Tips for Keeping Your Family Calm During the Coronavirus Outbreak from a Licensed Psychotherapist
On March 12th, the World Health Organization declared Coronavirus or COVID-19 a pandemic. In simple terms, a pandemic is when a new disease for which people who do not have immunity spreads around the world beyond expectations. Disruptions in businesses have caused most professionals sports leagues including the NBA, NHL, and MLB to suspend or halt their seasons, closed schools, locked countries down and sickened thousands of people around the world.
While business disruption may have an impact on our families, likely the greatest concern most parents are currently experiencing is the inability to purchase regular use products like toilet paper, soap, hand sanitizer and bottled water. Here in San Diego, where we only have one reported case of Coronavirus at the time of publishing, this is what my local grocery store looked like this week.
While it’s easy to panic and stress in an unprecedented situation, one psychotherapist, Cathy Leonard, has shared her top tips to help parents and families remain calm amid crisis situation, including a global pandemic, like Coronavirus.
Tips to Keep Your Family Calm During the Coronavirus Outbreak
According to Ms. Leonard, a practicing psychotherapist with over thirty years of experience, the biggest issue that most people have to deal with when facing a crisis is the feeling of not having control. To combat that lack of control, she advises her clients to reframe, consider the “three nurtures” and come up with a plan for how to communicate with their children.
Reframe Your Thoughts
In the current situation where schools, restaurants, and even Disneyland is shut down, each announcement can seem scarier and more dramatic than the one before it. Ms. Leonard says that people can think about these disruptions as positive and solution-driven. We should reframe to focus on the positive aspects of quarantines, travel bans and closures and look at them as steps being taken to protect us and keep us safe instead of the other way around.
The Three Nurtures
To keep your family calm during the Coronavirus outbreak, Ms. Leonard instructs her clients to consider the three nurtures: Self Nurture, Environmental Nurture and Relationship Nurture.
This nurture is anything and everything that involves self-care. This may include ensuring you are eating healthy food, working out, sleeping well, meditating or practicing yoga. Really anything that makes you feel good about yourself. In crisis situations, we are often quick to let self-nurture fall by the wayside as our bodies give way to fight or flight. Putting down the news and practicing some yoga or even taking a walk outside can help tremendously.
Environmental nurture or nurturing your home environment is critically important in a potential quarantine or lockdown situation that the Coronavirus is creating for many people. Ms. Leonard notes that while you may not be able to control what is going on on the outside, you can control your own home environment, even if you are in a quarantine situation. Make sure you have good food available to prepare and cook. Spend time cleaning your home so you feel happy and less stressed about spending time there. Play music, light candles and create an environment that makes you feel peaceful and happy.
For children that may be stuck at home because of school closures, a healthy dose of creative games and crafts can help. Creating a puppet house out of cardboard boxes and making sock puppets with mismatch socks and buttons can create hours of fun for kids. By creating a loving and bright environment for your children to feel safe in, that feeling will trickle down to parents as well.
Relationship Nurture – During times of crisis, the feeling of love and support is most important of all. Especially as parents of young children, Ms. Leonard advises that parents be supporting, loving, nurturing and kind to each other and their children.
If one parent has a fear or thought process that may seem unhealthy or irrational, their partner should validate those feelings by listening and comforting – even if they might not understand. Being alone and abandoned either physically or emotionally can make people feel even more scared. Single parents should reach out more regularly than usual to talk to friends and family members.
How to Talk to Your Kids About Coronavirus Fear
If you have children, their level of knowledge and understanding about the Coronavirus or any crisis will range widely based on their age. In this case, Ms. Leonard recommends communicating with your children in a language they can understand and then empowering them with the things they can do to keep themselves healthy. Running through the different ways that we fight germs and infections, such as washing your hands, eating healthy good, exercising and getting enough rest will also allow even young children to participate in taking control of their own emotions and outcome.
At the end of the day, a crisis throws people off equilibrium, but it is important to look at put things in perspective and look at the current situation as an episode or something that might be upsetting in the immediate term, but that will resolve over the long term. It’s not a forever thing, notes Ms. Leonard, we have gotten through challenging times int he past, and we will get through this too.
If you or someone in your family is struggling with anxiety or depression regarding the Coronavirus, please visit the CDC for additional resources.