There is a lot of helpful information available about the impact of coronavirus and lockdown on children’s mental health. How parents can do more or make changes to aid their children’s wellbeing. However, there is little about the mental health impact on parents during this time, and what parents can do to help themselves through this crisis that lives outside and inside of their homes. This article aims to offer support to parents and aid as a self-help resource.
The lockdown has brought significant change for the whole family, and there is increased pressure on parents to facilitate the practical and emotional impact that the lockdown has created. Many parents who have never struggled with mental health are now experiencing psychological distress.
Just some of the many areas that can create increased anxiety and stress for parents include: keeping children safe, the fear of becoming sick or losing loved ones, separation from loved ones and lack of support, financial hardship, work, home schooling, comparison pressure from what other parents are achieving, being an entertainments program for children, balancing screen time, lack of safe outdoor space, behavioural issues, relationship problems, exposure to domestic violence, single parenting, living with disabilities or poor physical health, as well as existing mental health challenges.
As a result, parents may experience a spectrum of emotions. Feelings of anxiety and distress, overwhelm, guilt, loss, anger, irritability, frustration, loneliness, lack of control, abandonment, an enormous sense of responsibility, failure, and hopelessness. There are many. This can lead to emotional suffering and confusion about how to deal with such difficult feelings. Added to personal difficulties and challenging family circumstances, there is the potential for some parent’s emotions to develop into depression. Post-traumatic stress disorder is also a risk if parents are stuck in prolonged stress and are unable to change things or reach out for help.
So, what can help parents do to manage their emotion? As a parent, this lockdown is a balancing act that requires resilience to change and adaptability. Resilience is the strength and capacity to get back up when you fall, to bounce back in times of crisis and learn how to adapt to the tough situation that has been created in our homes by this virus. This is more achievable if parents can manage their emotions through learning their own coping mechanisms and reaching out for help when they need it. Like the concept of putting your own oxygen mask on first before you can help your children during an aircraft emergency. If parents know what they can do to help themselves, they will be more able to deal with this situation and manage their mental health during this crisis.
I have prepared a simple guide and acronym of ‘P.A.R.E.N.T.S.‘ to explain what parents can do to help themselves during this challenging time:
Practice self-care. Find ways to relax, because you can’t effectively give to others if you don’t look after yourself. Take breaks, find distractions, and get some respite from anxious feelings. Sleep well, recharge your batteries where possible, eat healthily when you can, and have positive self-talk. Tell yourself you can get through this and you are doing the best you can.
Activity. Keep moving and make use of your daily outdoor time allowance. Exercise creates stress relieving hormones that can help to boost your mood as well as support your physical wellbeing. Take an indoor exercise class or use the garden and stairs if you have them. Set yourself a challenge if this helps. Involving the children might be necessary, but the important thing is that you are active and can get the benefit of exercise, even if you feel too tired or lacking the motivation to give it a go.
Reach out. Keep in regular contact with partners, family and friends. Share stories on good days and bad days, share and receive tips and advice, listen to each other and ensure you talk about how you are feeling. If you feel you need more support, then reach out to a professional. Therapists can offer psychological support via telephone or video call during this pandemic.
Education. Home schooling is difficult and affected by many things. Abilities and knowledge of the child and parent, topics and content, resources, and most importantly receptivity of children. Children will resist parents trying to fill the role of their teachers. It’s a huge change for them, and a natural reaction to change is for children to seek out familiarity and push against the boundaries with parents who are delivering the unfamiliarity. If it’s not working, try again tomorrow. Education also comes in many forms and can be through baking, studying the garden, construction from the recycling bin, creating the questions/answers for a family quiz or watching a movie based on a particular theme. Remember you are not a teacher, and just do what you can.
Notice. Take notice of the things that do make you feel better. Taking your daily walk in nature, eating your favourite foods when you can, listening to music, keeping a journal, taking a bath, crafting or practising a new skill, or camping out on the sofa to watch some comedy. Try to build in some of these things into your day.
Technology and media breaks. Switch off the news and social media reporting. There is info overload right now, from the news to lesson suggestions, and in all facets of life. Focus on what is in your control and take each day at a time.
Structure. Structure and routine in your day will give you milestones for the day that may give a sense of purpose and achievement. There is little in our control, but there are some things parents can control and getting up, getting dressed, mealtimes, playtime and bedtime are part of that. Routine is a great source of motivation.
Parenting in lockdown is not easy and it’s ok to say it’s not ok. Remember you are doing your best, and perfection is not something to strive for during this time. The mental health impact on parents can be silent as emotions are pushed down, as priority is given to children to ease their emotions and be the strong one. But parents are also a priority and must look after themselves too. Please don’t suffer in silence and let the impact of the virus deplete your mental health in your quest to meet the needs of your family first. Practice self-care and reach out for help when you need to.
If you would like to talk, I am offering a reduced rate of £35 per counselling session, which is exclusive to Market Harborough parents. Sessions are telephone/video calls, are fully confidential and on a pay-as-you-go basis at a frequency that is affordable for you. Please take a look at Parent Clouds and get in touch. I can support you with how you are feeling, and suggest ways to cope and get through this overwhelming and challenging time.
I’m Nicole Keep and I’m a parent living in Market Harborough. I’ve been through many parenting challenges of my own, so I like to work with parents from a place of professional training and qualification, as well as personal experience.