Psychiatrists suggest 13 tips for parents to cope with crisis

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The Maltese Association of Psychiatrists has published a list of 13 tips which can help parents cope with the coronavirus crisis. The aim of these psychiatrists is that parents rather than viewing this time of uncertainty as a threat, it can be viewed as a challenge. They say that this is a challenge to slow down, to focus on the things we value the most, and that is our family, and to change our ways and redefine our ‘new lives’.

The Malta Association of Psychiatrists notes that this could also be a time for an increase in abuse both via domestic violence and towards children. They urge victims not to remain silent but they should seem help call 179 or speak to your doctor about it. 

13 tips for parents which may help keep the balance:

1.       Get Structured

Try setting up a daily routine within your home, write up a time table but don’t become a slave to this, use it as a guide. Within this routine for your children include; academic, creative, outdoor, quiet time and chores. Being idle gives way to the mind to wonder and those are the times when we can become overwhelmed with negative automatic thoughts. Keep busy but do not overdo it.

2.       Keeping calm and managing stress

The world has given us an opportunity to slow done, take this opportunity, try working on a real balance between work and time for leisure. This is the most important time to be aware of one’s boundaries and use the limit setting. At this time we are constantly being bombarded by social media some of which includes mixed messages. To add to this we have relatives, colleagues and friends calling to vent out the worries or seek comfort. Of course be present and available to them, but remember the most important people in your life are your family, and they need you the most, so do not feel uncomfortable to turn off your phone or be unavailable to the outside world for some time. You have to respect yourself so as to be available for your loved ones, a burnt-out parent only means that your children will suffer.

3.       One on One time

Set time aside to work on the individual and unique relationships you have with each of your children, now that we have more time on your hands, is the time to give them what they always craved for, us to be able to listen to their stories, to follow their self-directed play and to enter their worlds and explore the creativity whilst giving them the opportunities to problem-solve.

4.       Talking about Covid-19

This is a time for clear communication with our children, not to give mixed messages or give too much detail but to pitch what is going on at an appropriate level to meet their developmental age. Try to set clear boundaries for when talking about Covid-19 is allowed at home and have Covid-19 free moments during the day were talking about other topics are encouraged.

5.       Keeping it positive

Be aware of the non-verbal communication we pass on to our children, they are also trying to make sense of these sudden changes, so although it is quite right that we may feel a little more anxious, preoccupied or keyed up, it is important that we pass on the message of hope to our children, a message that all this will one day pass, and that most of us will live through it. Think of how they will recall these moments in 10 years from now, it is an opportunity for them to  look back on these days as being the best days of their lives. The best days because their parents were home with them and they were not rushed from activity to activity, nor bogged down with the excessive academic pressures of school. 

6.       Social contact

Try to encourage your children to keep up social contact with their friends, over video calls, it will continue to enhance the growth of their friendships as well as further their social skills. 

7.       Limit setting

Try to limit their time on social media, be aware of which websites they are visiting, be aware of online bullying and abuse and also be clear and honest with them that not all they read online is true. Check out the Facts!

8.       Coping with stress

We all face daily stressors and as a result, all use coping strategies to keep our sanity. There are good coping strategies such as going for a walk, or a run, watching a film, taking a warm bath, cooking a nice meal and negative social strategies such as using alcohol and drugs, eating fast food, engaging in toxic relationships, resorting to self-harm behaviours. Try to work with your children on choosing to do the former.

9.       Accumulate pleasant activities

Encourage your children to carry out at least one pleasurable activity every day, if they are old enough they could do this alone, such as read a book, write a journal, call a friend, bake, make a gift for someone or get creative. Now is the time to bring out those science experiments toys which have been gathering dust in the cupboard for years. Accumulative positive parent-teen experiences such as going for a walk together, doing some DIY at home, getting your hair or make-up done, do some gardening.

10.   Develop mastery

It is also a time to build from these pleasant activities to develop mastery in an area which your children seem to have a talent in and find entertaining, such as making home videos, writing plays, having their own garden patch. 

11.   Coping ahead

This is also a time to cope ahead, to discuss with them stressors in their lives and ways in which they can problem solve. It is the time to use distress tolerance techniques such as singing out loud in the shower when things get too bad, or listening to motivating music or going for a fast run.

12.   Mindfulness

The world has asked us to slow down, so now is the opportunity to make use of the mindfulness exercises we have heard so much about in recent years. Mindfulness is the practice of being fully immersed the present, aware of our surroundings, not getting lost in worries about the past or the future and to push away any judgemental thoughts which come to mind. It is a time to totally immerse ourselves into that activity we are carrying out at the moment in time without giving way to worrying thoughts which are beyond our control and are happening in the world around us.

13.   Physical Health

Lastly there is no good mental health without good physical health. During this time we may be spending more time at home but try whilst it is still safe to take your children outside for walks or a run, do this as a family and do not stop to mingle with others you may meet in the street. Try to vary the places you may take your children and if you see crowds choose other places. But this time is all about the balance and whilst keeping away from the potential of spreading Covid-19 to others, we can not forget that poor sleep, unhealthy food, obesity, being inactive leads to weakened muscles, bones and increases the risks of heart disease and diabetes. 

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