Parenting right now is a whole new game—one where we’re writing the playbook as we sprint down the field. Suddenly, we’ve become our children’s teachers, social directors, tech support, and sole resource for tough questions we don’t know the answers to, such as, “When will this all be over?” We are flat out, stressed out, and now studies show, we are burned out, too.
A recent Pew Center study showed that over one-third of working parents are experiencing a new kind of burnout called “parental burnout,” defined as “a prolonged response to chronic and overwhelming parental stress.” Symptoms include physical and mental exhaustion, decreased sleep quality, emotional distancing from children, and a sense of incompetency as a parent.
Sound familiar? As a parent of two, I can relate.
And of course, our kids are struggling too. One study of 10,000 children from the University of Oxford showed that primary aged kids report an increase in emotional and behavioral issues and attentional difficulties. Secondary-school age children report an increase in restlessness and attentional behaviors, as well.
So what do we do?
While we can’t solve all of the complex issues at hand, we can practice specific techniques that will support us at this time and boost the resilience of ourselves and our children. Here are the key practices for both parents and children to bounce back more quickly from the many challenges and setbacks at hand, handle the uncertainty with a bit more ease, and maybe even have a few laughs along the way.
1. Address Your Own Feelings First
One of the most powerful things we can do as parents right now is model the behavior we’d like to see in our kids. Our children are like little sponges; they are looking to us as guides through this crazy new world, and we are the barometers of safety. To be resilient role models, even when we might not feel strong or equipped for it, we must address our Iceberg Beliefs—big, bold beliefs we have about how the world should work and how we should be as parents. These beliefs may sound like:
- “I’m not giving my kids the childhood they deserve.”
- “I’m responsible for my children’s happiness and I can’t provide it.”
- “I should be able to do this all myself.”
- “I need to put others first.”
Reframe those beliefs by creating new, healthy statements called mantras, such as these:
- “I’m doing my best.”
- “I’ll focus on what I can control and let go of the rest.”
- “Taking care of myself helps me care for others.”
Repeat these mantras to yourself, write them down, and keep them visible to help you reroute your old ways of thinking.
2. Self-Care is a Must
Many of us think of self-care as a special break from our to-do list that we give ourselves once in a blue moon. We think, “I’m too busy for self-care,” or “I’ll get to it later after I do everything else.” And then we never get to it. Self-care is not a luxury. It is a necessity. If we do not take care of ourselves, we simply can not take care of anyone else.
When it comes to self-care, it’s less a question of what to do, but rather, of how to do it: How to find the time to incorporate simple practices into our busy lives. It is doable though. The key is to start small. Check out our brand new Self-Care Action Plan skill, to start a simple practice that supports your lifestyle and wellbeing.
3. Listen Authentically
Our kids are feeling a mixed bag of emotions. They’re sad, missing how things used to be. They’re angry at the unfairness of it all. They have anxiety about all the uncertainty. They feel frustrated that there’s nothing to look forward to. And they’re bored out of their minds because there is nothing to do. It’s natural to want to fix your kids’ problems, but these are complex times that lack simple solutions. Resist the urge to shut down “complaints” as unproductive. You might not be able to resolve their issues, but the act of truly listening and allowing your child to be heard is more valuable than you think. Make a point to check in with your kids, using this technique:
- Minimize distractions – put devices away
- Hold a clear intention – ie I want them to be heard.
- Let them talk – use empathetic words to show you’re listening
- Confirm – reflect back specifics
- Apply the rule of three – give them at least three opportunities to get to what matters (that’s usually how many tries it takes)
4. Practice Positivity
We practice this Rose, Bud, Thorn technique at the dinner table most nights. It helps us recenter by reminding us that even in the midst of negative circumstances, there are a slew of things simultaneously going well.
Here’s how it works:
Rose: Think of your “rose” of the day—what went well.
Bud: Think of one thing you’re looking forward to.
Thorn: What didn’t go well.
5. Create Structure
Structure is a lifesaver for children, particularly now when their routines have vanished into thin air. It combats stress and anxiety by instituting some normalcy and clear expectations. With my children, who are 13 and 15, I’ve assigned specific daily chores, made a rule about no screen time rule until noon, required 30 minutes of exercise daily and 30 minutes of outside time, and created what I call “MMO’s”—money-making opportunities—to earn cash for taking care of things around the house. Both my kids painted our fence this summer, for example.
It might not be the year they remember as the most fun or exciting, but it certainly will be one that shapes them into the resilient people they grow up to be. And one that you, as their caregiver, have a large hand in shaping alongside them. As long as you are doing your best, you are doing right by your kids—and by yourself.