By Marté J. Matthews, MA, LMFT
Clinical Director, Child & Family Counseling Group
2020 has been a tough, tough year. These recent weeks under smoky skies can lead us to think about what we have lost, the things we cannot do, and all the things outside of our control. This is stressful on us as parents and for our children.
This is time to dig deep. Our grandparents made it through tough times, national financial crises and international wars. They even did it without the internet or iPads! In the generations since then, we have endured little real suffering as a community. Until now. We are really feeling it.
Stress makes it harder to be flexible, to think creatively. We get bogged down, and can’t think of great ways to solve the problems we face. By using healthy coping skills as a family, we can tip the scales. Our kids need us to help them balance out these many negative experiences with some positive supports and skill-building.
The smoke is clearing from the skies. It’s time to show the kids: we are a family of problem-solvers! Parents, demonstrate that “yes, this is hard, but I’ve got this.” Let’s get started!
Get outside Go enjoy the golden hills and green trees in regional parks and open spaces. Now that we have a few days of healthy air quality, get out for a socially distanced walk in the woods, a family bike ride, or a hike in the hills. Try getting out in a canoe or rowboat, or fishing in a river. Time in nature provides both soothing and stimulation, promoting confidence and creativity. Exercise boosts levels of hormones that improve and regulate everyone’s mood. Bring your bug spray, sunscreen, water bottle and your masks.
Can’t go outside due to heat or smoke? We have many resources at our fingertips. You’ve got this!
Build focus For younger kids try games like Red Light, Green Light and Simon Says. For older kids, try crossword puzzles, Sudoku, mazes and puzzles. Chess anyone? Don’t know how to play? Learn together!
Build teamwork & problem-solving skills Cahoots and Forbidden Island are fun for families. Find suggestions for even more cooperative games at: https://coopboardgames.com/rankings/best-cooperative-family-board-games
Get silly Charades or Happy Salmon or Don’t Rock the Boat get everyone laughing. Laughter releases natural hormones in our bodies and brains that decrease stress hormones and increase healthy immune cells.
Get cooking Little ones can wash fruits and vegetables and even set the table. Bigger kids can chop and measure ingredients. Enjoy a little time all together as you prepare and enjoy a good meal. Get some fun recipes at Food Network or Delish.com
Get the job done Look for the “little wins!” You don’t have to try to clean out the entire garage in a weekend. Organize one shelf, one drawer, one cabinet. Take before & after photos to remind yourself how much better it looks once it is all organized. Each time we complete a project, our brain releases a tiny bit of serotonin, a great totally natural stress reliever.
Calm tension Apps like Calm, Headspace for Kids, Insight Timer or Stop, Breathe & Think are a great introduction to meditation and guided imagery. Websites like Cosmic Kids Yoga are a great study break to get their bodies moving, hearts pumping and minds centered.
Take Action Feeling discouraged by the political climate? Write postcards to voters or your local politicians about what matters to you. Feeling discouraged about the planet’s climate? Volunteer to collect supplies needed at local Red Cross and other shelters for those displaced by the fires. Take a trash bag and work gloves to the beach or a local park to help clean it up. Donate food at Second Harvest or another local food bank.
Set limits Define and set limits on your work hours. Try working “split shifts.” Talk with your co-workers and your boss. Put your heads together and find ways to make this work. Limit your news intake. Avoid video news that shows the same sensational images over & over.
Parents can build stamina & resiliency by facing these hard times with courage and a healthy attitude, and when parents lead this way, children can follow. If you could use a little extra support right now to deal with these stressful times, remember Child & Family Counseling Group offers counseling for parents, too!