Stress Management and Resiliency-Building
Resilience can be described as “the ability to overcome serious hardship” (“Resilience”, Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University). When children have effective coping strategies and positive experiences, they are better able to withstand negative or difficult situations.
The first step to taking good care of your child is to take good care of yourself. You may have heard the saying, “you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can help others.” This is especially true for parents. Try the tips below based on resources from the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Zero to Three to develop your own personal resilience.
- Maintain a daily routine for yourself.
- Take regular breaks when possible to exercise, meditate, and regroup.
- Pay attention to and acknowledge your feelings.
- Adjust your expectations of yourself and practice self-compassion. Now is the time to be more flexible and forgiving of yourself and your parenting.
- Focus your time and energy on things that you do have control over instead of things that you don’t have control over.
- Spend a few minutes each day thinking about what you are grateful for.
- Stay connected. Schedule regular check-ins with friends, family, and/or mental health providers.
Supportive relationships are critical to a child’s healthy development. Here are some suggestions of ways that you can reinforce a supportive relationship with your child:
- Give your child “positive attention”: eye contact, smiles, gestures of affection such as a hug or pat on the back, praise for completed tasks, and interest in your child’s daily accomplishments.
- If possible, have regular one-on-one time with your child. Plan time to spend with your child one-on-one doing an activity of their choosing. This may be drawing, playing a game, or listening to music together--it does not have to be fancy or complex! Even 10 to 15 minutes of uninterrupted attention a few times a week can be significant to your child and can reinforce your loving relationship.
- Spend “quality time” with your child while completing day-to-day tasks. For example, share a laugh during bath time, chat while doing housework, or share a snack break.
- Help your child be part of your family’s team. You can promote a sense of belonging by giving your child the opportunity to contribute to the family. This can include having your child take on simple chores; for example, picking up their toys (2-3 year-olds), or helping sort clothes after they’ve been washed and dried (4-5 year-olds). You can also give your child the opportunity to make some decisions independently (for example, deciding how to organize their clothes or stuffed animals), and participate in family decisions (for example, what activity to do as a family or what to have for dinner).
Engaging in regular physical activity helps improve children’s bone health, fitness, and movement skills. Physical activity has also been shown to improve cognition and reduce depressive symptoms in school-aged children. Below are some guidelines and suggestions for activities (organized by age group) to help encourage your child to stay physically active. Doing activities with your child can help you stay physically active as well! Remember to be safe when supporting your child’s active play and physical activity, and follow your local guidelines on physical distancing.
- Under 1 year: play on the floor, and be physically active several times a day. Young infants who aren’t yet mobile should have tummy time spread throughout waking times of day.
- 1-2 years: target ~3 hours or more of physical activity at any intensity. This can include active play at home and outdoors (when safely possible), spending less time in strollers, and exploring different movements such as walking, jumping, and balancing on one leg.
- Here are some activities you can do with your child at home: play with a ball; climb stairs or onto soft places like a bed or sofa; peek-a-boo; enact movements of different animals; throw and catch (you can do this with a sock ball!); and picking things up around your home. For more activities, see here (search by age).
- 3-5 years: target ~3 hours or more of physical activity at various intensities. This can include time for active play, such as walking, running, skipping, hopping, riding a bicycle/tricycle, and jumping (when possible with physical distancing).
- Here are some activities you can do with your child at home: games with sock balls like soccer, bowling, and catch; play with a balloon; copy or mirror movements; have a family dance party; and have your child help with things like picking up toys or even folding laundry with you. For more activities, see here (search by age).
Staying socially connected during this time of physical distancing is crucial for the well-being of children and adults. Here are some suggestions for ways to stay connected:
- Connect with physically distant family members virtually with any platform and encourage your child to participate.
- From a safe distance, wave hello or say something nice to neighbors and passers-by.
- Make a positive sign together as a family and hang it in your window.
- Help your child make cards for or write something to friends and family.
Right now, you may find it difficult to know how to help your child navigate their experiences. Below are some tips to help your child (and maybe even you!) process uncomfortable emotions and uncertainty. (Visit the University of Michigan or NASP for more information.)
- Acknowledge that your child, no matter how young, may feel some of the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and all of the changes that come with it. This does not mean that you have not done your best to support and protect them.
- Recognize how young children may react to stress. Young children may have difficulty separating from trusted caregivers, may cry more often, or may have difficulty sleeping. They may also show signs of regression, such as bed wetting in a child who is already potty trained.
- Help your child 1) express their thoughts, feelings, and worries; 2) explore their thoughts and consider what is true and not true; and 3) come up with new thoughts that are true but also less worrisome.
As much as possible, allow your child to express their thoughts and feelings, and validate their concerns. Then, help them focus on positive thoughts and gratitude. See our section on “What should I tell my child about COVID-19?” for tips on how to have conversations about the COVID-19 pandemic with your child.