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9 Ways for Parents to Take Care of Their Mental Health During COVID-19

You’ve probably heard of the oxygen mask procedure on airplanes. During the safety demonstration on a flight, the video or flight attendant shows how adults who have a child in their care MUST put on their oxygen mask on first, before putting on the oxygen mask for their child. Why? Because if you focused on the child first, you’d run out of oxygen, pass out, and now neither of you are able to get your masks on.

The same applies to your own mental health! The coronavirus pandemic we are all living through separately, yet together, has truly shifted the dynamics of most families. Many families are now spending lots of time together in the same space, and tensions can run high. There are a lot of great resources out there for how parents can create structure (like creating schedules for activities, meals, etc) and fun for their kids in the home, but if a parent is having a difficult time taking care of their own mental health, the responsibility to care for their children’s emotional needs can seem monumental, daunting, and perhaps even draining at times. 

In an effort to address the very real needs that parents have, here are some tips and suggestions for how a parent can put their mental health oxygen mask on first:

1. Breathe.

Sounds simple, right? You’d be surprised how much depends on your breathing. If you feel like your thoughts or emotions are starting to become chaotic, take a moment to fully focus only on your breathing. Notice how it feels to breathe air in, breathe air out. Really let it be the center of your attention. Keep doing it until you feel your body relax and your heart rate slow down. To take it one step further, imagine all of the emotional gunk inside of your body coming out with each breath, and then imagine breathing in a feeling of peace and rest with each breath.

2. Take a time out.

Someone is screaming, or not listening to you, or having a meltdown because you shut off the TV,  and you’re pretty sure you’re about to have a meltdown yourself. It’s okay to say, “Mom/Dad needs a time out to cool down in another room.” Go to a space in your house where there will be no or few distractions, where you feel safe, close the door, breathe. If needed, remind yourself of 3 reasons why you love your kid, and then go back out there.

3. Acknowledge your feelings.

If part of the solution to helping kids with their feelings is to acknowledge them, the same can be said for you! If you have no one to speak to, just say it out loud, “I’m scared that/when _.” “I’m angry that/when_.” If you have a spouse or another adult in the house, make a rule that you are allowed to come up to them, tell them how you’re feeling, and the other person’s job is to just listen (no judging, no solutions!). 

4. Tell your children how you feel, by saying “I feel” and then your observation.

You do not have to be the world’s most patient and unemotional robot with your kids. You can totally tell your children what emotional state you are in. But be careful to phrase it the right way – your children should not feel like your emotional state is their responsibility. There is a subtle difference between “You’re making me scared when you jump off the couch“ and “I see you jumping off the couch. I am scared that you will hurt yourself.“ Focus on “I feel” statements versus “you make me feel.”

5. Have conversations with friends/family who know how to support you.

Schedule a time, daily, that you can talk with a family member or a friend just to catch up, express your thoughts/emotions, and feel connected with another adult. You can mutually support each other with compassion and understanding.

6. Limit your screen time.

Be honest with yourself. How often are you checking your phone or computer just to check out emotionally or mentally? Or to check on the coronavirus updates? Or to read another article? Do you find yourself more emotionally reactive, less patient, after you have done so? Keeping updated is definitely important, so avoiding it altogether is not the solution. Schedule times of your day that you will allow yourself to check those updates or read another article. Make a plan for how you will emotionally “reset” afterwards.

7. Choose restful activities for the evenings, after kids are in bed.

Movies, TV, the internet, social media can all be ways to slow down for sure. But when we fall into patterns where we have done a lot of those things, and we don’t feel rested emotionally, then other ways to relax need to be incorporated into your evening. You want to go to bed at night feeling like you are filled with a feeling of peace and rest, ready to sleep and face the new day. Examples of activities that many find restful are reading books, taking baths, listening to an audiobook/radio drama/music with a spouse, looking through old family photos, praying, or playing a board game.

8. Be purposeful about your attitude at the start of your day.

Right after you wake up, it’s normal to groggily realize that you are waking up to your current reality and you have to accept it all over again. If your child comes in bursting with energy, ready to play, or whining and crying, check your thoughts. Are you thinking, “I can’t take this anymore,” or “I can’t believe he’s already like this!” Instead, take a moment to acknowledge what you’re feeling, and then find 1-3 things you can be grateful for in that moment. “Thank goodness we have a house with lots of toys in it.” “I’m grateful that I got some sleep.” It doesn’t need to be huge, but finding even a few things to be grateful for in that moment can shift your attitude, and it will likely shift your child’s attitude, too.

