May is Family Wellness Month!
At Me Fine, we know that one of the most important ingredients for a child’s healthy development and wellness is their family. In fact, our guiding principle at Me Fine is families come first.
In celebration of Family Wellness Month, licensed psychologist and Me Fine board member Katherine C. Hutchinson, PhD shares some strategies for maintaining family wellness even during these challenging times.
So, what does family wellness really mean?
Family wellness means that each family member has healthy emotional functioning, meaningful activities to engage in, and fulfilling relationships, both inside and outside the family.
Maintaining family wellness allows everyone in the family to stay connected, treat each other with kindness and compassion, and work together to be resilient to life’s challenges. Here are some specific strategies to help maintain family wellness this month and beyond:
The goal of healthy communication is for every family member to feel comfortable and have the opportunity to express their thoughts and emotions. It is perfectly normal and healthy to have moments of feeling sad, worried, or frustrated. Being able to communicate these feelings and be heard by an empathetic adult is key to teaching children how to cope with these emotions. Acting out and changes in behavior may be a sign your child is feeling worried or stressed. Check in with your kids when they are calm to see how they are feeling and if they have any questions or concerns. Keep your answers honest and simple.
Quality Time Together
Many families are spending a lot of time together these days! Quality time means putting aside to-do lists, work, and academics to share an activity together. This looks different for every family and can include activities like hikes, bike rides, games, puzzles, baking, arts and crafts, or even making TikToks or binge-watching a favorite TV show with your teen.
Quality Time Apart
There is such a thing as too much togetherness! During the days of quarantine, it is very important that each family member have time alone to rest and recharge. This can be early morning, evening, or even a designated “family quiet time” in the afternoon during which individuals of all ages can rest, color, journal, listen to music, or read.
Structure and Routine
Experts agree that maintaining some degree of structure is helpful for everyone’s mental health – especially when you are home all day! The degree of structure and routine will vary depending on the ages of the children in the home. Younger children will likely benefit from a daily schedule, keeping meal and bedtimes consistent, alternating periods of play and learning, and changing activities at predicable times. You may find that your teenagers fall into a pattern of staying up later and sleeping later than they would during a typical school week. This pattern is actually more in line with teens’ natural circadian rhythm and may be a healthy option – as long as it works for your family and school demands.
Daily physical activity is critical for maintaining wellness. Be creative in building daily activities to get everyone’s bodies moving – take a walk or bike ride, have a family dance party, or try some yoga. There are many free resources available online to try out a new workout from the comfort of home.
Humans are wired for connection! Try to plan regular social interaction for each family member. Zoom or FaceTime are great options for staying in touch with family and friends. Be creative with it! Younger children are more likely to enjoy engaging in a shared activity via video, like playing a board game or giving a virtual tour of their favorite toys. Some children feel uncomfortable with video-chatting – don’t force it! They can stay in touch another way, such as exchanging videos with friends or family or sending pictures or cards by mail. Older children and adults may enjoy planning a driveway picnic to see local friends from a safe distance.
Manage Your Own Anxiety
In order to best support children, the adults in their life need to prioritize their own mental health. These days, that means working hard to manage anxiety about what is happening in the world. Staying informed is important, but it is a good idea to be intentional and conscientious about the amount and source of news you consume. The same is true of social media. Beware of “catastrophic” thinking or worst-case scenarios. Practice gratitude daily and try to find a balance between solution-focused thinking and mindful acceptance. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – most mental health professionals are now available via telemedicine and can help you identify skills and strategies to cope.
Above all, remember these are very unusual and stressful times. Be kind and give yourself a break. Rest when you get tired. Be flexible and give yourself permission to relax your boundaries a little if it is what you or your family need. We can return to our screen time limits when life returns to “normal”! There are no perfect families and no perfect parents. Every day is a fresh start.
– Katherine C. Hutchinson, PhD