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Tips for Supporting Yourself and Your Family

Leading Through COVID-19

family flying a kite Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense, wrote, “These are the times that try men's souls.” Paine’s words are most appropriate for the challenges we, as educators, have faced over the past week. It has truly been a test of the resilience of students, parents, school and school district personnel. Once again, we see a “can do” spirit exhibited daily throughout the education community as you meet the needs of your students with food deliveries, learning packets, eLearning, and an endless list of other things. Your herculean efforts during this unprecedented time is a shining example of servant leadership.
 
D7 is thankful for our teachers, parents and students and proud to be part of a community that places the highest priority on the wellbeing of our children. We do not know what challenges we will face in the coming days and weeks. However, one thing we’re completely certain of is that we will rise to the occasion because in District 7 and in Spartanburg, that is what we do.
 
We hope these guidelines for maintaining social, emotional and mental wellness during this time of uncertainty and change will help us continue to face challenges with a positive spirit across our District 7 family. 

Stress and Coping - Reduce Stress in Yourself and Others 

The outbreak of the coronavirus may be stressful for people. However, coping with stress will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger. Taking care of yourself, your friends, and your family can help you cope with stress. Sharing the facts about COVID-19 and understanding the actual risk to yourself and people you care about can make an outbreak less stressful. When you share accurate information about COVID-19, you can help make people feel more at ease and allow you to connect with them.

Things you can do to support yourself

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can create an unhealthy environment.
  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Practice empathy. Even while avoiding close physical contact, message the people you care about. Stand with those most vulnerable.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
  • Practice kindness and gratitiude. Remember we are in this together. Take time to make a note of the things for which you are grateful.
  • Connect with your spiritual or religious tradition if you have one. Find strength and solace through reading, rituals, practices, holy times and seasons.
  • Practice hope. 

Children and teens react, in part, to what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with the COVID-19 calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children. Parents can be more reassuring to others around them, especially children, if they are better prepared.

There are many things you can do to support your child

  • Take time to talk with your child or teen about the COVID-19 outbreak. Answer questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child or teen can understand.
  • Reassure your child or teen that they are safe. Let them know it is ok if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.
  • Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand.
  • Try to keep up with regular routines. Create a schedule for learning activities as well as relaxing or fun activities.
  • Be a role model. Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members.

Help Starts Here: Dial 2-1-1 
If you or someone you love has been impacted by COVID-19, there is help available. The United Way Association of South Carolina encourages you to complete this COVID-19 Impact Survey if you have been impacted by the Coronavirus. They will contact you to share resources that are currently available and will reach back out to you when new resources become available.

COVID-19: Five Helpful Responses for Families (from consciousdiscipline.com)

adult comforting child 1.     Young children co-regulate with trusted adults and older children feed off our internal states. Our calm nurtures their calm. Check in with yourself.  Practice active calming by taking three deep breaths when you feel yourself becoming frustrated, fearful, angry or desperate. Seek out activities and people who calm you. Limit your news intake, social media and other sources of stress. Be a Safe Place for your child.

Acknowledge your feelings and your children’s. Know that children’s fits and meltdowns aren’t just about the momentary point of frustration that triggered them; they’re about the underlying state of uncertainty they’re experiencing. Offer them calm, comfort and reassurance with deep breathing and phrases like, “You’re safe. You can handle this. We’ll get through this together.” Encourage them to name and manage their feelings. And forgive yourself when you’re the one who’s had the fit or meltdown.

Focus on safety and connection. The brain functions optimally when it feels both safe and connected. Children need to know that life is going to be different and that you will find a new normal together. Make safety and connection your top priority, especially in the first days; you can always add academics, chores and such later. If you don’t already practice active calming, start! Conscious Discipline uses S.T.A.R., Balloon, Drain and Pretzel breathing, and there are dozens of other websites with helpful breathing games and yoga for kids.

Build extra togetherness into your day. For young children, this might look like extra reading or playing blocks together. For older children, it might be doing a puzzle or playing a favorite video game together. Notice whatever your child is doing and join in their play. Go outside and play. Get down on the floor and play. Wrestle. Giggle. Snuggle. Hug, high five and enjoy. Connection isn’t just good for your mood, it builds neural connections in your child’s brain and increases cooperation (and who couldn’t use a little of that right now?).

Age-appropriate information increases safety; “You’re fine” does not. Information will help reassure and soothe children’s fears, but it’s important to know when enough is enough. Explain to children why life is different using the simplest terms possible. Answer their questions honestly, without offering too much detail or overwhelming them with information. Watch the news in private rather than having it running in the background all day. Limit social media for your children and yourself. Focus on statements like, “You’re safe. You can handle this. We will get through this together,” instead of dismissing with comments like, “Everything’s okay,” or “It’s not something you need to worry about.”

