Here is the scenario: you've got teenagers at home and have gone from a super busy, on-the-go, constantly Pressed For Time sort of life to one of 14 or 16 hour days of unscheduled time during this Covid19 voluntary quarantine.
It has already been recommended by many sources to keep your kids at home and supervise their social distancing compliance. If that is what you are doing right now, are you find the days getting longer and longer?
Are you really ready to have 2 months of unscheduled time, if that's how long this thing lasts? Day after day, hour after hour, of attempting to fill up time with things more meaningful and necessary than Snapchat, Captain Sauce, Xbox, and frequent trips to the fridge for more cereal milk?
If you need it, here is a blueprint for keeping your kids successfully goal oriented and focused while simultaneously keeping the family peace. Much easier said than done. Structure is everything. Everything.
Your teenagers don't need their hand held. They need basic parameters, expectations and responsibilities. Then you need to back off and let them achieve those things that you have set out for them. Provide them with a list of expectations and let them carry these out one by one on their own. They can ask for help if needed. Screen time may need to be limited until expectations for the day have been completed, especially for younger teens that are less self-directed or for kids that are less responsible. A 17 year old who is goal directed and self-driven may not need any of this at all.
1. Morning Routine: get up at a reasonable hour. It does not need to be at the crack of dawn or follow the high school schedule. But sleeping til noon isn't going to work either. 9am is a good time or even 10am. Especially if kids have gone to bed at a reasonable hour and have gotten a full 8 or 9 hours of sleep. Most teenagers are sleep deprived on a normal day Adequate sleep is critical for mental health and well being (for more on this see the blog post on coping with social distancing) and will decrease everyone's irritability. Lack of sleep might be the single most routinely damaging thing for adolescent mental health that exists. Get dressed. It is tempting to lounge around in pajamas all day and never shower. But, as previously mentioned, structure is everything. Eat breakfast, preferably something more nutritious than a bowl of Lucky Charms, but hey, something is better than nothing.
Pick a set time of day to begin and this must be consistent. From this point, in no particular order, your child can....
2. Read: one hour of reading, at grade level, something of interest. If your child is a bookworm and reading is an escape, perhaps they can be expected to complete the other tasks on their list before reading for pleasure.
3. Complete Schoolwork: In Virginia, our Governor has cancelled school for the rest of the year. That means kids will be at home from March through August, or just about 6 months. Teachers may have set out work to do for each class. Clear guidelines and expectations regarding school should have been outlined. If you child is struggling with this aspect of being home, make sure they are in close communication with their teachers via email and asking questions. If your child is older, researching or working on college applications, career education, or SAT prep may be in order.
4. Do A Chore: Each child is required to do one chore to help the family and the household.
5. Exercise: You are best equipped to decide what is an appropriate amount of time and expected exercise level. Is your child an athlete? If so, they will need to work to maintain their base fitness level. Is your child a couch potato on a normal day? If so, maybe some Wii fit, zumba youtube videos or a brisk walk outside may be sufficient. Exercise is a key component to maintaining mental health during this period of quarantine for everyone, child or adult, and best achieved by being outside if possible (see the exercise component of coping strategies for social distancing).
6. Get Some Fresh Air: Can be combined with the exercise component if needed, kids need to be outside every day. Playing sports, riding bikes, or jumping on the trampoline. If none of these things are options for you, consider just going on a walk together for positive family time, fresh air and exercise all rolled into one.
7. Participate In A Project of Interest: leave this purposefully open ended and vague. Your kids might surprise you with what they come up with! Perhaps a website that teaches coding, perhaps an activity long forgotten found in the garage, perhaps it is sewing masks to help hospital workers. Maybe they will rekindle their love of art or take one of the many virtual tours of a museum or park that is being offered right now for free. Whatever it is, it must be a special project of interest at least one hour once per day. It can be a different thing each day or carry over from one day to another. Of course, doing this for longer than one hour is acceptable also. As long as it is brain food, it will work!
Here is a hint: More than one kid at home? Rotate, so that they are doing each task independently and individually with the exception of exercise and outdoor time which should be done together and as a family if possible.
Another hint: you've got younger kids that are not so self-sufficient? Go ahead and try this structure but modify it or shorten the time frame. Finding an age appropriate project of interest right now should not be difficult. Check out Mo Willems drawing class for an idea of one thing an elementary student might enjoy. Practicing writing and penmanship can be accomplished by writing to elderly in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. There is an endless source of activities but you may need to get creative in order to mix it up to keep it interesting.
After each of these tasks has been completed to your satisfaction, let them be free to do what they want and have their free time to use as they see fit (abiding by social distancing requirements of course).
Set your expectations consistently each day and follow through. Remember, Structure is everything. You may experience resistance at first but this does not last usually more than one week. Before you know it, you will have a structured day, with meaningful activities, that your child can move through mostly on their own. Hopefully your period of quarantine will fly by in the most peaceful way possible. Good luck and if you need help, comment below.
Now offering a free group for anyone needing support during this time of "social distancing" during the Coronavirus Pandemic. It is critical that we remain physically apart from each other as much as we can right now in order to flatten the curve and protect the most vulnerable and elderly among us. But that doesn't mean that need need to isolate ourselves emotionally.
These are challenging, scary and unprecedented times. Sometimes it can help to just talk it out, realize that we are not alone, that what we are feeling and experience is normal and very similar to what other people are going through.
If you would like to participate in a small group for additional support, please email, or give us a call so we can get you signed up.
