make amends by saying sorry. This helps children to learn how to do this for themselves.’
Taking a deep breath and saying sorry that you snapped or yelled at them is important.
COVID-19 anxiety: helping your child
If your child is displaying signs of anxiety – perhaps brought on by talk of the pandemic, or maybe because of all the change they’re experiencing in relation to this – it can sometimes be hard to know how to help them feel more secure.
‘Accept and empathise,’ says Fortune. ‘Resist the urge to minimise or even dismiss their fears, as that simply teaches them it is not okay to bring their fears to you.
‘Instead, take a breath, exhale and tell them you don’t know what the answer is, but you are so glad they came to you with this worry, because now you can think about it together.’
Fortune says now is a great time to increase their access to messy, tactile and sensory play, as this is a great way to provide reassurance and nurture.
‘It also allows them to externalise their internal chaos and it often involves a lot of skin-to-skin touch, which helps to lower those stressful cortisol levels.
‘Having a good, authentic belly laugh is a great way to release residual anxiety, too, which is why playing, laughing, shared joy and meaningful connection between you and your children are the best way to deal with anxiety in the current climate.’