9. Practice self-compassion – forgive yourself.

Did you just blow up at your kids? Are you feeling guilty for all the screen time they’ve been getting? Acknowledge what you did, how it makes you feel, say, “I forgive myself,” and pick yourself back up. Children are often quick to forgive, too. Make amends with them (it models self-compassion, making apologies, and forgiveness!), with yourself, and move on. Each moment, each day, is another opportunity to try again. Don’t let one bad moment define the rest of the hour, the day, the week.

I hope these few tips and suggestions will be helpful to parents who are juggling so much in their homes right now. You are not alone in this struggle! Stay tuned for more posts with tips on how families can cope – and perhaps even thrive! – during this time.

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Erikson’s Theory: Stage 5

This post is the fifth in a series about Erik Erikson’s Stage Theory of Psychosocial Development. If you would like to know more about this series, go here. To see the second post on stages 1 and 2, go here. To see the third post on stage 3, go here. To see the fourth post on stage 4, go here.

Stage 5: Identity vs. Role Confusion

Have you ever looked back on your teenage years and thought, “what was I thinking dressing like that?!” Or perhaps, do you have the same thoughts about your current teenage child? Or do you wonder why all of a sudden their friends seem to matter so much more to them than their own family members?

Rest assured, these are all natural aspects to this psychosocial developmental stage, which spans the age range of 12-18 years. In this stage, the teenager is seeking to figure out his identity – what he values, what circles he will move in, what his interests are, what he will commit to in life. This is all part of forming an identity. Teenagers are more interested in spending time with friends and on their interests as they form the foundation for the sort of person they are going to be in the adult world. 

What others say and how they react to a teenager is very important in this stage. Teenagers remain very sensitive to the reinforcement (positive or negative) and encouragement that they will receive from their family, friends, teachers, and coaches. That’s why a deep sense of relationship needs to be fostered with your teenager so that he feels comfortable coming to you with the “tough stuff.”

At the same time, teenagers require enough freedom to make more choices than they were allowed in the past. Of course, with choices comes more responsibility, and a teenager should be made well aware of that. If a teenager is blocked from having more freedom to choose and move about as he will, he might end up fighting against that by hiding what he is doing or making choices that he knows others would disapprove of. 

In short, a teenager coming to a sense of solid identity needs more freedom, more responsibility, and deeper and encouraging relationships with those who can guide him rightly. If a teenager does not end up successfully forming an identity at this stage, he ends up having role confusion: he is not sure of who he is, what he likes, what values he is committed to, what his interests in career options are, and he is left feeling disappointed and confused about who he is and lacking a sense of direction.

In therapy, the counselor would encourage parents to shift perspective and allow more freedom for their teenager and/or form deeper relationships with their teenager (according to what is lacking). At the same time, the counselor would probably give more autonomy to the teenager in sessions – making it clear that she will only share what is absolutely necessary with the parents. A counselor can help a teenager process through old relational processes that block the teenager’s ability to make social connections and help them become more aware of their strengths and interests and encourage their development and exploration within the context of the therapeutic relationship.

Posted in: Awareness, Counseling, Niki Montecillo, Uncategorized

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Erikson’s Theory: Stages 1 and 2

This post is the second in a series about Erik Erikson’s Stage Theory of Psychosocial Development. If you would like to know more about this series, go here.

Stage 1: Trust vs. Mistrust

We are born into the world helpless and vulnerable. The way we are cared for in the very first moments of life – from birth until 12-18 months – will determine if we can trust the world around us.

When we cry, does our caretaker respond to us quickly and consistently? When we’re hungry, are we fed? Are we cuddled and touched in loving ways? Can we depend on our loved ones to keep us safe, clean, warm, fed, and healthy? If the answer is yes, an infant will develop a sense of trust in the world.

Trust is established through time and experience. An infant whose caregiver provides loving, consistent care teaches an infant that the world – and other people – can be trusted. Once trust is established, the child can have hope that they will continued to be cared for in the future.

According to Erikson, if a child develops trust during this stage of life, it will affect their relationships through adulthood. They may find it easier to bond, or attach, to others in safe relationships.

