The past year was crazy. Finances. Family. Working from home. Homeschooling. Navigating a pandemic. Stress. Anxiety. Depression. The present is hard. The future is uncertain. What happened to our family? What will happen next?

Rarely are our minds engaged in what is going on right now. 

Our attention is so focused on what happened yesterday or what will happen tomorrow—we miss the right now. Sometimes we get jarred out of the present by our schedules, cellphones, and to-do lists. We often fail to stop and savor what we are doing with the people we are doing it with. 

We aren’t “in” the moment if we’re not being mindful in our family. As a family, you might be together, but you don’t connect. 

Mindless. 

How do you avoid mindlessly running from one thing to the next—both physically and especially mentally? How do you keep the past and the future from creating stress and anxiety in your family’s present? Stay connected to each other? How do you promote the mental skills needed to keep sharp and “in” the moment with your family? How do you help your family avoid these stress and anxiety pitfalls and better appreciate the time you have with each other? 

Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present, aware of where you are and what you’re doing. The benefit is a more focused life with less bad stress and an increased ability to enjoy and connect with your family at a given moment. 

Sounds simple, right? Well, it is, and it isn’t. It takes practice. If you’re like most people out there, you’ve trained yourself to put your mind in other places besides the present. And that, of course, affects your family. 


Fortunately, practicing mindfulness in your family isn’t rocket science. There are several practices a family can do together to improve mindfulness. Here are just a few: 

Mindful walking.

This can be practiced in your neighborhood, on a trail, or anywhere you can walk together. Coach your family to walk just a little slower than you usually walk. Use all of your senses to take in what’s around you. Smell the air. Listen to the sounds and look for sights that you might usually pass up. Feel the ground beneath your feet. 

Help your kids to name what they’re experiencing: I see a bird’s nest in the tree! I can smell flowers blooming! I hear the crickets chirping! The ground feels rocky under my feet! You don’t have to do this for your entire walk for it to be good practice; make it a practice once a week as part of where you walk. 

Mindful breathing.

This is a great exercise, especially if you or your child is feeling anxious. The idea is to focus on your breathing. There are many mindful breathing techniques out there. I like the 4-7-8 technique. Sit comfortably with a straight spine and neck. As you inhale, count to 4 in your mind. Hold your breath for 7 seconds. Then exhale, counting to 8, making a whoosh sound. 

Be aware of your breath, the feeling of air entering and exiting your lungs. If it’s difficult to hold your breath for that long, speed up the counts in your head, but keep the same 4-7-8 ratio of time. 

Mindful eating.

The idea is to be aware of the present by savoring food with all of your senses. For instance, if you’re about to eat a potato chip, notice how it feels in your hands (brittle, crumbly), how it smells (salty, baked), how it looks (the shape, the crumbs, the ridges), how it sounds in your hand and as you eat it (crunchy), and obviously, how it tastes (salty, vinegary, cheesy). 

This practice requires you to slow down considerably when eating (which isn’t a bad thing with kids). Practice it using all kinds of foods, such as hard candy, bread, or a spoonful of honey. 

Related: 5 Ways to Be More Present When Talking to Someone

Life is too short to have our minds anywhere else other than on what is going on at the moment with the people we’re with. Practicing mindfulness can help your family experience less stress and tension and focus more on the joy of being together. It doesn’t take much to exercise mindfulness in your daily family life. Take one of these exercises and try them out with your family this week. You will enjoy being in the moment with the ones you love the most. 

Sound interesting? Find More Resources On Family Mindfulness:

Raising the Mindful Family

Practicing Mindfulness As a Family

How Mindfulness Can Change Your Family, Community, and Life

Just wait until they turn 13, they said. Yeah, they’re cute now, but the day is coming, they said. Then my daughter turned 13. And I admit, the days are a lot more unpredictable when you have a middle school daughter. I never know whether I’ll be driving Jekyll or Hyde home from school on any given afternoon. Hair colors change from day to day, moods change from minute to minute. One moment they are cuddling in your lap like they did when they were 3; the next moment they’re rolling their eyes at you and holing themselves up in their room. 

