When we feel overwhelmed – how do we help our kids?

Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

There are many obvious signs that things are not normal at the moment for kids to pick up on, and they’re the same things that are stressing us out: working from home, home-schooling, returning to school, potential work and health worries. Whether our kids are verbalising worries about Covid-19 or not, they are most certainly aware that something isn’t right in their world. 

The regulation systems of children of all ages are still developing and they need us to co-regulate. We are their safe place, their constant, their home. But what happens when we are finding ourselves in a dysregulated state? I know I have been recently noticing that my mind is often preoccupied – I feel like I have lots of browser tabs open. I am not sleeping well; I’m on my phone a lot, trying to find out what’s going on. I am anxious about what might happen and feel like I don’t have any control. How this displays on the outside? Staring vacantly into the distance; distracted parenting; telling my kids I’ll be there in a minute and not following through; only half listening to what my kids say; not knowing what I need to feel okay. In other words, I’m feeling dysregulated. I am someone who loves to meet others: go to the gym, hang out at cafes. So now, more than ever, I have needed to find new ways to regulate myself.

The other part that makes this challenging is that we need to get creative with this new lifestyle. But creative brains have switched off because we’re in survival mode! So here’s a list of ten things that might help you to help you find your own regulation menu.

  1. Music – create a playlist of songs that make you feel good. Music helps us relax and engages both sides of our brain. Rhythm is regulating.
  2. Sing – when we sing, we stimulate the Vagus nerve which helps rope in our social engagement system. This is our safety system which helps us to feel less anxious and less depressed. Magic.
  3. Dance – movement is regulating. A five (or 35!) minute dance break will help with our physical fitness and dance away the tension of being cooped up.
  4. Connect with others – this might be driveway drinks at 4 pm on a Sunday, or calling a friend or family member. Emailing and texting can work too, but we are social-seeking beings: our capacity to co-regulate off others is enhanced if we can see and hear them.
  5. Write – getting thoughts in a journal can help us sift through our inner world.
  6. Get outside – time out in nature is restorative, as are fresh air and sunshine. (Fingers crossed the weather cooperates!) Do it in a way that’s safe and minimises your exposure – even just opening the window helps. Some local communities are putting up teddy bears or rainbows in windows for kids to go on a bear hunt.
  7. Be idle – this can be tricky as we don’t always trust where our brain might take us, but spending time doing nothing in particular, being purposeful in our idleness, can help us see new ways through. When we’re busy doing things, watching things, scrolling we don’t give our mind space to wander and pause where it’s meant to. 
  8. Skip – skipping gets the heart rate up and provides a whole-body workout. Add a few crossovers and you’re crossing the midline – great for integrating the left and right hemispheres of the brain. 
  9. Create – pull out the pencils, paint, that bag of wool and your knitting needles – whatever works for you. Creating helps to process experiences in a different way, stay in the moment, and can help release dopamine, the chemical linked to happiness. 
  10. Laugh – when we laugh we release tension and again produce more dopamine. Tell some ‘knock knock’ jokes to the kids, watch an old episode of ‘Friends’, remember funny things the kids did when they were little.

Be kind to yourself and each other as we’re navigating this new territory together.

Nurture & Bloom Psychology, Manly on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, offers support for perinatal mental health, including postnatal depression and anxiety, prenatal anxiety and depression, infant mental health, and general parenting support for all ages.

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