By: Collett Smart
Many around the world have been housebound for some time now. We’re not even sure when this way of living will come to an end. How might we navigate everyone being at home, in a confined space, for most of the day, for an unknown period of time… and still maintain mental fitness?
Listen to the podcast here or read on below.
Listen: The Mental Fitness Podcast with psychologist Collett Smart
The Ever Twirling Plates in the Air
I realise that we will all face different challenges and joys in the dynamics of couples, housemates or parents and children living together so constantly. I am navigating this terrain too. My husband is at home, as are my children. I have a 19 year old doing uni, a 17 year old doing her Year 12 and a primary aged son.
I feel like I am constantly keeping plates in the air. Ever between daily household stuff, trying to find toilet paper, being a support to my older two, a teacher to my youngest, delivering live uni lectures via Zoom and consulting online as a psychologist. You will be twirling your own plates too. Some days can feel overwhelming.
Julie Gottman of the Gotmann Institute said, “With coronavirus shutting off our normal escape valves, how do we release the lid and turn off the heat before our relationship has all but melted down?”
I would add, “How might we also contribute to each others’ mental fitness this week?”
Start with the foundations and then build what you need from there
1. Household Routine
Have your own agreed upon family or household routine (Wake up, sleep, rest, chill, exercise and meal times – see No 6). Try to keep these as stable as possible. Routines provide a sense of stability (in an unstable environment) and mental clarity.
And then… expect it to go pear shaped some days!
Adults, you don’t need to serve your children all day long. This is a time when everyone needs to pitch in. You might need to now set or adjust the chore schedule. If teens haven’t learned to cook yet, this is the perfect time for them to pick a day of the week to help with cooking (with you at first and then on their own).
2. Be Gracious with Space
As we are spending more time with one another, it is important to reasonably give family members as much space as they need.
If you can, establish boundaries for ‘my’ space and ‘our’ space
- Having siblings spending too much time together is often a recipe for conflict. Especially when one child needs more downtime than the other/s. Assign, in fact schedule, separate times and family times if you need to.
- As an introvert (like me) you may need to find a quiet place where you can gather your thoughts and sit in stillness for a time. Sitting in your car, alone, on the driveway, might be such a place.
- Adults may even consider developing a signal, or sign on your door, which indicates to the family that you are having some alone time.
3. Keep Relationships Healthy
Expect difficult days and then move on. Try not to dwell on them. You are not a bad parent if people (including the adults) have days that are less than ideal. Difficult days are part of being human.
We’re in constant close quarters and things that irritate us about out partners or children are going to be much easier to spot. They will grate up on us like rough sandpaper.
- It is vital therefore that we actively look for what family members are doing right. More often than what they’re doing wrong.
- Healthy families ban criticism and work hard to keep meanness from their vocabulary. As adults we can try to model this and discourage our children from calling each other unkind names.
- Saying “thank you”, more times than growling about what others aren’t doing, builds relationships. Even for something as simple as making a cup of tea or washing some plates. As parents we are modelling gratitude in this time.
- Practice expressing what you do need, more often than what frustrates you.
- Teach ‘I’ statements when expressing something family members are frustrated about, “I feel that I could really do with more support in…”
4. The Power of Stress Reducing Conversations
Julie Gottmann encourages couples to spend time in the evenings in stress reducing conversations. I advise this for families too. i.e. Just listening to the highs and lows of each person’s day. Not trying to solve anything, give advice or tell our teens what they should be grateful for. (Yes gratitude is important. But insisting that someone express gratitude when they need to express pain is not the right time).
Allow everyone to simply have a chance to vent and to feel heard.
5. The Screen-time question
“How much is too much?”
The answer – “It depends…”
Of course, if a child or adult is spending hours and hours in solitude, watching Netflix, they won’t be; connecting with others, stimulating their minds, moving their bodies or getting fresh air.
With younger children, teens and adults in one house, someone is likely to be Zooming, Skyping or House-partying at any given moment.
This is not the time to overly restrict screen-time. I don’t mean all boundaries go out of the window, because young people are more vulnerable than ever at this time.
“Higher use of the internet during the COVID-19 crisis has been accompanied by a 40 per cent spike in reports to eSafety across its reporting areas.”- eSafety Commissioner
It is still vital for our tweens and younger teens to have:
- their technology in public spaces, (i.e online schooling at the dining table and phones out of bedrooms).
- us keep an eye on content being accessed (i.e.social media is for over 13s, any movies or games downloaded)
- boundaries for bedtimes
- screen-free down times
Yet, although our young people use devices to do school work, refine a skill and connect to exercise gurus (thanks P.E with Joe!). A big part of their screen time will be to socialise. They will need to continue to do this over the next few weeks. Gaming or social media are great sources of connection with friends they are missing dearly.
6. The Daily Essentials
To maintain mental fitness, make times in your day where you focus on a few rituals that communicate warmth, affection and safety. Rough and tumble play, touch or hugs are such a vital part of connection. There are both psychological and physiological benefits to healthy touch.
Find ways to touch family members and children that speak their love language. Particularly at this time, when young people have to maintain the physical distancing boundaries from friends who form such an important part of their lives.
Ensure teens and adults are getting some sunshine, drinking water, eating nutritious meals, exercising, reading books.
Have a few fun times planned – play a board game, eat a meal on the balcony, camp in the backyard, sleep in a blanket fort or light a fire and toast marshmallows in the middle of the week.
I keep saying this, but find some humour. Humour is such a healthy outlet for stress and it normalises anxieties shared by all of us.
To finish where I started, Julie Gottman says, “We need each other more than ever — especially those we live with. Let’s cultivate a little more kindness between us.”
If you prefer to listen along, here is the link to my podcast on this topic. It is part of a 4 part series called, ‘The Mental Fitness podcast’. Available on Spotify, Apple podcasts and more.
Please take care!
Article supplied with thanks to Raising Teenagers
About the Author: Collett Smart is a psychologist, qualified teacher, speaker and internationally published author. She lives with her husband and 3 children in Sydney, Australia. The heart of Collett’s work is to support and bring Hope to parents of tweens and teens.