5 ways to regain a healthy family balance
Your kids are back at school after months of sheltering in place and they are likely enjoying sports, friends, and extracurricular activities. While it’s great they are dipping their toes (or diving in) to all life has to offer, you might find they are grumpy, anxious or stressed. In their desire to break the boredom of pandemic life, maybe they are doing too much, too soon. Or maybe they got used to a lot of downtime and are now overwhelmed. Here’s some tips on finding a healthy balance within your family post pandemic lockdown.
1. Welcome feelings
Help your kids voice what they are feeling. When your kids act irritated or anxious, point it out. Reflect their feelings back to them, as in ‘you look and sound really mad,’ or, ‘you are telling me by your actions that you are stressed. Stressed is when you feel like you have too much to do, or you don’t like what you are doing or what’s happening.’
“Start talking to your kids about the true nature of feelings, explaining how some are not much fun to feel, but they won’t last. Kids need to know to expect times of discomfort,” says Tom Kowalski, MA, LPC, a licensed professional counselor in Fort Collins.
If your elementary-aged son waited all day for a friend who didn’t show, you could say, ‘you must be disappointed that he didn’t come over,’ and leave it at that. Resist trying to dig in too much to find out why your kids are feeling the way they are feeling. Open the door and let them walk in and start talking, if they so choose. Even if they don’t share, you’ve let them know you care.
“Make it safe for kids to have feelings. The best way to do this is for your kids to witness their family expressing their feelings and affections,” Kowalski adds.
2. Match your child’s personality with the activity load
Every child’s comfort level with activity is different. Some prefer to run from one event to the next. Others feel overwhelmed with just making it to school and a practice a few times a week. One way is not better than the other. What’s imperative is matching your child’s activity level with their nature. When picking activities and making plans, take cues from your kids on how much they can handle.
Maybe your kindergartener decided they liked doing school at home, with you nearby and the lack of pressure of a classroom. After all, kindergarten is a great place for kids to learn at their own pace and with someone who can provided one-on-one attention. Make it a point to mimic personal time with your child after school or in the evenings, so she gets a fix of quiet, downtime. If her school offers a hybrid model, consider opting for it to let her get back into the swing of school at a slower pace.
3. Have a set daily schedule
Structure is a good thing. Having daily routines—eating meals together and going to bed at about the same time each day—has great value in helping kids feel secure. It also helps kids stay healthy and reduces stress.
Requiring some structure and asking kids to get involved in something other than school is important. Some parents make a rule that their kids have to, say, join one sport or club each semester at a minimum. Others insist they join the youth group at church. This all helps kids find balance in their lives.
4. Find calm without media
Make it a family goal to cut down on media use. After so many months of interacting with friends and family online, performing school online, and all kids’ natural obsession with media, it’s a good idea to consciously cut back on computer and cell phone use. Too much media time can cause stress and create a sense of disconnection in kids or between family members.
“Kids can get bad information from movies, television and other forms of media that they don’t know what to do with, and they find it overwhelming,” Kowalski says.
You may have to establish some new rules. Maybe it’s creating device-free zones in your house, or setting device-free times each day. Or, set the rule that media can only be used after kids have finished their daily duties of homework, chores, meals and exercise.
Another idea is to take regular vacations from social media. You could literally go away but leave all devices (except cell phones) at home, making a rule that cell phones can only be used for emergencies. Or, take random 24-hour vacations from texting or social media. Instead, of rewarding with media, reward with quality time together as a family.
5. Watch your expectations
As parents, we have expectations of our kids. Maybe you want them to carpe diem and get involved in lots of activities. Maybe you expect straight As and their names on the honor role. Or maybe you want your teen to get a job and help with family responsibilities. Once in a while, it’s wise to step back and consider your expectations and how well they match with your child’s needs, desires and skills. After all, your kids might act to please you—and feel stressed doing it—because they don’t want to disappoint you.
If your child says they no longer like an activity they were doing before, resist shutting it down. Instead, be open to hearing their point of view and considering other options. Also, with school, send the message that the goal is working hard and doing their best, not earning the highest scores.
In general, if your child signs up for an activity and wants to quit halfway through, encourage him to stick it out for the session or season, letting him know he doesn’t have to sign up again next time. Try to get to the root of his hesitation. If he doesn’t feel like he is good at an activity, remind them that taking the time to do something is how he learns and gets better, and that practice includes making mistakes or not knowing the answer. After all, learning how to cope rather than quitting can create self confidence in unknown situations, increasing a sense of calm.
Help in a crisis
With the disruption of the pandemic, ER visits have increased across Northern Colorado due to behavioral health problems. If someone in your family is in crisis, contact one of the following:
Crisis Assessment Center, Emergency Department of PVH/UCH
1024 S. Lemay, Fort Collins
Mental Health Connections
525 West Oak, Fort Collins
Walk in services 8- 4 pm
North Range Behavioral Health
928 12th St., Greeley
Crisis walk-In service
SummitStone Health Partners
700 Centre Ave, Fort Collins
1250 N. Wilson Ave, Loveland
24/7 Crisis line: (970) 494-4200, Text: TALK to 38255
Lynn U Nichols is a longtime Fort Collins-based freelance writer who specializes in health and wellness content. She raised two boys while writing for RM Parent Magazine, gratefully applying the wisdom she gleaned from interviews with child experts along the way. Learn more at healthwritecommunications.com.