8 tips for mindful parenting during a crisis
Mindful parenting is difficult enough during our normal, every day lives. But when you throw in a healthy dose of fear and anxiety caused by a global pandemic and an ever growing list of social restrictions? Well it becomes just that little bit more difficult doesn’t it? In fact, you might even be thinking that mindful parenting during a crisis just can’t be done.
After all, everyone’s emotions are running high right now. This is NOT normal, every day life. We are living through a major crisis. And navigating that takes a lot of emotional and physical energy.
And then there’s the kids.
As parents, the way we support and guide our children through this will have a significant, lasting impact on them. Which is why mindful parenting is just as important now as it ever has been. In fact, it’s probably more important now in this topsy turvy world we find ourselves in.
Remember, mindful parenting is not perfect parenting. We don’t need to get it right every time. We can be our child’s safe and secure home base, even when it feels like our own world has been turned upside down. We can be their certainty in an uncertain world.
If we can respond to our children with warmth and empathy, and provide them with the stability and connection they require, then we can safely -mindfully – guide them through this crisis. AND, we can help them build resilience and even strengthen our relationship with them along the way.
Here are 8 ways you can parent more mindfully during times of crisis and upheaval.
8 tips for parenting mindfully during a crisis
1. Be mindful of your own emotions
How we are feeling can set the tone for the rest of the family. Our children tend to pick up on (and absorb) the emotions we ourselves are projecting. If we are feeling anxious, fearful, or overwhelmed, we will see these emotions reflected back to us in the words and actions of our children.
Furthermore, in difficult times, we tend to focus on how our children are feeling and neglect to check in with our emotions. We become focused on making sure the children are ok, but in reality, taking care of how we feel is just as important! After all, we cannot respond mindfully to our children if we are overwhelmed by our own big emotions.
So I want you to relax your shoulders, unclench your jaw, and remove your tongue from the roof of your mouth. You didn’t even notice you were holding tension in your body did you? Now check if there’s any more, and release that too. And keep checking, every day. Because how you feel matters.
2. Lower your expectations
Of yourself. And of your child.
No one is their best self during times of stress. Your stress response is on rapid fire right now and your brain is working overtime to keep you safe. This means your emotional brain is in control and your thinking brain is taking a bit of a back seat. Your child’s is too.
There will be meltdowns. Yelling. Lashing out. Arguments. Your child might be more forgetful. They may be having more trouble focusing and following directions than they usually do. They may even regress a little. This is all normal. This is all a reflection of the stressful situation they find themselves in. You may need to adjust your expectations, and some of your rules and routines, too.
You’ll also need to cut yourself some slack. Too tired to make dinner? That’s ok. Kids getting more screen time than usual? That’s ok. Not keeping up with all the school work being sent home? House a mess? Emails waiting longer in your inbox than usual? Didn’t find time to call your friend back? Didn’t plan any elaborate nature/craft/baking/STEM/sensory play activities for the kids today? ALL. OK.
You are only human. And it will take time to adjust to your new normal. Try not to compare yourself to anyone else. Stop scrolling Instagram if it makes you feel bad. Just do what you gotta do to get by. Your children don’t need your perfection. They just need you.
3. Accept the things you can’t control
One of the main tenets of mindfulness is acceptance. Acceptance of our thoughts and our feelings. And acceptance of situations as they are. This doesn’t mean we have to like or agree with them, of course. It’s simply about having the wisdom to understand that fighting against things we cannot change only causes us more suffering. And this is especially true during a crisis.
There is a lot of uncertainty around at the moment. Uncertainty causes anxiety. And an anxious brain focuses on danger. It focuses on all of the what ifs, and the things that are beyond our control. This of course, worsens our anxiety.
In order to reduce our anxiety and begin to feel more grounded and anchored in the present, we instead need to simply accept the things we cannot control, and focus instead on all the things we are in control of.
What can we control right now? Our routines. Our actions. Our words. How much sleep we get. What we fuel our bodies with. How we treat others. How we treat ourselves. Our mindset.
Need a little help reframing the situation and adjusting your mindset? Check out our Mindful Mama Mantra Cards for some helpful, motivational affirmations that will remind you of what’s important right now.
4. Set boundaries
For some of us, it can be hard to say no. But a lack of boundaries can compound our stress and see us taking on too much. So during times of stress, it is even more important than usual to know what your boundaries are, and to maintain them.
If you’re trying to work from home, boundaries are especially important right now. When we leave for work each morning and return each night, there is a clear separation of work time and home time. But right now, it’s ALL happening at home. Which means you might need to put boundaries in place to protect both your home and work life. And your sanity.