Can you relate?

It’s a confusing time for middle school girls—they’re caught somewhere between being a little girl and wanting to be an independent young adult. They are seesawing between the two at any given moment. 

middle school daughter

It’s a confusing time for us dads, too, for obvious reasons. On the one hand, it’s hard to know what to expect out of your daughter. But more than that, it’s easy to feel like your role as a dad carries less weight than it once did. As a dad of a middle schooler, sometimes I feel like I’m a benched player when I was once a starting quarterback. 

Well, as a fellow dad-of-daughters, I’m here to say that you (and I) are still in the game. And I’d like to share some words of encouragement for being the best dad you can for your middle school daughter. 

Your daughter needs you to spend time with her.

Yes, she wants to exercise a lot more independence. She wants her space, her privacy. But your middle school daughter also desires to spend time with you. I mean good, quality time where she has your undivided attention. She not only wants to know you love her, but also that you like her, you like being with her, hanging out with her. Make time to do your favorite things together. Go on a coffee date, chow down on greasy cheeseburgers, take a hike, watch a movie, jam to music in the car (both yours and hers). If you haven’t already, find the activity that is going to be “your thing together.” (My daughter and I have “our” TV show that we watch together.) If you do have “your thing together,” go ahead now and make plans to do it again soon. (No, like, right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait here…

Your daughter needs you to listen.

It used to be that I could sit my daughter down and teach her all kinds of wisdom and “life lessons,” and she’d hang on to my every word. At 13, that doesn’t work quite as well anymore; “life lessons” come across more like lectures or replays of what’s been said before. But where my daughter and I do connect nowadays is when she comes to me to talk. I’ve found the key is to do a lot less “lesson-giving” and a lot more listening. Listen to understand. Ask questions to get an idea of where she’s coming from, how she’s feeling. And always, always let her know that she can come to you anytime with anything on her mind… and you won’t respond with any kind of judgment or ridicule.

And a funny thing happens sometimes: in the course of simply listening to my daughter, somehow a nugget of wisdom will slip through the cracks and get heard by her. Amazing how that works.

Your daughter needs you to affirm her. 

Lots of changes are happening in your middle school daughter’s life: brain development, friendships, body changes, emotions. It’s just a normal part of her development. But when your daughter experiences these changes, it can cause her to be unsure of herself, and she needs a regular boost of confidence. This is where you come in.

All middle school daughters need to hear certain things from their dads. Let her know how intelligent you think she is, how creative, how bright. Tell her that anyone would be lucky to have her as a friend. Don’t shy away from complimenting her physical appearance in an appropriate way: her hair, her eyes, how tall she’s getting. (My daughter is an avid cross country runner, and she beams whenever I ask her to flex her leg muscles and show me how strong she is.) Let her know she grows more and more beautiful every day. (Seriously—she needs to specifically hear the word beautiful applied to her.)

Affirming who she is and who she is growing to be can make all the difference in how your middle school daughter feels about herself and her future. 

Your daughter needs you to be interested in her world.

Her world in middle school is more complex than when she was younger. She’s discovering what she likes and dislikes, trying new interests, and devoting more time to activities she can call her own. It’s important to remember she considers this part of her space, her world; but, she wants you to come over and visit often.

Ask her questions about what interests her. Allow her to be the expert on whatever it is she’s into. Ask her to tell you about her best friend, how she goes about putting color in her hair, or what’s going on in the reality show she watches. The trick is to show genuine interest without seeming intrusive or nosy. And you certainly want to avoid coming across as judgy of her friends or interests. Showing interest in her world tells her that you are interested in her and that she means a lot to you. 

Your daughter needs you to believe in her.

Here’s something I realized about my daughter not too long ago: it’s possible that she’s going to do something later in her life that will absolutely change the world. I have no idea what that might be. Maybe she’ll help heal people as a doctor, or write award-winning screenplays, or solve some major crisis in a far-off country. And the same possibility holds true with your daughter as well.

