Six Action Steps for Emotional Well-Being in a Time of COVID-19

Bill Fisher
When Shore’s School Counselor, Katie Hertz, speaks to families about parenting in a time of COVID-19, she starts with reassurance. “The parents I’ve spoken to are doing an amazing job,” she says. “I truly feel like we have all risen to the challenge in very big and important ways and that, for the most part, the children are doing quite well.” 

Still, she underscores, as parents face the realization that school won’t be back on campus this year, many are feeling anxious and overwhelmed, with good reason. “These are times when our go-to routines for coping with stress and anxiety are no longer certain,” Hertz explains. So how do we keep parenting through a steady stream of news that calls into question our very safety and well-being? Hertz has six action steps for parents that are focused on one goal. “Our priority should be coming out on the other side of this time physically and emotionally healthy—ourselves, our children, and our communities.”

Step 1: Focus on Compassion
Children do their best when they are in the presence of calm, caring adults who can help them navigate the circumstances in which we find ourselves. To get to that place, says Hertz, parents need to start by practicing compassion. “What I mean is looking at our feelings with kind curiosity,” she says. “Instead of reacting impulsively out of fear or anger or anxiety, we take a deep breath, step back, look at our own feelings, and really ask ourselves, ‘What am I feeling in this moment?’ Then we allow ourselves to feel and move on.”

Step 2: Be Present
There are countless demands on all of us at this time—not only parenting, but also working from home, supporting our children in their distance learning, and much more. So it takes a conscious effort to schedule time to be truly present with our family members. “Whether it’s first thing in the morning before we get on our calls, at lunch, or around the family dinner table, being present means looking each other in the eyes and asking, ‘How are you feeling?’” Put away the phone, turn off the background noise, and just be present, listening without interruption, Hertz advises.

Step 3: Empower the Children
Children are empowered when we help them identify and name their feelings. “The simple act of putting their feelings into words helps them know that they can get through even negative feelings,” explains Hertz. By making space for the hard feelings, we send children the message that we can tolerate their feelings, they can tolerate them, and “that we can do hard things,” Hertz says.

Step 4: Express Empathy
In addition to listening and helping children name their feelings, it’s important that adults let them know that they truly understand. “I encourage all parents to share some of your own feelings about coping with this pandemic in an age-appropriate way, so that they can hear from you that this is hard for others as well.” Children will learn that they’re not alone, and that these feelings are being shared by people in their own families and indeed by people all over the world.

Step 5: Find Perspective
“Perspective requires experience,” says Hertz, “and the younger you are, the less experience you have and the less perspective you have.” It’s our job as adults to hold the feelings of discomfort for our children—and at the same time to give them the perspective that even though their feelings are big and awkward, they aren’t going to last forever. “It feels like they might not ever see their friends again, or it feels like they might not ever get to go back to school again, but this is going to end,” assures Hertz. “We may not be able to give them certainty about when, or about what tomorrow or the next day will look like, but we can give them perspective.” Parents can look on the bright side, as well. “Things feel different right now, but lots of things feel the same,” Hertz reminds us. From the signs of spring to the comforting bedtime routine, encourage optimism by focusing on what hasn’t changed.

Step 6: Check Your Expectations
“This is a time for being forgiving,” says Hertz, “for being gentle with ourselves and with each other. We need to reality-check our expectations—for ourselves, our children, and our partners. No one is going to have a perfect parenting response to this incredibly stressful time. The best we can do is do our best and show up. If we make mistakes, and we will, we make amends and move on.” And remember, Hertz says, “While this may be hard, it’s getting easier. We’re all getting a little bit better at it every day.”

Hertz reminds Shore parents that her Counseling Services page on MyShore features constantly updated links and resources to support families.
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    • Hertz offered advice to families during a recent webinar.