It was recently Children’s Mental Health Week and as part of that I’ve been reflecting on how our own mental health as parents is hugely important, but also how we can be supporting our children’s mental health – particularly as we’ve had such a challenging year with many of us still in lockdown at the moment.
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Many of the parents and professionals I work with are really seeing the impact of the last year or so on their children and their behaviour, but also how they are feeling as a parent.
I know that this second lockdown has been the hardest for me – it’s February, so here in the UK it’s cold, it’s wet, it’s windy, and I’m a summer person. I think that, combined with the very short days, is making this lockdown harder. We haven’t seen our family and friends for a number of months now and it’s so hard to have our support network taken away from us, it makes it really difficult to manage.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been really struggling with tiredness and exhaustion. I don’t think I’m the only one feeling that from conversations I’ve had with various different people. The whole thing is just tiring.
Spring is on it’s way so hopefully things will improve, but it really does make a big different to how we are feeling and how we are coping.
In today’s blog I thought I’d share a few things that I’m doing here at home to help me, to help my son – to help both of us get through this lockdown and make it feel a little bit easier and help keep us mentally and emotionally healthy.
Tip 1 – Have a Different Routine At Weekends…
It really helps to break the week up. Having a different routine at the weekends is really important. When you’re in the house 24/7 it makes the days all seem to merge in to one. So if you’d normally have a school week routine, and a weekend routine, try to do that as much as possible.
I feel so much better having a different routine at the weekends and for me that looks like anything from the time we get up in the morning at the weekends (little bit lazier at the weekends), changing up the meal times, to trying to get much more interaction between me and my son at the weekends when we’re not working and online learning. which leads me on to number 2…
Tip 2 – Regular Connection & Contact Through The Day
I think it’s really important and it’s something that can quite easily get missed when you’re at home together all day. One parent said to me recently “I’ve had a realisation Sarah! I watched one of your training videos and realised that actually, I haven’t been present. I’m present a lot of the time, but I’m not present!”.
Certainly at the moment there have been times where I’ve been with my son but he hasn’t had my undivided attention at that time.
Of course that’s absolutely fine some of the time but I think it’s really important at the moment that they DO get time where they have our undivided attention and we just check in with them, even if it is just for a minute or two – pop your head around the day and say “all ok?” or give a thumbs up – just an acknowledgement or connection with them several times through the day is so powerful.
So many parents of teenagers that I’m talking to feel their child has shut themselves off in their room, on their phone the whole time and don’t want to engage.
Don’t force them to engage if they don’t want to, but do try these tiny little bits of connection and take it from there. When they’re ready, they will come and connect and engage with you.
Tip 3 – Stay Physically Active
I’m not a big exercise person (I run occasionally and I might do the odd aerobics class every so often but I’m much more of a yoga person or a walker – getting outside, that kind of thing!) but I think it’s so easy at the moment when we are online all the time not to do anything physical. We need to be active and moving to keep the body going and I think all of us know how good it is, both physically and mentally, to stay active.
Try to get outside, walk for ten minutes, or stand around the garden, dance around the kitchen. It doesn’t matter what it is, just do something physical to break your day up, get your body moving and get your blood circulating.
If you can get your kids engaged in that – brilliant. If you mention the word exercise and your child looks at you like you’ve just tried to poison them, don’t push them – it’s not always easy.
Try having the radio on when they enter the room and see if they’ll join in with a bit of a kitchen boogie, or just encourage them to come down the stairs to get their own glass of water from the kitchen instead of bringing it to them – it’s all movement!
Even if it IS just for you, do something physical each day.
Tip 4 – Keep Yourself Hydrated and Eat SOME Healthy Food!
Let’s be honest – it’s cold, it’s wet, it’s horrible – stodgy food is high on the list of priorities, as is chocolate (or that might just be my house!?). Try to get some healthy food in you, drink enough water – those things really do make a difference to how you feel, and consequently how you respond when your children is struggling.
We also need to be role models for our children. If we are doing something active every day, they are more likely to do get involved at some point. If we are eating healthily, they are more likely to eat something healthy. If we make sure they’re drinking enough they’re going to be feeling better. If we connect with them, even if just for 30 seconds on and off through the day – all of those things are going to help us stay connected to them, stay connected to ourselves, and help them stay in a better, healthier place.
Tip 5 – Try To Have Some Screen Free Time
I know it’s hard when you’re working from home and you may be constantly on Zoom calls and spending much more time in front of a screen than you normally would. Meetings online are much more tiring than meetings in person, because it’s harder to connect with people.
Try to make sure every day you get some time away from a screen, even if it’s just when you’re cooking dinner or doing different things.
We can’t tell our children to come off their screens if we’re on ours all the time. We need to be modelling to them what to do and I also think we need to potentially be a bit more flexible about screen time, how much they’re using it but also making sure they’re getting those breaks from it.
Tip 6 – Sleeeeeeeeeep.
As somebody who is struggling with tiredness right now I’ve really been focusing on my bedtime routine over the past couple of weeks. I know that reading a book before bed helps me sleep better. I know that doing my gratitude list at bedtime (even if it’s just two or three things) really helps to put me in a much more positive frame of mind and sleep better, and getting to bed early enough consistently so that my body gets used to going to sleep.
I’ve been going up to my son earlier at bedtimes, spending more time together, engaging with him on his screen to get him off a little bit sooner, spending screen-free time just chatting and having a bit of fun together.
Just having that time when neither of us are on screens as we’re getting ready to wind down for bed can be really beneficial. We often talk about our “When This Is All Over” list, where we talk about all the things we want to do and the places we want to visit once this is over – creating that list and doing that together at bedtime helps to put us in a more positive frame of mind and helps us to relax and see that there is life after lockdown. Because some days it just feels endless.
I hope you find these things useful. I want you to know it’s ok to be not ok, but it’s equally as ok to be great! This is affecting us all in different ways.
If you’re struggling, please don’t stay stuck. You can join my free Facebook group which is Connective Parenting Using NVR, or if you need more support directly from me there’s the Connective Parenting Hub.