Here’s the question I have to ask myself: when that time comes around, do I want my daughter to look back and see that her daddy believed in her every step of the way

Absolutely I do. 

And I’m sure you want the same for your daughter as well. Let her know you believe she’s capable of making a difference in the world around her, both now and in the future. 

Dads, I’m asking you to join me in the mission of being the best dad you can be for your middle school daughter.

Let me leave you with a sobering thought: this is the stage when it’s the easiest to pull away from your daughter but is possibly the most crucial stage to stay in the pocket. You’re still in the game and called to play it strong. Your middle school daughter needs you, whether she’s Jekyll or Hyde on a given day. Now, go eat some greasy cheeseburgers with her and tell her she’s beautiful. 

For more great information on being the best dad for your daughter, check out the links below:

It’s election season. Unless you live under a rock, you already know that because it’s pretty much impossible to escape the endless ads everywhere you look reminding us who to vote for.

Now imagine election season through the eyes of a child. They’re taking in the information they hear at home, possibly at their grandparents’ house, on social media, and from friends. But do they really understand what’s happening?

You might wonder if they even care. But if you’re talking about it, they’re probably at least interested in what is happening. They may feel the stress and anxiety of it all but have no idea what’s really going on. The good news is, you can guide your child through election season.

This is a great opportunity to teach your child:

How our country operates

Talk about the different political parties, what they represent and what their history is. Look at each party’s website and ask your child what the differences are in each party’s perspective. Explain how people can become candidates and what is required of them. Discuss how the people in this country get to choose their leadership and how that differs from other countries.

Ask them what it means that we are called “the United States of America.”

Talk about the Electoral College and the role it plays in the election process. You can even get them to research why some people want to make changes in the Electoral College.

How to get accurate information

With all of the talking heads giving their opinions about candidates, this is the perfect opportunity to teach your children how to educate themselves about the candidates and the issues versus taking all information at face value. Show them how to search for the facts concerning the issues. Talk about the dangers of believing every headline.

How to talk about the different issues with people even when you disagree

This right here might be one of the most important skills you can teach your children through the election process. It seems as though the art of civil discourse has been tossed to the curb in our society. Model for your children how to disagree without being disagreeable. 

Possibly one of the greatest things about our country is, people are allowed to not only have an opinion, but they are also allowed to openly state that opinion without fear of being killed for it by the government. That’s not the case in many other countries where dictatorships exist. 

Modeling how to respectfully have a conversation with someone who has differing opinions will show your children not only that it’s possible, but that it’s educational. Show them how to ask questions and to be curious about why someone believes what they believe. Let them see you listening to the person’s perspective and even saying things like, “I appreciate your thoughts on that. I’m not sure I agree with them, but I appreciate your perspective.” 

While you may not want your children to watch the debates live, you can watch it with them later. Doing so and asking them what they see, how people treated each other when they disagreed, what they learned about the issues, how they know what is true, etc., is a great educational experience. 

Most children, until the middle or high school years, are likely to parrot their parent’s opinion. Start early teaching them why it’s important to decide what you believe. Let them know it’s also important to have people in your life who don’t necessarily see things exactly the way you do. Having people in your life who have differing opinions makes your life richer. 

What it means to have the right and privilege to vote, and why it matters

The freedom to vote has been a long road for many people and there are still struggles today. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 61.4 percent of Americans eligible to vote actually did so in the 2016 presidential election. The irony of this is that voting is actually how you have a real voice in the process of selecting our leaders. Even if your candidate doesn’t win, you still have a say.

Last, but not least, let’s talk about relationships as you guide your child through election season.

The way you engage with the people you love matters and can impact whether they feel safe and secure in their relationship with you. As many are experiencing right now, even family members don’t necessarily agree about who to vote for, and that’s ok. 

Sometimes this can make family life really stressful, especially for children. At the end of the day, remember, relationships are more important and long-lasting than your political perspective. When your children see you respectfully disagree, share your own opinions, listen objectively to other points of view with extended family members, friends or even your spouse, they’re learning what it means to have civil discourse about elections at a moment in time when everybody believes there is a lot at stake for the future of our country.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

Have fun with these conversation starters as you connect with your family by chatting it up with each other with these silly and serious questions!