You don’t need to check (and reply) to work emails or phone calls at all hours of the day. And you don’t need to respond to, and be available for your kids at all hours of the day either.
Some of you may be able to work with children at your feet, or sitting in your lap. Some of you may be able to take extra breaks to play board games and get snacks. Some of you may be able to leave emails or report writing until after the kids go to bed. And some of you may need to get your work done during the day. It’s all ok.
It’s ok to say no. It’s ok to let people know what your limits are. It’s ok to have a clear separation of home and work time, even if you are working in your trackpants from the couch. Your kids will be ok in front of the TV while you have that conference call. And your boss will be ok if you wait until the morning to reply to her email. Boundaries are important. Set them if you need to.
5. Incorporate mindfulness into your routine
Practicing mindfulness yourself can help you feel more grounded in the present moment. It can help you to manage stress and anxiety by bringing your focus back to what is happening right now, rather than on what could happen in the future, or what has happened in the past.
Plus, regular mindful breathing can calm the stress response in the short term, and make it less reactive in the long term. Less reacting and more responding? That’s the goal!
Try practicing some mindful breathing each morning before you get out of bed, or doing a quick body scan at night before you go to sleep. Just 10 mins a day can make a huge difference to how you respond to stress.
6. Filter the news
I spoke about the importance of not exposing our children to too much news in my last post: How to talk to kids about traumatic events. But this point is not only important for kids.
How many of you are glued to your phones right now, wanting to absorb as much information as possible about coronavirus? Reading article after article, constantly checking stats, watching press releases, and engaging in conversations on social media?
Stop it. Now.
Of course, you need to know what’s going on in the world. But you don’t need a minute by minute account. And I’m guessing that the constant scrolling is NOT helping you feel better. In fact, it’s probably fuelling your anxiety rather than easing it.
An already stressed brain will only feel more overwhelmed by more information. As it works harder and harder to process the information we continue to feed it, the brain releases more and more cortisol. This stress hormone causes us to become confused, anxious, and overwhelmed.
So step away from the phone. Give yourself permission to take a break from the information overload. Your brain will thank you for it. And so will your kids.
7. Make time for connection
Human beings are wired for connection. And in times of stress and uncertainty, we need it more than ever.
Connection with our extended family and network of friends will likely look a little different right now, but it’s still important.
So check in with your family members. Text your friends. Smile at people as you walk past them in the street. Thank the cashier when you buy your groceries. Those small moments of connection add up. They lower cortisol and help us feel less stressed.
The same goes for your kids. They are missing their own social connections right now. They are also needing more connection from you in order to feel safe and contained. But it doesn’t have to be elaborate or time consuming!
In fact, right now, simple is best. Read a book. Watch their favourite TV show together. Let them tell you about their favourite Pokemon. Leave a love note on their mirror. Ruffle their hair as you walk past. Look up from your computer when they enter the room.
You may even find that if you are able to fill their love tank with these small actions now, they will be better able (and more willing!) to spend some time alone later when you need to get that work done!
8. Practise Self Care
We all know that self care is important. It helps us manage stress. It prevents burnout and exhaustion. It protects our mental health. It helps keep us healthy and happy.
But right now, it may be the furthest thing from your mind. It may also feel like it’s next to impossible. Particularly since many of our regular self care activities like going out for coffee with a friend, hitting the gym, or getting a mani/pedi are now out of the question.
But while your self care might look a little different at the moment, it’s still important to get some in whenever (and however) you can. Here are a few ideas that might work with your current social restrictions:
- Get enough sleep – go to bed early (or sneak in a nap!)
- Talk to a friend on the phone
- Get a group of friends together for a virtual coffee (or wine) via an app like Zoom
- Go for a walk in the sunshine
- Do some journaling
- Listen to your favourite music
- Have a kitchen dance party
- Drink your tea or coffee outside and listen to the sounds of nature while you sip
- Have a bubble bath
- Do a short mindfulness meditation before you get out of bed
- Spend 15 minutes reading a book before you go to sleep
Above all, remember: your kids don’t need a perfect parent. They need a present parent. So take the pressure off yourself, throw the “rules” out the window and just try to do one thing: show up. Every day. It doesn’t matter what it looks like. Just be consistent. All your children really want and need right now, is you. In all of your imperfect, messy, stressed out glory. So take care of you, okay?
Sarah is a psychologist, mama of 4 and the creator of Mindful Little Minds. She has over 10 years of experience working with children, adolescents and families experiencing mental health problems and has a special interest in anxiety disorders in children. In her spare time she enjoys hugging her kids, drinking coffee, and telling anyone who’ll listen how tired she is.