Helpful Free Resources:

3.     Create your new normal. The brain thrives on predictable patterns. Our daily and weekly patterns have been turned upside down without warning. Creating a new normal begins with a new daily routine. Families with older children can work together to co-create your new daily schedule (co-creating gives children a way to exert some control over the situation), while parents of younger children will create the schedule for them. Plan it, draw it, label it, post it somewhere obvious and refer to it often so children know what to expect.

A successful daily schedule might be: Wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, project time, outside time, lunch, free play, rest time, family time, dinner, wash/brush, PJs, read, bed. The activities during “project time” could vary between creative play (art, dress up, building blocks), academics, gardening, household projects, or exploring online resources like museum tours, dance classes or storytelling sites. Be certain your schedule has ample opportunities for play. Creating a rhythm to your days and knowing what to expect next cultivates a sense of safety.

Helpful Free Resources:

4.     Give children ways to contribute. Contribution lights up the reward centers of the brain and releases feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. Verbally highlight the way your family is helping your community and hospitals by staying home. Draw pictures and make cards to mail, leave on friends’ and neighbors’ doorsteps, or drop off at a nursing home.

Provide lots of little ways for children to be helpful at home and offer authentic praise for their helpfulness. The contribution needs to be voluntary, not coerced, in order to release those feel-good brain chemicals. Ask, “Do you want to make my coffee this morning?” If the answer is, “No,” let it go. If the answer is, “Yes,” show them how to make coffee and then rave about how helpful it was for them to brew it.

Helpful Free Resources:

5.     Shift toward seeing the best. Notice your inner and outer speech. Are you “stuck at home” with your kids, or do you have an opportunity to connect with family and keep the community safe while you work from home? Are you “stuck at work,” or are you helping to keep the community running by staffing hospitals, grocery stores and other important functions in spite of the risks? Are selfish people hoarding things, or are frightened people trying to make sure their families have enough? Are government officials doing too much/not enough/stupid things, or are they doing the best they can with constantly changing information about an unexpected, unprecedented threat? Should those idiots know better than to go out, or are there millions of individuals who are helping each other by staying home to slow the spread of the virus?

It’s easy to get caught up in what’s going wrong. Instead, make an effort to consciously shift toward helpfulness. Use your words as a spotlight to illuminate the behaviors you want to see more of and aspects you find helpful amidst the fear. The more positive aspects you discuss around your children, the more they are able to see the best in the situation. The more you notice and verbalize children’s helpful actions, the more helpful they will become. Shifting your perspective from what you don’t want to what you do want paves the way for a healthier internal state for you and your children.

Helpful Free Resources:

Resources from Spartanburg Area Mental Health

Spartanburg Area Mental Health has a toll free service called the Disaster Distress Hotline for students, staff, and family members feeling distressed during this time.  This hotline is staffed by behavioral health professionals, and is specifically for people experiencing emotional distress due to a disaster event.

You can call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.

Below are links to articles on coping with coronavirus anxiety, mindfulness exercises, and how to talk with someone who has anxiety.

Managing COVID-19 Anxiety: https://adaa.org/finding-help/coronavirus-anxiety-helpful-resources

Guided Meditations and Exercises: https://centerformsc.org/practice-msc/guided-meditations-and-exercises/
 
Talking to a Child about Covid-19: https://www. .org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-climate-safety-and-crisis/health-crisis-resources/talking-to-children-about-covid-19-(coronavirus)-a-parent-resource

10 Ways to Ease Coronavirus Anxiety https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/smarter-living/coronavirus-anxiety-tips.html

Is There a Right Way to Worry About Coronavirus? : https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/mar/19/coronavirus-anxiety-mental-health-wellbeing

Coronavirus and Children: How to Combat Anxiety: https://www.dutchnews.nl/news/2020/03/coronavirus-and-children-how-to-combat-anxiety/

How to Feel Less Alone, Anxious, and Overwhelmed While You’re Stuck in Your House: https://www.phillymag.com/be-well-philly/2020/03/19/coronavirus-anxiety-social-distancing-mental-health-tips/

Experts give tips on dealing with stress and anxiety from the coronavirus pandemic: https://www.abcactionnews.com/news/region-pinellas/experts-give-tips-on-dealing-with-stress-and-anxiety-from-the-coronavirus-pandemic

Coronavirus (COVID-19): managing stress and anxiety:https://services.unimelb.edu.au/counsel/resources/wellbeing/coronavirus-covid-19-managing-stress-and-anxiety

Even at the worst of times we are all in this together and it’s so important to be there for others as a support system or even just a shoulder to lean on. We genuinely hope that these articles and resources will be helpful to you.

Additional Resources for Parents