Topic 1: Family

  1.  Describe our family in one word.
  2.  What is your favorite family memory?
  3.  What is your most memorable family holiday?
  4.  The official food of our family would be…
  5. If our family had a sponsorship with a company or organization, who would sponsor our family?
  6.  Our family receives an all-expense-paid trip to anywhere for a week. But we must all agree on the location. Where do we go?
  7.  Besides people or pets, what is our family’s most prized possession?
  8.  If you could change one thing about our family, what would it be?
  9. If our family had to enter a talent competition, what talent gives our family the best chance to win?
  10. What is the BEST part of our family?

Topic 2: Would You Rather…

  1. Spend the night in a supposedly haunted house or camp out in a cemetery?  
  2. Be stranded on an island with someone you can’t stand or be stranded by yourself?
  3. Pet a snake or pet a rat?
  4. Go without brushing your teeth or go without a shower for a month?
  5. Live with someone who doesn’t brush or someone who doesn’t shower?
  6. Read people’s minds or see into the future?
  7. Not be able to watch tv/play video games or go to bed at 6PM for a month?
  8. No wi-fi/cellular service or no pizza for the rest of your life?
  9. Have a family chef or a family housekeeper?
  10. Accidentally fart or burp loudly at a restaurant?

Topic 3: Which Is Better & Why?

  1. Cake or Pie?
  2. Water Park or Amusement Park?
  3. Waffles or Pancakes?
  4. Water, Sport/Energy Drink, or Soda?
  5. Family Game Night or Family Movie Night?
  6. Driving or Flying?
  7. Going to a lake or Going to the Ocean?
  8. Leftovers for Breakfast or Breakfast for Dinner?
  9. Read the Book or Watch the Movie?
  10. Shopping for Shoes or Shopping for Clothes?

Topic 4: All About Mom and Dad

  1. What kind of student were you in school?
  2. We have to make a fast getaway! Who do we want driving—Mom or Dad?
  3. New nicknames for Mom and Dad are…?
  4. What do you appreciate the most about Mom?
  5. What do you appreciate the most about Dad?
  6. Earliest memory of your mom?
  7. Earliest memory of your dad?
  8. When have your parent(s) totally embarrassed you?
  9. If you really want something, who do you go to, Mom or Dad? 
  10. Funniest memory about Mom/Dad is…?

Topic 5: All About The Kids

  1. If your kids could go anywhere on vacation where would they want to go?
  2. What are your kid’s “superpowers?”
  3. When have your kids surprised you in a good way?
  4. What chores do your kids hate the most?
  5. What is one house rule your kids would want to change the most?
  6. Your kids have a couple of hours of free time, what do they do?
  7. What are your kids most afraid of?
  8. Name as many of your kids’ friends as you can.
  9. What are your kids’ “spirit animals?”
  10. What are your favorite moments with your kids?

Topic 6: Nothing But The Best

  1. Holiday?
  2. You’ve ever felt?
  3. Birthday?
  4. Team/group/club you’ve been a part of?
  5. Clothes you’ve ever worn?
  6. Song you’ve ever heard?
  7. Dance you’ve ever seen?
  8. Thing you’ve ever seen someone do for someone else?
  9. Gift you’ve ever received?
  10. Family vacation?

Topic 7: The Absolute Worst

What’s the worst…

  1. Job you could ever have?
  2. Movie you’ve ever seen?
  3. Song you’ve ever heard?
  4. Video game you’ve ever played?
  5. Grade you’ve ever gotten?
  6. Joke you’ve ever heard?
  7. Book you’ve ever read?
  8. Thing you’ve ever eaten?
  9. You’ve ever felt?
  10. Restaurant our family has eaten at?

