By Dr Tom Brunzell, co-author of Creating Trauma-Informed, Strengths-Based Classrooms
Before we can help our children cope with the heavy toll of lockdown and isolation, we need to make sure that our own wellbeing is looked after.
It’s the classic aeroplane safety message (remember those?) that tells us to ‘put on your own mask first before you help others.’
Because we can’t properly care for the wellbeing of our children if our own needs aren’t being met first.
Coping strategies for tackling isolation and lockdown with kids
As adults, we have a tendency to want to think or reason our way out of problems.
But instead of thinking our way out, it’s often more helpful to consider we hold our stress non-verbally within our bodies.
When we take actions that soothe our body’s fight-flight-freeze stress response, our body receives signals that it’s no longer under threat, our mind will calm in response.
Deep breathing, for example, is an effective way of de-escalating ourselves and activating the relaxation response.
If you find yourself feeling escalated, stressed, or distressed in the face of lockdown, deep breathing techniques such as drawing your breath down to your belly, calm your escalated stress response and help you to de-escalate.
Regularly practising deep breathing provides the oxygen you need, and helps reset the body’s baseline stress level, and is a great tool to model for your children, too.
Try modelling a couple of deep breaths, explaining how it gives the body the oxygen it needs to think clearly. Say something like: “I could sure use a deep breath right now. How about you?”
Many of the mindfulness and wellbeing strategies that we suggest for children will enact strategies that adults practice and model in front of them. This is an example of a somatosensory activity – an activity that allows our bodies to integrate sensory information.
When breathing, we feel our bodies, the temperature of the air, the pressure of our lungs filling up and emptying. We often recommend somatosensory activities that provide sensory input from a variety of sources.
Playing handball, for example, is a somatosensory activity. Because the body must coordinate a number of sensory cues: touching the texture of the ball, hearing the rhythmic bounce on the floor, and seeing the positions of other players.
Similarly, highly tactile activities, such as playing with sensory tools, squishy objects, or kinetic sand, send soothing messages to the brain.
And while we adults might feel that kinetic sand is for the kids, kneading dough to make bread can have a similar effect. Which could explain why everyone had a sudden urge to bake sourdough in lockdown.
Or consider knitting. There’s the click-clack sound of the needles, the feel and smell of the wool in your hands, and the visual of your beautiful new sweater appearing before your very eyes.
Movement is incredibly important for keeping our stress response in check.
Although going anywhere far is limited in lockdown, it’s still possible to go outside to exercise. Even if it’s just for a short walk or jog.
Admittedly, by this point, you might feel like you’ve walked down every road within your 5km radius a thousand times. But there’s likely a small pocket that you haven’t yet explored.
By modelling your own wellbeing strategies for coping with lockdown, your children will naturally learn how to implement them in their own ways.
Our research shows that when children have multiple examples of adults in their lives doing this over and over and again, they begin to naturally start doing these steps on their own.
Acknowledge through empathy that all of our bodies are holding stress right now.
Help your children identify where in their bodies they may feel tightness, rumbles or strain. Model your own self-reflection as an adult by explaining you also share these feelings from time to time.
Humans have always supported one another by moving side-by-side together. Suggest to your child that you go for a short walk. Visit the local park (if government restrictions allow). Or ride your bikes outside.
Wellbeing strategies you implement for yourself will likely have a trickle-down effect on your kids.
By working on being your calmest, most grounded self, you’ll also help your children build the mental and physical resources to get through these incredibly difficult times. It’s a win-win.