On the flip side, if an infant experiences abuse, neglect, or inconsistent care they will develop a mistrust of the world. In their experience, the world is unpredictable and will not meet their needs. Erikson believed that these infants would then grow into adults who were anxious, distrusting and unable to form healthy, safe relationships.

How do you help your infant pass successfully through this stage?

1. Respond to your child’s cries as quickly and consistently as you are able.

2. Hold your child often, even when they’re not in distress.

3. If you’re able, ask for help from a trusted friend or family member to help you meet your infant’s needs when you are drained and need a nap/break/a shower.

In therapy, most intervention would be around supporting the primary caregiver in meeting the needs of the infant. A therapist trained in caregiver-infant attachment could help increase feeling of security by baby through interventions implemented by the parents.

Stage 2: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt

As a child becomes mobile, via scooting, crawling, cruising and walking, it gains a whole new world of independence. Now, a child can achieve their goals without as much help from a caregiver.

Between the ages of 18 months and 3 years, a child’s abilities develop at a rapid pace, and can lead to a newfound sense of independence, or autonomy. This stage builds upon the first in that, a child with a secure attachment and general trust of the world, is more likely to explore and try new things with abandon.

A child who trusts its caregiver, will begin their exploration in small ways, often looking back at the caregiver to provide encouragement and reassurance. Soon, a child may move from small adventures to big ones, from small tasks, such as using silverware, to larger tasks of dressing and toileting. Children will also begin to choose their own toys and initiate caregivers or peers in play.

If a caregiver is able to allow the child enough freedom to explore, while at the same time coming to their aid when needed, a child will develop confidence and independence. If a caregiver is able to praise the child’s successes and reassure them in their failings, a child will develop even more autonomy.

However, if a caretaker is too controlling, not allowing the child to try new things on their own, the child will be given the message that they are incapable and may not gain that feeling of independence and confidence.

Similarly, if a caretaker is critical or shaming of a child’s attempts and failings, that child will be discouraged from exploring and may stop trying new things with the same frequency and vigor.  These children make have low self-esteem, higher anxiety, and over dependence on others.

How do you help your 18 month-3 year old pass successfully through this stage?

1. Thoroughly toddler-proof your home, and remove anything that you don’t want to be broken/destroyed (such as important paperwork, fragile decorations, etc.). Create a safe space for your child to explore.

2. Do not shame or punish your child if they accidentally break something. Remember that mistakes will happen during this exploration stage, and are not a sign of your child being purposefully “bad”.

3. Be positive and encouraging while your child explores.

Posted in: Awareness, Britt Echtenkamp, Uncategorized

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Erikson’s Stage Theory of Psychosocial Development: Intro

Many people are aware of physical developmental milestones to be met throughout a person’s life – holding up our heads, sitting up, crawling, walking, running, puberty, and beyond. However, did you know that there are psychological milestones? Ever since psychology has become its own distinctive field, many theorists have come up with various explanations for the general stages that all humans go through in order to grow into a mature and fully functioning adult.

One such theorist was Erik Erikson, who came up with an eight stage theory of psychosocial development (1959). Within his theory, there is a “crisis” in each stage – meaning that there is some new psychological challenge to be met and processed, and there are two outcomes (positive and negative). If the outcome is positive, then that person is capable of progressing into the next stage. Otherwise, that person becomes “stuck” in that stage. What does that mean? Within this theory, that means that there are 30 year olds out in the world who may still be acting like 8 year olds because they have not successfully worked through that psychosocial stage.

Now you’re probably curious what the stages are:

Stage 1: birth – 18 months: Trust vs. Mistrust

Stage 2: 18 moths – 3 years: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt

Stage 3: 3-5 years: Initiative vs. Guilt

Stage 4: 5-12 years: Industry vs. Inferiority

Stage 5: 12-18 years: Identity vs. Role Confusion

Stage 6: 18-40 years: Intimacy vs. Isolation

Stage 7: 40-65: Generativity vs. Stagnation

Stage 8: 65+: Ego Integrity vs. Despair

That may sound like a lot of words and it may be difficult to understand what it all means! That’s why we’re going to run a series of blog posts during the next few weeks explaining each stage of Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development with applications of what it looks like to be “stuck” in each one. Feel free to make comments on posts if you have any questions. We hope that this series will be educational and helpful to you!

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