This column is the 12th in a series providing information and suggestions about parenting through the COVID-19 pandemic. Therapists, authors and child experts Jim Wellborn, Ph.D. and Stacy Jagger, LMFT will be helping parents explain to their kids what is happening as well as how to deal with the various challenges of having kids home for the next month or more. They will be giving you suggestions and advice about setting up schedules, dealing with bored and irritable kids, continuing their schoolwork from home, keeping them occupied, maintaining friendships and social connections, managing and monitoring screen time and taking care of yourself so you can take care of your kids.
If you wait until things are “normal” again, you may be waiting a long, long time. While there are many things that will return to a familiar pattern, you are faced with the challenge to create a “new normal” for all that remains. This disruption will reveal some areas of your life that were out of balance, ignored or actually unhealthy. Too many other people have been shaping and influencing your child. This is a chance to put yourself back into the equation.
In our last column, you and your kids were able to explore a number of areas that have a significant impact on your psychological and physical health. Now that you reviewed your quality of life by completing those quizzes and questionnaires, this is your opportunity to establish a “new normal” by intentionally including activities for healthier living and promoting emotional wellbeing in your family routines.
This shut down has provided a convenient and relevant opportunity to talk to your older children and teens about the importance of quality of life. Let them know that everyone in the family will be expected to dedicate some regular time to personal wellbeing.
“One of the things I/we realized during the time we have been isolating is how focused we were on all the things that needed to get done: work, school, sports, even church (synagogue/temple/mosque). And then we try to recharge and distract by vegging on the internet, social media or TV. We got into the habit of just going from one thing to another, being consumed with our phones and filling time with stuff. This isn’t all there is to life and living. We really need to pay more attention to things that improve the quality of our lives, things like living a more healthy lifestyle, paying more attention to each other and our relationship, doing things that refresh our spirits and put us in touch with the divine. We need to be aware of what is really important in life and make sure we devote time to things that matter. This is new for us but I/we think you will enjoy it and find it really meaningful. It may seem strange or even frustrating at first. But this is really important to me/us and it is really important for you so you will need to suck it up and go along with it. This is something we are going to do as a family.”
If this is going to work, you will need to set aside dedicated time for these activities. Find a name for these meetings that works for you: family quality of life time, personal growth, personal wellbeing, healthy living or even just family time. While it is important to take the schedules of your older children and, especially, teens into account, everyone must commit and participate. Children tend to enjoy these activities. The vast majority of teens do not spontaneously engage in these kinds of personal growth activities. However, the majority of teens report finding them enjoyable and meaningful once they do them. So, don’t take “no” for an answer. But also, don’t require enthusiasm. Neutral participation is sufficient. They just can’t be outwardly negative. Remember the goal is to draw attention to these aspects of healthy living that are worthy attention and to enjoy each other’s company while you are doing it.
“So we are all going to make time (once a week/a couple of times a week/at the end of the day) on our schedules for Family Quality of Life time. All I/we are asking is that you participate without being negative. (I’m looking at you Horatio!) You don’t have to be positive or enthusiastic. Just don’t be negative or a downer. If you have a negative attitude, we will double the time we spend on the activity. So just make the best of it. I/we think you will enjoy it but we will see. OK, everyone take out your calendars and let’s see what works for a time to meet.”
Once you have set the time, there are wide range of activities to try out. Some of them require larger blocks of time (e.g., volunteering as a family) and others can be relatively brief (e.g., everyone sharing their favorite scripture and why it is meaningful). There will be frief, daily tasks that can be summarized and discussed in the weekly meeting. The internet is filled with lists of activities that can serve to nurture a better quality of life and emotional wellbeing. Here are lists of activities to get you started.
Stress Management. You can use almost all of the suggestions we provided in our previous column on Parent Self-care to manage the stress everyone is feeling. These include meditation, self soothing activities, sharing a favorite relaxing song or making a playlist, 3 Blessings and daily devotionals. You can also find information in the chapters on Stress Part 1 and Part 2 in Jim’s parenting book.
Healthy Lifestyle. There are several different elements to a more healthy lifestyle. Each of them can be the inspiration for a Family Quality of Life activity.
- Star gazing or even sleeping under the stars
- Homemade facial masks (spreading mayonnaise on your face instead of a sandwich? Hilarious!)
- Homemade bath bombs
- Healthy eating (see chapter on discussing healthy diets in Jim’s parenting book and cooking together)
- Exercise (see Exercise Part 1 and Part 2 in Jim’s parenting book)
- Limiting screens (see our previous column)
- Spirituality/faith practices (try choosing a favorite scripture to read and explain why it is meaningful to you and see Religion and Spirituality chapter in Jim’s parenting book)
Depression. (Here’s a place to start if you have concerns. If your child mentions suicide or thoughts of death contact your medical provider or a mental health professional to talk about ways to obtain support and help.)
Anxiety. (Here’s a place to start if you have concerns.)
- Art projects like these or these or these.
- Play (see Play chapter in Jim’s parenting book)
- These ideas from PositivePsychology.com
- Letter to Your Future Self. Write a letter to yourself and open it on a specific day in the future, it could be your birthday or another milestone. Research in the area of prospections has shown the importance of how we think about the future on our current well-being (Baumeister, Vohs, & Oettingen, 2016).
- Purpose in Life activity (adapted from an activity used in the Awakening the Dreamer Symposium):
“Fold paper into three sections. In the first section, list your gifts, strengths, talents, including abilities and personal qualities. In the third section, list problems in the world that are concerning to you. In the middle section, use creativity to devise at least three ways to use your gifts from the first section to solve problems in the third section. Draw and color an image of one of these ideas as if it has already happened and succeeded in solving the problem.”
