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Because family life matters

Six tips to get you through the next… (however long) phase!

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  1. Take the next step

As the old saying goes, does take a village to raise a child. Right now you may feel like you’ve been parenting on a remote island. In fact a friend of mine who has five children with additional needs said that in the first week of lockdown she had this sneaky feeling that someone had played an April Fool’s trick on her. Several weeks in and this still feels crazy, weird and for some, very scary indeed.

I’m still trying to find my rhythm. With no warning, no planning and no preparation our lives changed overnight. It’s no wonder we are feeling wobbly, and it’s no wonder the kids are too. We’ve done well to get this far, but there is no clear end in sight. We can only focus on the next step, and the next one and the next one.

There’s power to be found in the words we choose to speak to our children, and perhaps even more importantly the ones we speak into our own hearts. We can’t make promises about timescales. We don’t have the answers to all their questions.

We can, however, speak positively and courageously and with empathy to ourselves and our loved ones. How about writing a new family motto and/or designing a new logo focusing on your combined family strengths?

 

  1. Stop and refocus.

The body’s fight or flight reflex is a healthy response to stress. When faced with danger, adrenaline coursing around our body will force us into a decision, and we act accordingly. Depending on the circumstances, we may stand frozen to the spot or maybe run for the hills. The body is designed in such a way that when the danger has passed the adrenaline and cortisol in our system will subside and the body return to normal. Apparently, when we are in fight or flight mode the emotion regulating centres of the brain are triggered rather than the logic areas. Whether in lockdown or not, we need to parent with logic rather than emotion.

We’re in this for the long haul, so when you’re faced with an issue stop right there and refocus. Is the issue too large to deal with?  Probably not. It’s maybe a lack of something, it could be a disappointment, possibly an accident, it’s a child in need of calming, it’s a boundary that’s been crossed… yet again.

If you are able to, shift your thought process from threat to challenge.

Not, “This is awful – I’m going under”, but rather, “How can I handle this differently?” Your brain will trigger a logical response rather than an emotive one. Well, that’s the theory anyway. Give it a try.

 

  1. Cry it out!

Have you seen the film Inside Out? I love that bit where Bing Bong’s rocket, in which he’d planned to go to the moon has been pushed over the cliff. He can’t take anymore, he just sits down and sobs. Joy wants him to pull himself together and get on. She tries to encourage him, to distract him, to get him going again. All to no avail. Sadness, however, just sits beside him and cries too. She’s in the moment with him. She lets him cry. She lets him express his loss she acknowledges his sadness.  Sometimes you just need to let that emotion out.

Don’t feel you have to hold it all together. Cry it out!

Psychiatrist Elizabeth Pearson said, “What we resist persists and what we accept evolves.” She says that by allowing the emotional expression of crying or ranting, you are allowing the negative feelings to move through you and dissipate.

You will know when and where is a safe place to express that emotion.

I happened to ring a friend yesterday and found her on her daily walk. Well, the truth is she’d actually had a meltdown and stormed out of the house leaving her children in the care of her husband. She recognised there was a real need for her to get away, and as she cried and ranted over the phone I did my best listening. She processed a lot of ‘stuff’. We laughed and she returned to her family in a better frame of mind. Now you may not be able to leave your kids, you may not have a place to walk to, a friend may not happen to call…. I recognise all of that, and I’m really sorry but keep reading, tip no. 6 is for you.

 

  1. Take a moment.

In our high tech world there are some amazing apps to help relieve stress and tension. But there are other ways too. You may like to try mindfulness. It’s a way of living where you remember to step back and be in the present moment in any situation.

Mindfulness doesn’t eliminate stress or other difficulties. Instead, by becoming aware of unpleasant thoughts and emotions that arise because of challenging situations, we have more choice in how to handle them in the moment, along with a better chance of reacting well when faced with stress. Of course, practising mindfulness does not mean we never get angry, rather it allows us to be more thoughtful in how we want to respond, whether that’s calmly and with empathy, or perhaps occasionally with measured anger.

There’s lots of reasons not to go on social media right now. There’s so much negativity and pessimism on there. Don’t let all those images of family bliss fool you. No one ever uploads photos of the chaos going on in every room of the house. But there are some really positive messages being shared too. I love the one that reminds us that we’re all in this storm but each experiencing it in a different boat. I find that comforting. Oh and the ones based on AA Milne… so cute!

An attitude of gratitude is life-giving rather than energy-sapping. I have found it helpful to write down in a journal the things I am grateful for when I wake up in the morning and maybe add to that list when I go to bed. Take a moment and focus on the positive.

 

  1. Get close to water

The sound of running water has a calming, soothing effect on adults and children.

Fill the sink with reusable plastic tubs, pots and bottles let them pour from one to the other to their hearts content. Add some bubbles but only after a while. If things are getting fraught, pop little ones in the bath, it doesn’t matter what time it is. Who cares? Encourage older children to take a shower or have a bath. Play a YouTube recording of a river or ocean waves and see what happens!  I tried this and it nearly drove me mad, so it’s not a cure all. If you live by the sea or a river… well, I’m jealous and that’s all I have to say on the matter.

 

  1. Find some space!

Before COVID-19 some 71% of parents admitted to doing whatever it took to get some alone time, I reckon the other 29% did not understand the question. So don’t feel guilty. If you can get a little distance between you and the mayhem in your house, and do it safely, don’t hesitate.

Now I know that’s particularly difficult right now, but I’m not necessarily talking about taking a brisk forty five minute walk outside in the fresh air, though if you can get it be sure you do. When it is safe to do so give yourself permission to walk away if you need to. Disconnect from the madness and noise around you.

Camp out in the loo with a book for a while or, if you have one, ‘potter’ in the garden shed or garage. Depending on the weather, take a comforting drink into the garden. I have a friend with a big family who uses folding laundry as her ‘me time’. There’s loads of it and none of her children want to help so they give her a wide birth. She has perfected the art of doing it so carefully that she can listen to a podcast or catch up on a chapter of an audible book. If you can fold your laundry in a few moments be grateful! But even a couple of minutes may be enough to keep you going for another hour or so.

About the author

Nicola Watson Is our Additional Needs Support Coordinator. She has three grown-up children, the youngest of whom has additional needs. Nicola is a trainer, assessor and has taught childcare and parenting skills for many years. Nicola enjoys singing and writing.

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