GROTON, Conn. - Maintaining a healthy family during a pandemic is every parent’s number one priority, yet it can be an extremely difficult goal to achieve. By now we are all familiar with the safety precautions that need to be practiced daily in order to reduce the spread of infection and transmission: Wear a mask, socially distance, wash our hands frequently, and avoid large gatherings. However, there are other risks to our families’ health and wellness that these safety precautions can’t protect us from, and that is the emotional impact caused by the pandemic.
Let’s face it, everyday life has changed dramatically, and we are now living in a new normal that feels anything but normal. Simple things like going out to eat, shopping at the super market, or taking our kids outside to play at the park have become opportunities of risk for infection, making it difficult for parents to know how to balance the safety of their families with the healthy activities we need for our overall wellness. The result is added stress to parents and dramatic changes in routine for our kids, and these changes can lead to emotional impacts that are just as invisible as the coronavirus.
We know that children struggle with changes to their routines because it interferes with their sense of structure and can make them feel unsafe. And during this pandemic there have been dramatic changes in our children’s routine as childcare programs and schools shut down and they are forced to quarantine and avoid going outside and socializing with their peers. In addition, our children are keen observers of their environment and they notice and react to stress in their parents and caregivers. They will ask direct questions about what is happening today or what will happen in the future and may behave differently in reaction to strong feelings from their parents (e.g., fear, worry, sadness, anger) about the pandemic if we don’t help them understand why we are having these emotional experiences.
According to Ken Ginsburg, author of “Building Resilience in Children and Teens” (2011, 4th Edition), the best way to protect our children is to shape the lessons gained during this difficult time. In other words, our children are watching us and what they see shapes how they experience the pandemic. And what do they see…are we social distancing or socially isolating? Are we talking about our feelings or are we bottling them up and then getting emotionally reactive without any explanation to our kids? Ginsburg writes that children need to learn from parents that having emotion is good, even when they are strong and difficult ones, and talking about them is necessary and being honest with them is healing. Ginsburg also asks parents to consider viewing setbacks as opportunities to try again because this models resilience. Hold those we love nearer and offer those who are vulnerable the extra support they deserve.
So, there are certainly key factors that parents should try to emulate and practice during this pandemic to help promote their own health and wellness such as: Staying optimistic, practicing healthy habits, reducing stress, keeping a routine, getting proper amount of sleep, eating plenty of healthy foods, and getting regular exercise. There are also key factors parents need to know about protecting their children’s emotional experiences during the pandemic:
Understand that reactions to the pandemic may vary.
Ensure the presence of a sensitive and responsive caregiver.
Social distancing should not mean social isolation.
Provide age-appropriate information.
Create a safe physical and emotional environment by practicing the 3 R’s: Reassurance, Routines, and Regulation.
Create opportunities for caregivers (which may mean yourself!) to take care of themselves.
By now we have all come to know just how difficult it is to manage our lives during a pandemic but being a parent through it brings about unique and complex challenges. Fortunately, the Naval Submarine Base (SUBASE) New London Fleet & Family Services Center (FFSC) offers a variety of services like the New Parent Support Program (NPSP) that is designed to assist military families with information, education and parenting support during this challenging time. NPS services can be provided through telephone and email consultations. Every family has unique parenting needs and NPS can work with families on an individual basis. NPS can provide support and service information to active duty military families whether they have questions about nurturing children, healthy eating, caring for young children, managing stress, breastfeeding, community resources, labor and delivery information and more. Contact the New Parent Support Program at (860) 694-4875 for more information.
FFSC offers webinars to active duty families at mynavyfamily.com. Families can view webinars on a range of topics such as: “Building Healthy Relationships”, “Parenting Tips” and “Being the Best You”. In addition to virtual support, Subase NLON has Work & Family Life Specialists available through email and phone consultation. FFSC also offers a variety of educational services and programs to address work/family/like issues to include: Relocation Assistance, Employment, Navy Gold Star, TAP GPS, EFMP, Life Skills, and Pre/Post Deployment support. Call (860) 694-3383 for more information.
Finally, FFSC supports mission readiness by providing counseling support as well as case management and victim services. Families who are eligible can receive short-term, non-medical counseling at no cost to help address work/life issues that commonly occur within the military lifestyle such as adjusting to change, parenting difficulties, and relationship or work related problems. We also provide assistance for individuals experiencing issues with suicide related behaviors and families experiencing marital conflict or family violence issues. To learn more about non-medical counseling or crisis support, contact FFSC Counseling and Advocacy Program (CAP) at (860) 694-4875 for more information.