- Personal Mythology. Create a story using the following form: “Once upon a time there was a _____ named _____. It was very _____, _____, and _____. It lived in _____ with ______. Every day it would _____. It’s favorite thing about its life was _____. Its least favorite thing was _____. More than anything, it wanted _____. The only problem was that _____. One day, it was _____, when suddenly _____.” Continue the story to completion and write, “The End.” Discuss if and how the main character solved its problem.
- One Door Closes, Another Door Opens. Consider a moment in your life when a negative event led to positive consequences that you were not expecting and write about it.
Purpose and Meaning
- Some good prompts for individual activities
- Who are your heroes? (Identify what makes an everyday hero, not a super hero, and then think of people you know or have heard about who have those qualities)
- List of family relationship building activities
- Family movie night
- Complementary Round Table (everyone provides a compliment for everyone else)
- Family Motto (create a statement to represent the core family value or purpose)
So how would this go?
- Let’s say your family has identified Thursday night from 7-7:30 as Family Quality of Life night. (it isn’t the weekend so your teens won’t lose their minds and it is near the end of the week when there was time for everyone to have something to talk about.) If this is the first meeting, then it will be kind of disorganized and kids will be huffing and puffing and rolling their eyes (i.e., teens) or bouncing all over the place (i.e., children). After a couple of meetings, things will settle down. Be sure to give them a countdown during the run up to the meeting.
“Hey, in 30 minutes we are having our Family Quality of Life time!”
- Welcome everyone and state how happy you feel about getting together as a family and how much you have been looking forward to this time. Then, do a brief check-in to orient your kids to this moment and to reflect on the past week in terms of the quality of life.
“Ok! This is great. I/we’ve actually been looking forward to this! Let’s all go around and say how the week has been. What was the best thing that happened to you in the last week? Anything hard or difficult? What is a single emotional word that captures how you are feeling right now.”
- Present the focus for the meeting. Either select it ahead of time or choose from the list as a family. Give a brief overview about why it is worth doing, especially as it relates to quality of life. Then dive in.
“Tonight we are going to practice some meditation. Meditation is just generally a really useful practice because it does so much for you physical health by getting the body into more a positive state and it also is tremendously helpful for emotional or mental stress. So let’s get started.” (Try one of these.)
“Here’s the list of things we can do. Does anyone have a preference?”
- See what everyone thought, including you. Note: ask questions that assume something specific happened or they have an opinion. Teens will shrug or say “OK, I guess” if you ask a “did you like it” or a “how was that” question.
“Well? What did everyone think? What did you like best about that? What was surprising or unexpected about it?”
- When appropriate to the task (e.g., meditation, 3 Blessings, homemade bath bombs, scripture reading or daily prayer), assign it as a daily activity in between the meetings. Ask each person the specific time of day they will be doing the activity so they will already be envisioning it into their schedule. Your kids may need daily reminders across the week about their assignment (or begin the practice of putting it on their schedule with a daily reminder or alert).
“OK. Well for this next week we are all going to be trying this once a day. When will be the best time for you Mark? How about you Tamara? I/we’ll be reminding you each day so you won’t forget.”
- Ask for any thoughts or reactions before ending the gathering. Bless younger children’s hearts, they often have LOTS of thoughts and feelings to share, often that have nothing to do with anything y’all have been doing. That kind of enthusiastic sharing is so funny and beautiful. It is often very helpful in pulling teens out of their cynicism and disdain into participation.
“Anyone have thoughts or feeling they would like to share?”
- Establish a brief ritual that will be repeated at the end of every family meeting. This can be in the form of a family motto (incidentally, a good topic for the first meeting) that promotes core family values, a religious scripture from your faith tradition or a simple prayer. Repeated ritualized statements or prayers can have a subtle and very powerful, long term effect as an emotional and moral anchor for the family. And, end with physical contact.
“That will do if for tonight. Everyone hold hands and close your eyes. Let’s take a moment to breathe. Who wants to start us off in our family motto/prayer/scripture”
ALRIGHT! It is one more thing you have to do. But, with all the stress and anxiety that is currently blanketing the country, your family needs a space apart to reconnect and to experience a calm, joyful moment. Your child is inundated by messages of greed, amorality, selfishness and pessimism. They need someone to help them realize the importance of love, joy, kindness, generosity, compassion and connection. They need encouragement and training on paying attention to the quality of life, not quantity of life. They need YOU. This dedicated time can be one way to show your kids what really matters.
James G. Wellborn, Ph.D.
Dr. James G. Wellborn is a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Brentwood focusing on adolescents and families. He is an expert on motivation, coping in childhood and adolescence, academic engagement, parenting and adolescent development. An invited speaker to groups, agencies and churches on parenting and teenage issues, he conducts workshops for parents, teens, teachers and counselors on parenting teens, teenage issues, adolescent development, motivating teens, mental health issues and intervention strategies. Dr. Wellborn is the author of Raising Teens in the 21st Century: A Practical Guide to Effective Parenting. Dr. Wellborn and his wife live in Nashville, Tennessee and are the parents of two grown children and, now, of two adorable grandchildren. You can learn more about Dr. Wellborn by visiting his website at www.DrJamesWellborn.com.
Stacy Jagger is a mother of four and a therapist to many. She is on a mission to restore wonder to childhood, connection to families, and intimacy to relationships. She is the architect of the 30 Day Blackout, a break from technology designed to bring parents and children closer together and unleash the natural creativity in all of us. A musician at heart, she designed Music with Mommie, a parent-child bonding class that utilizes instruments and play to facilitate connection. Stacy has spent the last several years of her career building Music City Family Therapy, her practice in Brentwood. She lives on a small farm outside the city with her husband of 20 years, a pony named Mister Rogers, a few dozen chickens and a gaggle of ducks.