Topic 8: Money

  1. You have only $50 and we’re going to Walmart. What will you buy?
  2. You have $1,000 to make the world a better place. What do you do with it?
  3. What is the most valuable thing you own?
  4. House is burning; you can only get one thing. What do you get?
  5. Name one thing important to you which money can’t buy?
  6. One thing you’ve bought that you wish you could take back and get a refund?
  7. Name one thing you would like to save money to buy?
  8. Name one thing you would like to save money to do?
  9. If you had to sell $100 worth of your belongings, what would you sell?
  10. You have only $1. What are you going to spend it on?

Topic 9: Wildcard 

  1. Favorite season of the year? Why?
  2. Nicest thing you have ever done for someone?
  3. If you could be any animal for a day, what animal would be?
  4. Your dream job would be…?
  5. Why are french fries “French?”
  6. Would you rather run away from a bear through mud or swim away from a shark in maple syrup?
  7. Would you rather play catch with an egg or play frisbee with a frozen fish?
  8. Name a natural food that is blue. (Not “blueberries” or candy!) I know, right?!
  9. What time period would you like to have lived in—the wild west or medieval times?
  10. Win a championship in a team sport or an individual sport? What sport?

Topic 10: The Future

  1. One invention that needs to be invented? Be “uninvented?”
  2. Where would you go if the end of the world were coming?
  3. Zombie Apocalypse! What do you do?
  4. Will the world be a better or worse place in 20 years? Why?
  5. How will people travel in the year 2120?
  6. For each member of the family: Most Likely To ______? Why?
  7. What’s popular now that won’t be popular at all in 5 years? 
  8. How will people communicate with someone they’re not face to face with in 20 years? 
  9. In 30 years, where will you live? What will be your job? Will you have a family? What will you do for fun? 
  10. Do you look toward the future more with worry or anticipation? Why?

Nervousness can overtake your child at a moment’s notice, catching unsuspecting parents off guard. There are foreseeable nervous moments like the first day of school or having to stand in front of people for the first time. But other instances may sneak up on you like when your child is trying to do a project or preparing for a doctor’s appointment or nervousness about what they’ve heard someone say about COVID. Regardless, you’re the best person to help comfort your child when they’re nervous.

Here are some tips on how to comfort your nervous child.

1. Model.

How you handle being nervous provides an example your child can see. Whether it’s before a job interview or a big presentation, when you’re about to meet someone new or make a big decision—these are all situations that can create some nervousness… 

Don’t hide your nervousness. Tell your child you’re nervous and explain how you’re able to make it through your nervous energy so it doesn’t stop you from doing the things you need and want to do. Kids feel comforted when they know they aren’t the only ones to experience something. Much of the nervous energy may stem from your child’s belief that they’re the only one who can or can’t do something. 

2. Name it.

You’re driving your child to school or getting them ready for their first soccer game and you notice your child isn’t talking, they’re crying, or they’re just not acting like themselves. Dr. Dan Siegel, author and director of the Mindsight Institute says, “If you name it, you can tame it.” Help them put a name to what they are feeling. Ask them if they are nervous. 

Explain what nervousness is and see if they can relate. You can show them different emotion words and ask, “Which one of these describes how you’re feeling?” Even helping your child to give their nervous emotion a name like “Charlie” helps give them power over the emotion. By naming it, you help to strip the shame that may come from feeling nervous or fearful about an upcoming situation. “No time for you right now, Charlie!”

3. Be Present.

This isn’t the time to leave your child alone or try to avoid the issue. When you’re nervous your mind has a difficult time getting settled about an upcoming experience. As a parent, you can help your child put words and expressions to those thoughts and also let them know that they are still accepted in the midst of their nerves

Your relationship is not dependent on them always feeling comfortable. In fact, your bond strengthens when they know that when they are feeling uneasiness about something, their parents will be there to listen, understand, and help them.

Related: Is My Stress Level Affecting My Child?

4. Walk your child through solving the problem.

If there’s a problem to be solved, then help your child solve it. Don’t do it for them. Try not to allow them to simply avoid it. You can’t avoid your first day of school or first soccer game forever, even though you’re nervous. 

 Ask them about their options. What can they do? What do they have control over? Help them imagine the positive results that can happen if they do their best.

