======COVID-19: How to Survive and Thrive as a Family with Eve Hornstein, Family Therapist
Eve Hornstein, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist with a passion for helping clients find a deep sense of happiness and connection within their relationships and themselves.
Gabriella: Eve, thank you so much for being here today to talk to us about thriving as a family during this emotionally charged and uncertain time. I learned so much from you and was reminded of the many ways to frame my mind and attitude going forward. I am genuinely grateful for the opportunity to put together this information in one place so the ASPIRE community can easily access it. You are right, this a time of heightened anxiety but we can turn it into a growth opportunity with a little practice, a little patience and a lot of love.
What are your top take away themes or ideas do you suggest people focus on?
How to Thrive at Home
- Predictability & Consistency
- Set realistic expectations
- Increasing emotional availability and attunement
- Positive mindset
- Opportunity mindset for change and growth -===
- Self-care for parents
- Giving & acts of service
Gabriella: Can you delve into each of those?
Eve: Absolutely. They all work in concordance with one another, so don’t approach this list as eight separate things you have to try to do, but rather as key points to build into your life. Some I will be able to spend more time on here, and hopefully, we can delve into some of them fully at another time.
Structure: We know that everyone has heightened anxiety with changes in routine, not going to school, not having playdates, and going out to public places. So to try and reduce some of the anxiety surrounding the unknown, it is helpful to set up a little bit of structure to your day. This doesn’t mean you have to be rigid.
Also, some kids are not great with transition, so setting a basic schedule can help ease this. You may want to break down a section of the schedule into smaller concrete tasks, so you are only implementing part of the schedule at a particular time.
Gabriella: Can you give us some more detail on creating structure during what would have been the school day?
Eve: Yes! I highly recommend you to keep the same basic structure as they had at school. This includes wake time, study times, meal times, break times and bedtimes. But if you want to let the kids sleep in a little bit, to give yourself some free time, to get some things done, or to reconnect with your spouse, that is a great idea too. Just keep the schedule fairly close to what it was.
Create Structure Through Daily Routines
- Create a weekday schedule similar to your child’s regular routine: wake up, mealtimes, study time, free time, and bedtime.
- Schedule breaks throughout the day, include alone time or quiet activity.
- Schedule outdoor time to move around (walking, tossing a ball, sports, biking, etc.)
- Schedule free-choice time, including set device time. Socializing with other kids is very important. Include time they can technologically interact with other children (video games/FT)
- Review schedule nightly
You also want them to understand that they are earning some of their free time. There needs to be a focus on what needs to get done, what their responsibilities are, and how they can use their free time. Get their opinions, thoughts and opinions while creating the schedule, so they feel they are an active part of this process.
Remember to build in time to be outdoors. We all need recess! We need to keep moving and reduce our stress through movement. Walking, throwing a ball, and other things you can do with proper social distancing.
Build in time for free time when they can choose whatever they want to do. It will be a balancing act between devices and other activities. We are wired for connection and our brains really like to socialize. We have to allow them to have that outlet but with consistent limits. You may be increasing their time on devices but that is okay for now since they need to socialize. They are already missing their friends, so we need to let them connect.
Predictability and Consistency: This is the best way to create a sense of safety for kids. Kids look to you and you need to set the tone for what they can expect. Go over the plan the night before. Set the rules. For example, this is your free time and mom and dad are in their “office”; it is your time to entertain and take care of yourself. This consistency will create predictability and a sense of safety.
Being a united front with your partner and other family members helps create a sense of safety at home for your kids and yourself. Figure out how you can back each other up. Talk about your day, what you need, and what is going well. This doesn’t need to be a long conversation, maybe 15 minutes. See if that can defuse some tension or help keep communication moving forward.
Set Realistic Expectations: I think about expectations and consider lowering them for yourselves and for your kids and then lower them even more. Having everyone under the same roof is a different experience for everyone. Most people use the home as the hub in which they leave the home and go to do things and then bring those experiences back in. It is very unusual for people to be spending so much time at home. People’s emotions, patience and ability to connect with each other are going to change. So set realistic expectations for yourself as well as everybody else.