Strategies to reduce anxiety during Covid-19 Outbreak
1. Limit screen time: when you limit your screen time your mind gets a break and you have a chance to think about and do something else unrelated to the virus. You might consider turning your phone off or giving it to a loved one for a pre-set period of time. Can you limit scrolling to a half hour in the morning and a half hour at night for at least one day? Can you do that for more than one day in a row? Limiting screen time, even for just an hour or two allows us to focus on other happier and more productive things.
2. Sleep Hygiene: It is important to be well rested. For some, this can be a challenge, especially when faced with the increasing anxiety of this virus outbreak and potential for economic downturn. Getting enough rest is critical for boosting our immune system and simultaneously strengthening our mental health. Do you find that you can't turn off your mind once you lay down to sleep? Make sure you are going to bed at the same time each night. Turn off all screens at least one hour, preferably two, prior to going to bed. Deliberately think about things that keep your thoughts away from disaster. Plan a vacation, figure out how to spend the money you win in the multi-million dollar lottery jackpot, imagine what your children are doing in their careers when they grow up or any other topic that you find enjoyable thinking about. The point is not to tell yourself you shouldn't be thinking about current events. That is like trying not to think about a pink elephant in the room. Instead, let your mind free associate on a topic that you find interesting and enjoyable as you are drifting off to sleep.
3. Get moving: The weather is very nice in Virginia right now. Get outside. Breathe in some of that fresh springtime air. Take a walk. You can maintain social distancing and still get out of the house. Is there a new trail somewhere nearby that can simultaneously keep you away from others while giving you new experience? Research has shown that fresh air and sunshine is a natural disinfectant in pandemics that have occurred in the past. Get your Vitamin D.
4. Be aware of your catastrophic thinking: are you spending time creating "what if" scenarios in your mind? How much of has this type of thinking taken over? These are scary times and being scared can sometimes save your life. That is why we are social distancing. But if you have prepared for this as best you can, mentally re-creating worst case scenarios is not helpful and tends to be a mental cycle that can become difficult to get yourself out of. If you find yourself experiencing this, please see steps 1 thru 3.
5. Be grateful: see if you can develop a list of the things that you have to be grateful for. Perhaps the youth and vitality of your children? That this is not a mass extinction event? Use the things you feel grateful for to intentionally combat that catastrophic thinking you may be experiencing and to balance out those worst case scenarios driving up your fear and anxiety. Sometimes thinking is like a muscle. You must make a decision to change it by actively and intentionally exercising.
6. Do more of what makes you happy: See if you can identify a list of things that make you happy. Is it finally catching up on something on your to-do list? Is it returning to activities you once enjoyed before life got so hectic? Is it having quality conversations with someone you love or catching up with old friends? Whatever those things are, see if you can identify them and spend time doing them each day.
7. Connect: There are many options to virtually connect with others right now whether it be through Netflix Party, a video conference with Zoom or calling long-distance relatives that you haven't spoken to in a few years. Connection and relationships is the antidote to anxiety and isolation.
8. Try something new: There are many opportunities right now to participate in something for free. Take an online class, watch an art demonstration, read a new book, listen to some new music. Go an an internet exploration of new music and the arts. Take a virtual trip of a museum you have never been to. Try a new recipe. Try a new look. Re-arrange the furniture. Try developing a new hobby.
9. Coping Skills: think back to a time in your life when you have successfully weathered a storm. What got you through? How hard was it? Probably pretty tough. What strategies did you use then? What are your "go-to" coping skills? See if you can identify exactly what it was that helped you through that difficult time and compare it to what is possible for you to do right now. Sometimes realizing that we have already been through very difficult times that we navigated successfully can give us the confidence to get through what we are dealing with right now.
10. When all else fails: perhaps you have struggled with your mental health even prior to Covid-19 and this has exacerbated pre-existing symptoms of depression and anxiety. If you are having difficulty functioning day to day you may need to seek some individual counseling. Not forever, but to help get you through this stressful event without becoming deeply debilitated. Asking for help is perfectly acceptable. Most individuals are struggling right now to cope with what we are facing. Most outpatient therapists are moving their practices to tele-health. If you are already in therapy, see if your appointments can continue in this way. If you don't have a therapist, book an online appointment. Frequently, all it takes is just a few sessions to get you back on the road to wellness.
We launched just before we had heard the words Coronavirus and Covid19 for the first time. Social distancing was not the motivator to start this 100% telehealth practice. It was for many other brick and mortar practices now scrambling to get set up online.
Getting started, the motivator was accessibility and convenience. We are able to address some very unique and difficult barriers to care with this platform and that is exciting.
Making it possible for mothers to get counseling from the comfort of their home while their children are small was a driving factor.
Talking to the man with panic disorder having difficulty leaving home inspired us to provide e-therapy.
The idea of talking with a depressed person who has a hard time getting up, dressed and showered pushed us forward. In the past, those tasks may have been a barrier to care. Now, it is our hope that even if you are depressed and still in bed, you can find the energy to log in to the patient portal and attend your session. We really don't care what your house looks like, whether you are sitting up or lying down, or even if you're in your PJ's. We are going to work with you until you are well enough to be able to get up and look forward to starting your day. Yes, with the right combinations of treatment it is possible. Very possible.
Before going public with this practice, we got certified in telemental health practices. We read and studied up. Combined, we have a great deal of experience working remotely already so this is a natural blend of skills for us.
For many people, the idea of online counseling is new.
We hope you will give it a try. We are looking forward to meeting you.
Check out our next blog post for ideas on what to do with teenagers stuck at home during this period of "social distancing" we are facing.
All my best,