Children and families in our society are constantly on the go, so the current state of affairs—at nearly a full stop—is certainly unsettling for us all. However, we as parents set the “emotional tone” for our families, and children take cues from us regarding how to respond to stress. Although it may be a challenge, parents need to find a way to stay calm amongst this chaos. 

How do we do this when we, too, may naturally feel anxious about COVID-19, as well as disconnected due to recommendations about social distancing? At a time when there is so much we cannot control, we need to focus on those things we can control. Know that you are not alone in your struggles, and keep these simple messages in mind as you rise to meet this unprecedented challenge:

Model and practice self-care.
Maintaining some level of daily structure and routines is important for parents and children alike. First and foremost, regular sleep routines are so important to our overall well-being. The amount of sleep we get affects our moods and abilities to manage stress. Further, sleep-deprived parents have a harder time staying calm and sleep-deprived children have a harder time regulating their behaviors. Other routines like taking our daily shower, eating meals at roughly the same time and getting some exercise each day will help us (and our children) to feel more settled.

Allow yourself (and your child) to have some feelings of stress and anxiety.
It is natural for both you and your child to feel some anxiety and stress during this time, and to miss going to work or school. If your child expresses an emotion, let them know that that is natural and that everyone is feeling that way right now.

Avoid setting unrealistic expectations.
Being stuck at home for the unforeseeable future seems like a great time to be productive in terms of new work and home projects, doesn’t it? Wrong! Parents who are fortunate enough to be working from home are also charged with taking care of their children who are home from school. Complex homeschooling schedules and activities are circulating on social media, but parents need to be realistic about what they can accomplish on both fronts—work and family. It's important to avoid comparing yourself to others, who might not have it as together as their Facebook posts would suggest! Your main goal right now is to keep your family feeling safe and calm. Anything else is gravy. 

Make plenty of time for fun.
When the weather cooperates, families need to get outdoors as much as possible. Fresh air and exercise benefit us all! When weather or social distancing mandates interfere with that plan, there are also plenty of indoor activities that can elevate our moods: reading a book, practicing meditation or yoga or watching a Netflix series. Rarely do we have so much free time to spend as a family, so take out the board game that is collecting dust on the shelf, do a puzzle or cook together. Parents and children may want to generate a list of fun activities to do together during this time to distract from what is happening in the outside world and build deeper connections.

Stay socially connected.
One of the hardest aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic is social distancing. We are social creatures and derive so much enjoyment from our interactions with others. Our children who are home miss their friends. We may also have elderly relatives or friends we have not been seeing to reduce exposure. Regular video chats using FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom,  WhatsApp or others, are a great way to stay in touch and connected.

Seek help when needed.
For those who are really struggling with anxiety and depression, most mental health professionals are providing teletherapy services to allow people to get help through their smart phones, tablets or computers. Contact your health care practitioner for guidance on how to use these services, and don’t be afraid or ashamed to seek help when you are truly feeling overwhelmed.

Finally, be kind to yourselves and try to have as much fun as possible with this rare gift of family time. 

Andrea Chronis-Tuscano is a University of Maryland clinical psychology professor who specializes in parenting and parent mental health.