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Five Daily Questions for Parents in Quarantine or Lockdown

"Being home 24/7 with kids, my attention is pulled in so many directions at once, and I end the day feeling like it just got away from me. I feel like I need some way to prioritize, so I know what to focus on!" - Anna

There's a lovely meme making the rounds from Brooke Anderson and the Greater Good Science Center, called Six Daily Questions To Ask Yourself in Quarantine. The six questions would be helpful to anyone.

If you're a parent, though, you might have slightly different priorities. These five questions might be a good starting point to help you focus on what matters most.

1. How will I center and replenish myself today?

Every parent is under tremendous stress right now. You can't be the emotionally generous parent you want to be unless you work through your big emotions and replenish your reserves. Oh, and get enough sleep!

Brainstorm two lists of things that nurture and replenish you: the first that you can do while your children are with you, and the second that you can do on your own. Be sure to include practices that help you work through big emotions and reduce tension. Post your lists and do some of your ideas every day. Even if it seems to take energy to get started, you'll end up energized.

For instance, maybe you'll:

  • Build an hour of "Me Time" for everyone into your family routine so you can sit and get centered with no one touching you.
  • While your children get some screen time at the end of the day, listen to a guided meditation.
  • Go to bed early so you get extra sleep. (Good for your immune system as well as your patience!)
  • Use a family schedule or routine. (The human mind likes to know what to expect. Otherwise, it gets more anxious.)
  • Get up half an hour earlier than your kids so you have time to write in a journal while you drink your tea or coffee (journaling develops self-regulation and compassion.)

2. How will I connect with each of my children today, to help them to feel safe, seen, soothed, and appreciated?

Fear is infectious in a pandemic, and children are like little lightning rods. They pick up everything, and feel it -- but they can't articulate what they're feeling, so they act out. As parents, one of our most important jobs right now is helping our children feel safe. That will also reduce sibling squabbling and other "childish" behavior. 

For instance, maybe you'll:

  • Sit with your child while he's playing, just pouring your love into him and resisting the urge to teach him anything. Instead, say "I love to watch you play," and describe, occasionally, what you see him doing: "I see you're filling the dump truck with legos."
  • When your child is clingy, scoop her up and say "Are you out of hugs again?! Let's see what we can do about that! I think I have 30 kisses and hugs for you right now!"
  • Empathize when your child is whining so he feels understood and a bit less overwhelmed.
  • Respond to your child's disappointment by accepting it, listening and sitting with your child in her disappointment, instead of trying to talk her out of it. 

3. How will I get our family outside, moving our bodies and connecting with nature today?

Exercise boosts your mood, gives you energy, and reduces the physical feelings of stress and anxiety. Kids who spend time outside in nature, research shows, are calmer, happier, healthier, more creative, have better vision, longer attention spans, more frustration tolerance, and do better in school. Why not combine these two essentials? Even if you have only a tiny balcony and can't leave your apartment, you can spend as much time as possible on your balcony. And in most countries, you can leave your apartment once a day, as long as you wear a mask. (Making masks of bandannas is fun for kids.)

For instance, maybe you'll:

  • On a balcony: blow bubbles, have a picnic, or play “Will it sink or float?” with objects from around your house.
  • On a city sidewalk: draw a Hopscotch or write messages of appreciation to passers-by.  
  • If you're lucky enough to have a yard: plant a garden. If not, plant seeds on your windowsill!
  • Go to the park to Play Tag, Hide & Seek, Red Light Green Light, or Roll down a hill together.  
  • Have a Nature Scavenger Hunt (at a park) or a water fight (in your yard or on your balcony). 
  • Ride Bikes together.

4. How will I get our family laughing today?

Laughter reduces the stress hormones circulating in the body. It also increases the bonding hormones, so you feel safer with and more warmly toward someone you've been laughing with. Get siblings laughing together to reduce competition, and get everyone laughing together to reduce the tension of 24/7 togetherness.

For instance, maybe you'll:

  • Have a family dance party.
  • Be a scary but incompetent monster and chase your children around.
  • Have a family pillow fight.
  • Play "Take each other's socks off."
  • Scoop your child up and run around your home with them upside down, or swinging them wildly to get them laughing, then dump them on the couch.

5. How will I model grace under pressure for my children today?

Your children are watching you handle this pandemic, and taking their cues from you. Do they need to panic? Or could they maybe find ways to be a better human being during this time of crisis? Luckily, you can count on multiple opportunities today to model what you hope your children will learn, by practicing your self-regulation skills and extending grace, to others and to yourself.

For instance, maybe you'll:

  • Let go of your perfectionism and try to be more flexible, which is a hallmark of resilience.
  • Stop, Drop and Breathe, and then try a Do Over when you get exasperated with your child today.
  • When you feel overwhelmed, remind yourself to take things one day at a time. 
  • Pause during the day to model putting your hand on your heart and breathing in goodness and safety. (This activates the calming part of the nervous system and restores healthier heartbeat patterns.) 
  • Forgive yourself for not being as perfect as you'd like, and let go of the guilt when you let your kids have some extra screen time. (Guilt doesn't serve you. And it's a pandemic -- you need coping mechanisms! Don't worry, you can walk them back later.)

What about Question #6? 

You're a parent! Five questions is plenty, if you made sure your children were fed and happy. And notice what isn't on this list: Taking up a new hobby. Cleaning out your closets. Even Academics, which need to take a back seat to Emotional Development at the moment.

Give yourself a high five of appreciation even if you only get to two questions today. And that's what to focus on if you really want one more question: Appreciate your many blessings. How can you remember to appreciate every single thing, all day long? 

The mind’s job is to keep us safe, so the mind is always worrying about the future, always thinking that something is lacking. But if we can remember to shift to gratitude, we shift to the heart. The heart has no guarantees about the future, but it is fully here in the present moment. And in this moment, there is no fear -- Whatever happens, we will handle it. The heart knows that in this moment we have enough, we do enough, we are enough.

We are more than enough. When we choose to be grateful, we open the door to enough. And if all we focus on is appreciation, we'll find that's more than enough.



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