When stress arises in the first category, go for it. Bake the bread! When it comes to the second, there are two helpful paths. The first is acceptance, which is easy to say and hard to do. The second is finding positive distractions: talking to friends, watching funny movies, exercising, eating chocolate.
How can parents help their kids?
Create routines. It doesn’t have to be like the military, but kids need the world to be predictable more than they need it to be consistently pleasant. Anything we can do to move toward routines, the better. What’s hard is that parents have lost their routines as well. So, be gentle with yourself and our child. Have aspirational routines. Make provisional routines and assess them. Refine them until they become sturdy.
What should we be on the lookout for with our kids?
Be careful about negative coping mechanisms. These include substance abuse, self-harm, withdrawal and mistreating others. If you see negative coping mechanisms developing, it’s very helpful to recognize it as a way to cope. Even if what they’re doing is unhealthy, they’re doing it as a way to feel better. The trouble with unhealthy coping mechanisms that they offer some relief in the short term but make things worse in the long term. People who are doing this should be encouraged to feel better in ways that don’t hurt themselves or others.
If people feel like they can’t get away from their unhealthy coping mechanism, they can now get psychological help without leaving their homes. The Department of Health and Human Services just lifted all regulations on telehealth. To find a practitioner, go through the same old referral system as you would in ordinary times. Call your general practitioner for recommendations. Psychology Today also has a good marketplace to find a therapist.
Is there anything positive for families to come out of this crisis?
Without minimizing the impact of unemployment or illness, this just made life easier in some ways, in terms of the complexity and demands of family life. There’s also no excuse now for not getting enough sleep. High school kids need nine hours. Middle-schoolers need ten. And elementary-school children require 11 hours of sleep.
Lisa Damour is a psychologist and author of Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls.