Why parents should make self-care a priority as they take care of their kids

A quick fix for when demands of parenting begin feeling like too much

Just like advice given on planes for parents to put oxygen masks on first before helping kids, a D.C. psychologist advises parents to prioritize self-care during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Strong parenting requires patience, quick thinking, limit-setting, consistency, gentleness; and all of these things require energy. But, chronic stress drains energy. It leads to fatigue, and it makes it difficult to use your logical mind,” Laura Gray, a pediatric clinical psychologist at Children’s National Hospital, said.

Parents need to take care of themselves.

“This is what helps you to bring your best self to your parenting,” Gray said.

“Self-care is things that can help to recharge your batteries.”

Whether it’s baking, having a bath or a bike ride, energy-boosting, mental-bandwidth-expanding activities will mean different things for different people.

“Self-care doesn’t have to take that much time,” Gray said.

Maybe every so often during the day you take 30 seconds to stretch or meditate or do a few yoga moves.

She also recommends exercising, eating healthy, staying hydrated and getting good sleep.

“We really need to all be protecting our sleep time, which might be monitoring when we need to shut down our electronics and making sure we’re going to bed on time,” Gray said.

“Because we know for sure, kids are going to be waking up at the same time in the morning, no matter what time we went to bed.”

And even if it requires a lot of creativity in the current situation, Gray said try to keep up social connections.

gray family
The Gray family wears matching flannel in honor of Gray’s brother Bradley “Ace” Schaffner, who passed away. (Courtesy Laura Gray)

For family resilience, she recommends parents model good, coping skills for children.

For example, if dinner is accidentally burned, parents can verbally express their emotions of frustration, followed by verbalizing their reaction.

“You can label your emotions and say to your kid, ‘I’m feeling frustrated with myself right now.'” Followed by, “I’m going to take three deep breaths and open the fridge and make a new plan for dinner,” Gray advised.

She also recommends parents identify and validate different emotions kids may be feeling.

“Saying to them, ‘It’s fair; it’s understandable you’re feeling frustrated or angry or sad. And you can feel all of those things at the same time,'” Gray said.

“You may also feel a little bit happy that we get to have family game night tonight, too.”

It’s important that everyone not forget about what they are missing because of social distancing.

Some kids may be grieving losses and need to talk about it.

“Ask, ‘How are you doing? How are you feeling about these things that we’re missing out on?'” Gray said.

A few resources for parents Gray recommends:

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Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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