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Keeping Your Family Functional in the Wake of COVID 19

Tracy S. Cummings, MD Psychiatrist, Lindner Center of HOPE Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Medical Director of CCHMC Services at LCOH

On a large scale, our world continues to adjust to the new normal enacted for our safety in the wake of COVID19. And while we may be interested in global responses and big picture outcomes, this tends to pale in comparison to the level of concern a family holds for its members and home. Our definitions of “family” may vary, and our abilities to handle stress can be wide-ranging, but we all likely share our desire to see the system succeed. Having tangible options to put into action in our households right now can give us a sense of purpose and accomplishment while keeping those that mean the most to us moving forward in positive directions through this uncertain time. Consider the following acronym, HELP, to help keep your family functional:

H– Heed the advice of our trusted medical and community leaders.

  • Staying up to date on current safety recommendations from the CDC, WHO and governmental leaders is important.
  • Understanding what local resources may be needed and taking the time to consider your home’s personal emergency plan is worthwhile.
  • Creating a sense of control over those things that are within your grasp will feel rewarding, even if there is some anxiety around the situation.
  • Once you have the general information you need to proceed with helping your family, limit exposure to crisis-related media.

E– Enact the recommendations of the leaders and your personal plan.

  • In order for this to be successful for families, there will need to be good communication about its importance. Talking about the virus in a way everyone can understand (particularly if there are young children in the home) will pose a worthwhile challenge. Consider this as an opportunity to demonstrate empathy and compassion for each other when our particular ways of acknowledging, responding to, and addressing stress becomes apparent.
  • Take the universal precautions immediately: good hand hygiene, covering coughs/sneezes, frequently clean/disinfect, maintain social distancing, wear a mask if in a public setting, stay home as much as possible and absolutely if sick.
  • Remember that younger members in the home will be watching those around them for cues on how to handle this situation, so reinforce the recommendations through modeling the appropriate behaviors as much as possible. If the adults in the home are struggling with how they are personally managing the stress of today, seeking assistance for mental health strength should not be delayed.

L– Listen to the needs of your individual household and make room for those in the necessary changes.

  • Label priorities for your family: academics, virtual lessons, family meals, general chores, and what needs to be done on a given day.
  • The use of a broad-strokes calendar may be helpful here, so as to set some daily standards and routines. With so much changing around us (ie. schools closed, remote working requirements, conveniences disrupted), having some predictability to the day can provide security to adults and children alike. Do you have to set up a strict schedule for every hour of the day and follow it militantly?  No, but knowing there is some allotted time for a few essential activities a day is reasonable, and IT CAN CHANGE as needed.
  • Emphasize flexibility over perfection these days.

P– Protect your unity.

  • Emotions can run high during this time of collective crisis. Accepting how difficult these changes are for us all can be freeing.
  • It is ok to grieve the loss of all the special moments and events that have been postponed or canceled due to COVID19. Whenever possible, consider ways to creatively experience those moments in an alternative fashion. Can’t go to Disney?  How about making a Disney movie night and riding some virtual rides that are posted for the park?
  • Keep in contact with those who are important to your family as much as possible. Use the technology available to your advantage. Virtual birthday parties and gatherings, like many current classrooms, are being readily utilized with success. Phone calls with or without video, texts, and even sending letters/cards are simple ways to avoid isolation while maintaining social distancing.
  • Staying connected doesn’t mean you have to spend every moment together, though. It might be nice, and likely necessary, for family members in the same home to have some time to themselves. Use these moments to recharge and encourage young ones in the home to appreciate this personal time as well.

These are uncharted waters for our families, our communities, our planet. We cannot expect to know how to handle our current circumstances flawlessly, but we can keep trying.  All we need is a little HELP.