The Pandemic Toolkit Parents Need

Our families will come out with greater personal strength and resilience as we practice self-care, rely on others and c

Source: National Cancer Institute / Unsplash

As the coronavirus spreads across the world, we are surrounded by tragedies and uncertainties. We find ourselves navigating a terrain that changes daily. Work interruptions. Family disturbances. Health problems. It seems no one is immune to increased stress and anxiety as we move through the unknown.

On top of everything, parents are struggling to take on the new role of teacher as schools close or move to online classes. We feel the current tension affecting our ability to adjust to a new normal. Where are we going to start? How do we help our children when we need help ourselves?

Dr Bruce Perry, a child psychologist and trauma specialist, has a helpful guide for parents looking for answers. His research on managing stress and maintaining regulation can inform us as we face the challenges ahead. Self-regulation involves controlling our own behavior, emotions, and thoughts as we pursue long-term goals. This crucial skill is something parents can help develop in their children, especially during times of uncertainty and stress.

Stress doesn’t have to be a bad thing if we react in a way that increases our resilience. We can do our best to introduce stress to our children in predictable, moderate, and controllable ways.

Bruce D. Perry, used with permission

8 Tips from Dr Bruce Perry to Help Families Stay Regulated During Times of Stress and Uncertainty.

Source: Bruce D. Perry, used with permission

Perry proposed 8 tools for families to use during the coronavirus pandemic:

1. Structure your day. As plans and expectations change in the midst of this global crisis, we can aim to continue routines with our children. Our children are more tolerant of stress when it is introduced in predictable ways, such as daily chores, bedtime routines, etc. It is when stress is unpredictable, extreme and prolonged that children become more vulnerable than resilient.

2. Eat meals as a family. Mealtime is a great way to maintain structure and routine while checking in with our kids. If there are behavioral issues or family issues to discuss, we can make sure our children feel safe and heard first. This will make them more receptive to our message. Like Perry said“We need to regulate people before we can possibly persuade them with cognitive argument or coerce them with emotional affect. We can help our children regulate, then build relationships, then reason. Ensuring our meals are rich in nutrients will help our families manage an active stress response during this time.

3. Limit the media. While navigating this pandemic, many of us experience a state of fear, and children are no exception. Much like the coronavirus, emotions are very contagious and children often sense when others are anxious or upset. In a state of fear, children rely more on the primitive parts of the body. brains. We must avoid violent media, which can further activate the stress response system. This leaves children unprepared to learn using more sophisticated parts of their brains. Technology can be a great tool for making connection with others when you’re physically far away, but relying too much on media can replace time spent building empathy, learning to relieve stress from others, and connecting. emotionally.

4. Exercise. Now is the time to get creative and get the bodies moving while practicing social distancing. As mentioned earlier, when children are in a state of fear, they are in a heightened state of arousal, relying on areas of the brain that are less functioning. Pear States:

The only way to go from these very high anxiety states to calmer, more cognitive states is through rhythm. Patterned and repetitive rhythmic activity: walking, running, dancing, singing, repetitive meditative breathing – you use somatosensory networks linked to the brainstem that make your brain accessible for relational reward (limbic brain) and cortical thinking.

5. Reach out. Connecting with others is one of our best tools. Perry tells us, “The most powerful buffer during times of stress and distress is our social bond; so let’s all remember to stay physically distant but emotionally close. Reach out and connect. Dealing with such unprecedented circumstances is almost impossible on our own. It’s okay to reach out, ask for help, and accept help. Taking care of our own needs is essential when it comes to meeting the needs of our children. An unregulated child cannot be regulated by an unregulated parent.

Bruce D. Perry, used with permission

It is the moral obligation of people from a privileged background to care for those in distress and marginalized.

Source: Bruce D. Perry, used with permission

6. Help others. Many people who have experienced adversity in the past are in a state of awareness and vulnerability. They may have experienced poverty, racism, violence, marginalization, etc., which increases their risk of behaviors such as “comfort” eating, emotional isolation, sleep disturbances, etc. We can reach out to those people who are already prone to an overactive stress reaction. Perry emphasizes the moral obligation of those of us who come from privileged backgrounds, who have learned resilience and coping strategies in predictable environments, to care for those in distress and marginalized. He declares:

The real crisis of this current pandemic is not necessarily in the next six months. It’s really, what are we going to [sic] to do with the social and emotional toll this has on individuals and families, who will remain most marginalized over the next six decades?

7. Practice good sleep hygiene. It is not uncommon for us to be in a heightened state of alarm during this pandemic, feeling the need to always be prepared to face a threat. We can find ourselves physically and emotionally exhausted at a faster rate than normal. Sleeping a little longer is normal while our body is in a state of heightened alertness. We can have more restful sleep if we exercise in the morning or afternoon, relax with calming activities, and avoid late eating and watching screens.

8. Stay positive and forward looking. As mentioned earlier, emotions are contagious. Pear informed “Just as anxiety and panic are contagious, so is calm… Don’t underestimate your power to calm others down and don’t underestimate the impact of deregulated people on you. When we remain calm and regulated, those around us will feel less anxious. Everyone will be healthier socially, emotionally, and physically if we help each other shape positive responses to stress. When we interact with things that bother us, like an abundance of negative news or relationships with anxious people, we can act to re-regulate ourselves by ‘filling our cup’, using music, movement, relationships. social, journaling, etc.

It is a trying and unprecedented time. Let’s be gentle with ourselves and practice self-compassion. Allow us to mourn the missed time with your loved ones, your travel plans, the celebrations and the stability. We probably won’t be as productive as we normally would be; we can preventively reduce our workload when possible before feelings of exhaustion overwhelm us.

Our families will come out with greater personal strength and resilience as we practice self-care, rely on others, and connect with the marginalized around us.

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