5. Be Patient…

Being a safe space to provide comfort to your nervous child means not rushing them. There’s a fine line between letting them sit in their nervousness and moving slowly toward overcoming it. 

Even though children can get paralyzed by nervousness because of seemingly trivial matters, you still have to show empathy. It is very real to your child. Taking the time to help them understand and express it before rushing to help them get over it may be the key to them trusting you to both comfort them and believe that you are helping them do what’s best for them.

Want to become a Healthy Relationship Advocate?

6. Reward and Celebrate!

There are lots of benefits to celebrating and rewarding your child who has not allowed their nervousness to stop them from doing what needed to be done! 

  • Rewarding and celebrating helps you take advantage of the teachable moments presented by nervousness. 
  • It helps your child see that doing what’s good and what’s right gives them more satisfaction than being controlled by your worry and uncertainty. 
  • It connects the experience with a positive memory. Remember, the full sequence started with your child being nervous about going to school. They went to school. Afterward, they got ice cream with mom to celebrate overcoming their nervousness. The memory ends with a smile not feeling bad about being nervous
  • Chance to spend time with mom or dad. (Or both!) That’s a reward that keeps on giving. Celebrating by going to the park, playing, or sharing their favorite treat encourages them through the current instance and is a good touchpoint the next time they experience the same emotion.

Children will inevitably experience nervousness at some point. As parents, you want to help your child know that there’s nothing wrong with being nervous. But you can overcome your nervousness and still do great things! Your relationship with your child is the best security blanket for a child experiencing uncertain situations. They know for certain, they are not alone.

Your child is giving you that look. The one that makes you feel like you should’ve done better even when you did the best you could. You know they’re unhappy and you feel like you’ve tried everything to cheer them up and nothing’s working. As a parent, we’ve all been there, and the truth is, the moment passes… most of the time.

When my children were younger, we would go to a small family amusement park near our home. We’d invite friends and family to go as a group usually on a warm summer Saturday afternoon. Inevitably the normal summer afternoon rain shower would start just as we were headed for our outing. Because those afternoon thunderstorms were accompanied by lightning, we’d have to postpone or even cancel our plans. I knew my son would be in a mood for days if we actually had to cancel. I’m talking full-on sad, pouting, and disappointed look on his face. I’d try to cheer him up by saying we can go next weekend or by taking him to another fun place for kids. But his mind was set; it was like I couldn’t offer up anything as good despite all of my best efforts, I still had an unhappy son.

Things have changed in ways we never expected this year. COVID-19 has taken away our access to normal activities. Your child may have missed spring sports, annual family trips, or even dealt with the death of a loved one. You get to teach your child how to process and move through a variety of emotions including moments of disappointment and being unhappy. As a parent, you can do everything in your power or even give your child their biggest wish, and they can still be UNHAPPY. 

Your child actually gets to choose whether they are happy or not. Hal Runkel, LMFT, often says, “You are responsible to your kids, not for them.” In most instances, you, the parent, are not at fault nor did you cause your child’s moment of unhappiness. You do have the opportunity to help them see the positive and be happy even in difficult situations.

Here are ways you can create an environment that decreases moments of unhappiness.

  • Know Your Child Is Watching You.

As parents, we model for our children many different things including how we deal with emotions. Your child is very perceptive and in watching you may recognize and mimic your emotions. If you’re dealing with stresses that impact your emotions, your child may also demonstrate the same reactions. It’s good that your child sees you have a variety of emotional responses. Also, be aware if you try to put on a “happy face,” your child will often see through that. They learn being sad or unhappy or angry is normal and how you can get through it.

  • It’s Normal For Kids To Be Unhappy When You Set Limits.

Many parents want their children to always be happy. That’s a lot of pressure to place on yourself. Primarily, it’s your job as a parent to provide consistency, structure, rituals, and routines for your child. As a result, your child may display unhappiness when you set and stick to limits such as bedtime, eating vegetables before dessert, tech device access, or saying NO to what they want. It’s also important to recognize that children often “want what they want” and can use their emotions to manipulate getting their way. Don’t fall for it.

