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Standing Up to Stay-at-Home Stress

Family Science Researchers Offer Tips for Riding Out the Virus

By Dan Novak M.Jour. ’20

A mom helps daughter deal with stress. UMD’s Department of Family Science in the School of Public Health is partnering with the Prince George’s County Health Department to provide families with guidelines on dealing with stress and handling changing family dynamics during the pandemic.

Photo by iStock

UMD’s Department of Family Science in the School of Public Health is partnering with the Prince George’s County Health Department to provide families with guidelines on dealing with stress and handling changing family dynamics during the pandemic.

In the best of times, raising children is a delicate balance of love, support, discipline and luck. Trying to achieve that equilibrium during a quarantine can feel more like walking a tightrope.  

The imperative of social distancing cuts the whole household off from friends and extended family. One or two parents are now expected to juggle full-time work with learning to become full-time home schooling teachers. Kids have to learn at the coffee table rather than in a classroom. Ramping up the tension is everyone’s unease at the rising toll of death and sickness outside.

To help with these trying circumstances, UMD’s Department of Family Science in the School of Public Health is partnering with the Prince George’s County Health Department to provide families with guidelines on dealing with stress and handling changing family dynamics during the pandemic. 

The school’s leadership reached out to area health agencies looking for ways to assist them, and so far, the Department of Family Science has published four factsheets on discussing the virus with kids for three different age groups and coping with family stress. The Prince George’s County Health Department began sharing the resulting resources on its social media channels last week.

“It was my faculty and graduate students that said we want to do something, “said Sandra Quinn, chair of family science. “We want to help. We’ve got expertise.”

Next up, the department is developing factsheets related to handling grief and managing family finances. 

“We want others to have some things to cope with the trauma and the isolation of this period,” Quinn said. “If it helps in any way, shape or form, that’s our goal.”

Here are some tips offered by the department’s faculty and students:

Create new routines
Everyday life has been upended, and the changes to our routines and activities can bring anxiety to a family. Do maintain important structure in home life—like bedtimes and mealtimes—but allow yourself and your family to try new things or start a new hobby. If you take a walk outside, try to connect with someone new in your community (while observing social distancing guidelines like keeping 6 feet apart, and wearing a face covering).  

Communicate
The intensity of emotions we may feel during this time can increase the chance for conflict, but family members will grow closer if they share their feelings about the coronavirus and its impact on their lives. Seek time each day to talk about your day and your thoughts and feelings about the virus.

Effectively manage conflict
If conflict does occur, find personal space to cool down and try to find private time throughout the day. If possible, put off major decisions or discussions that can be addressed at a less stressful time. 

Be honest
If your children ask you if you’re worried about the virus, don’t try to cover it up. Children can sense if you’re not being truthful about your feelings.

Limit screen time
It can be easy for anyone in the family trapped in the house with a limited amount of activities to lose hours glued to the TV or computer. Children should alleviate their boredom in front of something other than a screen. If you have young kids, try not to watch news related to the virus while they’re in the room. Though it’s important for older kids to stay in touch with friends, monitor how much time they spend on social media—or binging on YouTube videos or playing video games. 

Find good information… and know when it’s enough
Talk with older children about the virus, how it is spread and how to identify stories on the internet that contain reliable information, as well as those based in rumor or that contain misinformation. To avoid pushing your and your children’s anxiety past the red line, limit how much time you spend following information on the virus.

Schools & Departments:

School of Public Health

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