Increasing Emotional Availability and Attunement: Kids need to know that you are listening to them; that you understand what they are going through. What they are going through may not be what you are going through. Enter their world. Stop and pause, be more present with them, attune to their world so you can understand what they are processing with what is going on in the world.
By default, you are going to be around your kids much more than usual. Try to be as present as possible; let go of what you are feeling and the stress you are carrying. Look them in their eyes, dropping in your hear center, taking a deep breath in and out and just be present with them. No lecturing, just active listening.
Positive Mindset: This is great for your body and to be around. I would like to do another presentation on how to do this, why it is challenging to do. Our brains are really wired for keeping us out of trouble, so sometimes, the negativity bias of the brain becomes so strong that we forget to focus on the positives.
There will be meltdowns and conflict at home during this time. Conflict is not a bad thing. It is how you respond to this that will set the tone. Be patient with yourself and with them. Practice forgiveness when you lose your cool. It is how we repair after that is really important.
Gabriella: How do you keep a Positive Mindset and a sense of safety with so much stress right now? Can you break this down into some concrete steps or goals?
Eve: Creating a sense of safety is important. This is especially important if you are a worrier, or someone in the house is a worrier.
- Don’t feed the worries: If you give worries attention, they grow. When working with kids, I describe worries as plants, and plants need sunshine and water to grow. If we take away the water and the sun, the plants can’t grow and worries are the same way. So if we don’t put our focus on the worries, they can’t grow.
- Contain the worries: One of the things I recommend is containment. How we do this depends on the child’s age. For little kids, we have them create a worry container out of anything with a lid. When they have a worry, you ask them to write it down and put in the container; then we ask them to not think about the worry until there is a set time that they are allowed to go to the container and talk about their worry with you at that time. This helps get the brain off the worry and shift it into something else. However, we always want kids to acknowledge their feelings; we don’t want them to suppress them which is why we go back to talk about them. For adults, we can imagine a container and then allow ourselves 5-10 minutes to later think about it. We don’t want to open any new neural networks based on fear.
- Limit news coverage: If you typically have the news on in the background, switch it to something else. And when it is time to focus on the news, make sure you know the source. Know what you need to know then focus on other things. Be mindful of what you are saying and listening to because even when your kids don’t seem to pay attention, they often are.
Opportunity Mindset for Change and Growth: Look for opportunities for growth and change. We are all being pushed out of comfort zones very rapidly. But there are opportunities if you choose to set your mind to look at things as opportunities: opportunities for rest, opportunities to spend more time at home and reconnect or to watch free opera, do some yoga, etc. You can also take the time to look inward to see what is and what isn’t working for you.
Empathy, acceptance and patience, we are all going to be expanding on. These are growth areas.
Self-Care for Parents: How do you take care of yourselves? You matter. You are modeling for your kids. Work on resilience, how to adjust, accommodate and adapt. They are looking to you to learn how to do this. This can create a lot of pressure for you right now. So, self-care is important. This is an opportunity for growth for so many.
Self-care is an act of giving. You can learn about yourself: your boundaries, what you need. The truth is you really need to care for yourself so you can care for others. Take care of your mind, body, spirit and you will be healthy physically and mentally. It is not selfish. You want to make sure that you are healthy, that your thoughts are healthy; you are creating the life you want to live, and how to respond to life rather than reacting so you are strong and resilient. We need to be kind, patient, loving and empathic with ourselves then we can be so with others.
Self Care Strategies for Parent
- Remember you matter
- Support your body, mind and spirit
- Take care of yourself emotionally – Connect with others
- Eat well
- Get enough sleep
- Get outside
- Keep moving
- Allow for alone time
- Be kind to yourself – Lower your expectations
- Practice gratitude daily
- Pace yourself
Giving & Acts of Service – Home-Based Community Outreach: This really can only be done once the self-care piece has been done. There will always be an opportunity to give time and service for projects. Stop and take care of you first.
Thank you to Eve Hornstein for all her sage words. We hope the ASPIRE community will take this information and learn to handle their stress, to grow from this experience, and nurture aspects of their life they haven’t been able to find the space for. Remember, many of the lessons and ideas in this Q&A can be applied for the rest of your life. Please also see the two additional topics from Eve Hornstein:
- How To Talk With Your Child About The Virus
- How To Decrease Stress & Anxiety During Physical Distancing