  • Allow Children To Express Genuine Emotions.

If a family member is sick or a family pet has died, it’s good that your child can express their emotions of sadness and unhappiness to you. Allow them to genuinely and authentically share with you what they are feeling. This strengthens your connection. Children feel supported and secure when parents can hear and handle their emotions. 

Your child’s personality may be more optimistic or pessimistic. No matter the case, it’s important to teach your child they are responsible for how they respond or react to any given emotion. In addition, skills such as gratitude and even thinking happy thoughts are ways to build their emotional skills.

  • Playtime Can Make It Better.

Play, whether it is structured or unstructured, promotes intellectual, physical, social, and emotional well-being. Children learn how to work with others, handle conflict, and regulate their emotions while playing. Getting outside to play not only encourages bonding with your child, but it also releases endorphins which naturally improve your mood.

In some instances, there are very good reasons why your child is unhappy. A divorce, death, move to a different city, or even across town would be challenging for most children. What happened may be completely out of your control. If you feel like you’ve tried everything you know to help your child adjust, you might want to consider seeking professional help to guide you as you seek to assist your child in dealing with their ongoing feelings of unhappiness.* If your child has health issues or mental health issues, seek professional help.

We want our children to be the best they can be. We want successful, smart, and happy kids. Providing them with emotional and physical security along with age-appropriate behavioral expectations goes a long way. Creating an environment for them to flourish and grow begins with you.

2020 will be a year to remember for sure. Nothing about it seems normal. Many people have commented, “I just keep pinching myself thinking I’ll wake up and this nightmare will be over.” Living through a pandemic can take its toll on everyone, impacting you physically and mentally. As you continue to navigate through these times, there are ways you can be intentional about protecting your family’s mental health.

For starters, it’s important to continually remind ourselves that we’re going through something that’s very unusual. We’re all living in a heightened state of anxiety and stress that impacts our mental and physical health. Life as we once knew it has been disrupted.

family's mental health

Just when families felt like they were gaining the upper hand on a sense of normalcy, schools reopened. Now families are having to regain their footing when it comes to routines, rituals, and structure, too. In times of high anxiety and stress, the consistency of routines and structure are soothing to everyone. 

Make your home a peaceful place—a refuge from all the craziness going on in the world. Spend some time thinking about things you can do to create calm. Play calming music, light a lavender candle and let the sunlight in. Encourage your children to find a comfy spot where they can read or play with their toys.

Be self-aware. Your children are like sponges. Whether you notice it or not, they’re watching your every move, your facial expressions and even listening to your conversations that don’t include them. They’re quick to pick up and take on your stress and anxiety. Have adult conversations out of the hearing range of your children. Be proactive in dealing with your emotions.

Be open and intentional about having conversations about Coronavirus and other things that are going on in the world. Ask your children to tell you what they know or have heard. Use their information as a platform to affirm accurate information and correct inaccurate details. Assure them that your job is to make sure they are cared for and protected and you are doing that.

Exercise, getting enough rest and eating right are three essentials for protecting your family’s mental health. This is like the trifecta right here! Walk as a family and insist that people getting the rest they need. Involve everyone in creating fun, healthy meals.

Limit the amount of time you and your family members watch the news. This one action can dramatically decrease the anxiety, stress, anger, fear and drama in your home. Mentally and emotionally, our brains and bodies aren’t meant to live in a constant state of stress, but that’s exactly what happens when we watch news nonstop.

Think of ways you can be helpful to others. During difficult times, it’s easy to become focused on yourself and all that’s wrong with the world. A great way to combat this as a family is to look for ways to help others. Deliver food, do yard work, run errands, bake bread or cookies and share them with your neighbors. (Let your kids do a ring and run when they deliver. It can be your secret!)

Make play a priority. Seriously. Play releases all the feel-good hormones that promote an overall sense of well-being. Heaven knows we could all use a triple dose of that right now. Ride bikes, go for a hike, play hide and seek, tag, kick the can, four square, hopscotch, double dutch jump rope or any other active game you can think of. Just get moving!

