This column is the 11th 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.
Are we having fun yet? There has been plenty of time for you and your family to go through the giddy excitement and confusion of everything shutting down and being FREE! FREE! through the strain and conflict over being productive with everyone crammed in the house to the fear and anger about what our social and financial future is going to become. And here you are. Your family has developed a kind of rhythm now, but it isn’t sustainable. It is unclear yet whether you will be creating a new normal or if this is a way station on the way back to the old normal. So, in some ways, we are all still crowded together at the station wearing masks and trying to keep six feet apart. (And, as if all this isn’t enough, murder hornets have arrived in the United States.)
All this fear, uncertainty and isolation are taking a toll on you and your kids. So let’s take a moment to do a quick review of everyone’s physical and emotional health. Below are some quizzes and questionnaires that measure important areas of a healthy lifestyle. This will be your “mental health checkup” as you prepare for the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To begin, have the family gather with devices that can connect to the internet. (Damn it! We can’t seem to write a column without breaking our own “no screens” rule! CURSE THIS INDISPENSABLE INSTRUMENT OF EVIL!) Anyway, get on your screens and have everyone complete the different quizzes and questionnaires. (The younger your child, the more you may need to assist them in completing the questionnaires or skip them altogether. If the questionnaire is above their developmental level, ask at least a few age-appropriate questions about the concepts so your younger children can still participate.) Use the summary table at the end of this column to gather the results in one place.
Stressful Life Events. Let’s start with taking a quick snap shot of overall stress. The Holms and Rahe Stress Life Events scale is the grandparent of stress measures. The American Institute of Stress has conveniently provided an online version of the scale.
Hassles and Uplifts. Another category of stressors is the small but pernicious hassles you experience day to day. An interesting element of these events is that they are experienced either as a hassle or as an uplift. It depends on the person. Research suggests these daily hassles can be more impactful on your health than the more significant stressors measured by the Stressful Life Events scale.
Healthy Lifestyle. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle includes adequate sleep, moderate exercise, healthy diet and other forms of physically well-being. This quiz covers a lot of those important quality of life issues.
Depression. All this disruption and stress is an ideal breeding ground for depression (and anxiety, up next). Complete this questionnaire to see whether you are struggling with depression.
Anxiety. How could you not feel at least some anxiety? Everything keeps changing and there is no telling when things will settle into some kind of stable pattern. Take this questionnaire to determine the severity your anxiety.
Burnout. The extent of changes and adaptation required by isolation and the shut down of the economy has dumped a ton of responsibility on your shoulders as parents and on your kids for having to manage their own schedules and be more responsible for their lives. You have been dealing with this, without interruption, for long enough that burn out is a real possibility. This questionnaire will let you see if you are experiencing this debilitating state. You can substitute “parenting” or “school” for “work” in the quiz.
Happiness. It is also important to track the positive side of your thoughts and feelings. Being happy is not the same as not being depressed or anxious. See how you score on this one.
Overwhelmed. Despite the stress and strains you are experiencing, you may or may not be feeling overwhelmed by these demands. Take this quiz to see if you are feeling overwhelmed by all the demands of this shut down. Again, you can substitute “parenting,” “family” or “school work” for “work” in this quiz.
Purpose and Meaning. An important part of mental health and life satisfaction is having a sense of meaning and purpose. How well have you been maintaining a sense of purpose with all the COVID-19 craziness?
Gratitude. Studies show that gratitude is an important source of mental and emotional health. The folks at the Greater Good Magazine have some great resources for this and other concepts in positive psychology. This is their gratitude quiz.
Awe. And while we are at it, why not check in on everyone’s capacity for awe and wonder. The greater your capacity for wonder and inspiration, the greater your experience of joy and contentment.
Family Relationship. You might as well find out how everyone is feeling about this aspect of family life. This quiz is a brief measure of family relationship quality. This one will have been stretched to the breaking point for most of us.
Physical and Psychological Health Screen Summary
Stressful Life Events: _______. Check this box if you have 150 points or higher, circle the check if you have a score of 300 or higher. (There isn’t a set score on the younger child quiz so let’s just say if the score is above 20 put a check. If it is above 28 then circle the check.)
Hassles and Uplifts: _______. Check this box if the hassles number is higher than the uplift number. Circle the check if you have more than 20 hassles.
Healthy Lifestyle Quiz: _______. Check this box if the online quiz summary identifies moderate concern. Circle the check if it expresses serious concern.
Depression Quiz: _______. Check this box if your score is mild to moderate. Circle the check if your score was moderate or higher. (There isn’t a set score on the younger child quiz so let’s just say if the score is above 20 put a check. If it is above 28 then circle the check.) If anyone indicates thoughts of suicide or thoughts of death contact your medical doctor or a mental health professional to talk about ways to obtain support and help. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Anxiety Quiz: _______. Check this box if your score is moderate anxiety. Circle the check if your score is above moderate. (There isn’t a set score on the younger child quiz so let’s just say if the score is above 20 put a check. If it is above 28 then circle the check.)
Burnout Quiz: _______. Check this box if your score is greater than 33. Circle the check if your score is greater than 50.
Happiness Quiz: _______. Check this box if your score is below moderate. Circle the check if your score is low. (There isn’t a set score on the younger child quiz so let’s just say if the score is below 28 put a check. If it is below 20 then circle the check.)
Overwhelmed Quiz: _______. Check this box if your score is in the moderate range. Circle the check if your score is in the high range.
Purpose and Meaning Quiz: _______. Check this box if your score is less than 60. Circle the check if your score is less than 50. (There isn’t a set score on the younger child quiz so let’s just say if the score is below 12 put a check. If it is below 8 then circle the check.)
Gratitude Quiz: _______. Check this box if your score is less than 60. Circle the check if your score is less than 40.
Awe: _______. Check and circle this box if your score is low.
Family Relationship: There isn’t a set score on this so let’s just say if the score is 24 put a check. If it is below 20 then circle the check.
Once everyone has completed the quizzes and filled in the summary form, take some time to talk about what each of you thought about the quizzes. Which ones were most interesting? What were your most significant stressors? What were the most annoying hassles? The most meaningful uplifts? What new thing did you discover about yourself? Which topics were in the extreme range? What was your most healthy area? How do you think this shut down contributed to your scores?
So. Fix it! Just kidding. In our next column we will be providing suggestions and recommendations for finding ways to integrate each of these indicators of healthy living into this time of isolation and economic stress. Part of the “new normal” can be greater attention to these subtle, often neglected but critical quality of life issues.
One more thing. These quizzes and questionnaires are meant to be used for reflection and self-awareness as well as a springboard for discussing important areas of healthy living. Some of them are well researched and scientifically valid. Others capture the essence of the concepts they purport to measure but have not demonstrated adequate measurement characteristics to allow us to draw scientifically valid conclusions about the meaning of the scores. In addition, almost none of them were designed for children and teens (because instruments measuring these concepts for children and teens are very hard to come by). So, please be aware that these questionnaires and the scores derived from them are for entertainment and self-reflection purposes only and do not reflect our professional judgement or opinions. The inclusion of these quizzes does not represent endorsement by us nor have we received any financial remuneration for referencing these instruments or organizations.
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.