Article by Heather Deveny-Leggitt

Put your own oxygen mask on first!

When reviewing safety procedures on an airplane, the flight attendant always reminds passengers to put on their own oxygen mask before securing others. This is a helpful metaphor for parenting. Our best intentions often tell us that we need to put our children first, even to the detriment of our own well being. However, as we add on stress and spread ourselves too thin, or try to ignore our own feelings to manage our children’s, we are often getting in our own way. When stress takes over, or we fail to acknowledge and care for our own feelings, we downshift to lower centers of our brain. You may find yourself parenting in ways you promised you never would, even when you know it’s not effective and later feel guilty. In order to access the higher centers of our brain, we have to first take care of and calm ourselves before we can effectively offer that to our children. We can do this by implementing both long term and short term self care. Long term self care includes things that may take more time and need to be scheduled out. For example, setting aside time to work out, watch a favorite TV show, take a bath, or spend time with friends. These are important for our overall well being. It is also important to cultivate short term self-care. Things we can do in the moment when our child is pushing our buttons or our own stress is getting the better of us. One of the most effective things is to take three deep breaths. It is also not only okay, but encouraged, to take a break before turning toward your child, as long as there isn’t a pressing safety concern. Tell your child, “I’m going to take a break and calm down and then help you.” You can then implement short term self care. In addition to breathing, this might include walking around the house, listening to music, spending a few minutes on social media, stepping outside for some fresh air. This models positive coping skills for your child, as well as gives you time to calm down so you can parent as your best self. Think about what you need to accomplish in your day and create a routine for you and your child that aligns both of your needs. If you are able to get to your top priorities, you are more likely to be in a place to help your child successfully complete theirs. 

Provide a predictable routine with visuals

Our brains are pattern seeking and thrive on routine and predictability. This is even more true during times of stress and uncertainty. Create a weekly routine. This can be as simple as which days are distance learning days, which days are in person learning, and which days are weekend days. For younger children, a simple visual picture schedule made with a table and seven boxes, one for each day of the week, will provide additional predictability. Find an image to represent school, distance learning, and home to place accordingly in each box. Older children may be able to use a calendar or write out their weekly schedule. You can also create a daily routine, particularly for distance learning days. This can include: when they have to check in with a class, when they need to be doing homework, breaks, meals, when they need to or can play by themselves (this may be helpful to schedule during a time you are busy or in a meeting and unable to help them, just be sure they know what options are available to them during this time and help them get started before you go into your own work.) Again, with younger children use visual pictures schedules and with older children have them help you create and write out their routine. You can find examples and resources for visual schedules onlines. Another way to provide structure during distance learning is to create a designated space for school work. It’s okay if you don’t have an office to dedicate to this. A clean, organized desk or table space that is only for school work during the day will help them maintain focus. 

Take breaks to improve focus and productivity

Children need breaks for physical activity. This helps them shake off the wiggles, relieve stress, and regain focus. If possible, build it into the middle of the day. There is a reason elementary school children have recess built into the middle of their day, in addition to physical education. When the weather is nice and you have time, walk to a nearby park or play games like soccer, red light/green light, tag, etc. in your yard. If you are stuck inside, you can create an obstacle course with chairs, tables, and other household items; create a basketball game with a ball or even socks and a laundry basket; play a physical game like twister,  or find children’s yoga on youtube. In addition to breaks for physical activity, take breaks that provide focused connection. Connections that include eye contact, touch, playfulness, and presence literally wires the brain for impulse control, willingness, cooperation, and improved focus and attention. You only need to spend a few minutes doing connection breaks to reap the benefits. They can be as simple as hand clapping games or creating a special handshake. Dr. Becky Bailey created I Love You Rituals for just this purpose. Here is an example of an I Love You Ritual using Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star:

Stand facing your child with your arms in the air finger tips touching- as you say the first line touch your fingers together as if you are “twinkling stars” 

“Twinkle twinkle little star” 

Bring your hands down on each other’s shoulders as you say: 

“what a wonderful child you are” 

Take hands off their shoulders and gently touch their face pointing to their eyes and then head and feet 

“with bright eyes and nice round cheeks, a wonderful person from head to feet. “ 

Do the twinkling hands again like you did at the beginning. 

“Twinkle twinkle little star what a wonderful child you are”

If you are interested in more of these you can watch video examples at  https://consciousdiscipline.com/free-resources/shubert/shuberts-classroom/i-love-you-rituals/#examples or find her book I Love You Rituals by Dr. Becky Bailey. Remember to be patient and kind to yourself. There is a lot being put on you. Everyone is in the same boat. You, your child, teachers, and schools are trying to find a new way of safely educating your children. There will be bumps and challenges along the way and you will get through it. 

Need more advice on navigating your role as a parent? Schedule a parent coaching session with Heather! To inquire, contact admin@cardinalpsychotherapy.com.