Remind yourself and your family members: there is light at the end of the tunnel. This is hard and there are parts of dealing with life right now that are not fun, but together as a family, you can do hard things. When one person’s having a hard day, other family members can be encouraging and affirming to help them get through it. Being in healthy relationship with each other is one of the best ways to protect your family’s mental health.

When parents model and lead out using these strategies, it teaches children how to navigate through hard times in healthy ways. It shows you believe they have what it takes to keep going even when things get really challenging. This builds self-confidence and helps them learn how to think and be creative in the midst of change. 

A side note: if you feel like members of your family aren’t handling all that is going on well, don’t hesitate to seek help. Talk with their pediatrician and/or a counselor to seek guidance on other ways you can help them.

If you or someone you know is struggling and you need immediate assistance, you can find 24-hour help here:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Hotline: 800-662-HELP (4357)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)

Photo by Elly Fairytale from Pexels

When you found out you were expecting your second baby, you probably began to fantasize about your children getting along. You may have even imagined them playing with each other, being best friends, and loving one another as only siblings can. However, it’s not unusual for your toddler and their new baby brother or sister to get off to a rocky start.

Here are some ways to help your toddler have a positive experience as they adjust to their new baby brother or sister.

  1. Give a gift from the newborn to the toddler. It’s like the new baby is saying, “I’ve come to make your life better, not take away from it.” Your toddler sees the many gifts their new sibling is receiving. A new toy for them subtly lets them know they’re not forgotten and they are no less important. You can offer simple gifts like coloring books, a new toy, books, or their favorite treats.
toddler adjust to a new baby
  1. Let your toddler help in age-appropriate ways. This can begin prior to the birth of their new sibling. Placing infant clothes in drawers, setting up the nursery, putting away silverware, and helping you make up the beds are small ways to help your toddler get into the mindset of giving. When the baby arrives, keep them involved and helping. Toddlers can become anxious they aren’t going to get time with their parents because of all the attention to the new baby. Helping you equates to spending time with you and that can help them adjust to the idea of having a new baby around. 
  1. Celebrate them. Children tend to keep doing what draws attention. Praise them when you notice them being helpful, treating their new sibling kindly, or simply see them making good decisions. Tell them “thank you” when they bring you a new diaper for the baby or clean up after themselves. Let them you’re proud of them for being a good big brother or sister.
  1. One-on-one time. Find a few minutes each day to spend with your toddler. You can spend that time playing with toys, reading books, or telling stories, making something together—anything they enjoy. You don’t necessarily have to be separated from the baby to accomplish this. While nursing, you can cuddle, tell stories, rub their head, and play. While one parent is tending to the baby, the other can use the opportunity to give your toddler some personal attention. As they look at you and smile, they’re telling you they are glad you’re still their parent too.
  1. Teach them how to treat their new sibling. They may not truly understand the difference between a baby and a doll. Talk to them and model what being gentle looks like. Explain to them how babies need milk, diapers changed, and to be held with care. Crying may indicate that something is wrong or they are hurting. Talking and modeling will help them understand this is a person who can experience things just like they do.
  1. Give them space to express their feelings. Just because you do everything “right” doesn’t mean they won’t experience some jealousy, sadness, or confusion. Have them pick out emojis that show how they’re feeling. Ask them questions, like are you happy today? Is your new sibling making you feel good or bad? The opportunity to share will give them a sense of value, connectedness, and security from the person your toddler adores most—you, their parents.
  1. Provide some consistency, structure, or routine. Keeping a consistent bedtime routine, storytime, or regularly eating meals together helps your child see that the new baby isn’t here to just change everything. It sends the message that we have a new addition to our family. Your toddler didn’t lose when you have a child; they added to their lives. 

New siblings can bring joy and a new freshness to the family. However, there are challenges that can arise as you try to help your toddler adjust to not being the only one getting so much of your attention when the new baby arrives. Helping your toddler experience this new season as an addition to their life and not something that takes away from their relationship with you can ease the transition. Change can be difficult for anyone. And don’t forget about your spouse either!