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Supporting our children’s mental health by looking after our own

During #ChildrensMentalHealthWeek the Founders of and The Nourish App, Liane Katz and Sara Campin, co-hosted an event on the new audio-only social network Clubhouse, to share practical tips on family wellbeing.

Posted on Feb 07, 2021

Liane Katz & Sara Campin co-hosted an event on Clubhouse on February 4th

As busy parents themselves, juggling homeschooling and growing their own businesses, Sara and Liane had plenty of relatable advice to share with the audience.

Here are Sara’s top 5 tips:

1. Invest in your energetic bank balance — the importance of self-care

It’s so important to remember we are all only human. We only have a finite capacity of mental and energetic resources to get us through the day and deal with external stressors in our lives.
It can help to think of this finite resource as our energy bank balance. As parents, our mental and energetic resources are constantly being drained — by work stress, house admin, washing, the constant demands and big emotions of our kids and much more. And that’s in normal times! Right now there is all the extra weight from the pandemic and homeschooling…

When our resources are all used up, our bank balance is empty and we feel depleted and are less able to cope with the general stresses of life. We also have nothing left to give out to those around us. We really can’t pour from an empty cup.

Self-care is the means by which we make deposits into our energy bank balance. By proactively keeping our balance healthy, we are more resilient in the face of parenting or work curve balls, we also have more energy and headspace to support and connect with our kids. The more we put in, the more we have to give out.

Hand on heart — for feelings of overwhelm and anxiety

This is a simple practice you can do for yourself or with your children, to offer some comfort. Place your hand on your heart and take a moment to feel the warmth of your hand against your heart. Notice how the simple sense of touch is soothing, like a mini hug. Take a deep breath in and as you do so, gently pull back your shoulders. On the out breath simply tune into that warmth and if you like, you can repeat some simple mantras, such as:

I am loved”
I am OK
I am safe”
I am only human”
I am only one person”
I am held”
This will pass”

If you prefer, you could instead put your hand on your child’s heart, and they can place theirs on yours. This is a beautiful way to really strengthen the love and connection between you and can be very helpful at bedtime.

3. Some
book recommendations:

Helping children to learn the vocabulary of feelings can help them to not only connect with how they are feeling, but can also validate those feelings for them. It might also help them to be able to communicate them to you as a parent. Some books I’ve really enjoyed sharing with my kids and have really helped in our house include 

The Book of Feelings for younger children, and In my heart Meditation for older ages.A lovely story book packed with emotional literacy lessons for ages 8+ is The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy 

It has wonderful illustrations as well as an endearing story about focusing on the positives and kindness to one another.

4. Preparing for sleep

Many children (and parents!) are struggling with getting to sleep with all the worries of the pandemic. My kids love to share the hand on heart gesture at bedtime, combined with 3 long deep breaths and some mantras. It’s a brilliant way to pave the way for a restful night’s sleep and has become a non-negotiable ritual for my daughter. We share this simple sequence of mantras, but you can choose your own: 

I am safe, I am loved, I am held. Sleep will come, till then I rest”. 

It’s so helpful to learn from a young age that if we can’t sleep, rest is the next best thing. If she’s really struggling, I encourage her to connect with her breath by placing her hand on her tummy. I then invite her to imagine she’s on a relaxing boat or lilo and the up and down sensation is the gentle waves. Using our mind and senses to transport us can be a really powerful way to relax. 

By sharing calming tools like this, together with our kids, we can also often regulate our emotions and navigate some of that frustration that inevitably pops up when our kids wont sleep!

5. Quality time over quantity
How do kids spell love? T‑I-M‑E! Right now in lockdown, we might have much more time with our children than usual but that doesn’t mean it’s better quality time — it may even be worse due to a lack of respite and juggling the demands of homeschooling. So it’s all about making quality time. Really connecting with children and being present in the moment. We often find that so much easier when we are looking after ourselves.

Sara Campin is Founder of The Nourish App, available to download free from the App Store and full of bitesize calming practices for parental self-care.

Here are Liane’s top 5 tips:

1. Manage expectations — especially from school and your own perfectionism

It’s really easy to feel overwhelmed at the moment, between worries about the pandemic and then the demands of our family and work lives.

Schools have also really ramped up their expectations this lockdown, and those of us with primary age children are being asked to supervise the submission of much more written work, to daily deadlines.

Something I’ve found helpful is to take a step back and look at where the pressure is coming from, and identify what we could dial down or remove all together.

Keeping a household running smoothly, for example, is a huge job that needs to be shared. Meal planning and preparation is one area where my husband has really stepped up, doing the weekly food shopping and batch cooking a couple of big dishes at the weekend. I’ve also consciously decided to use 3–4 ready meals a week that will take the pressure off at the weariest end of the day. We have chopped raw veg or salad with it to give a dose of fresh vitamins and that’s perfectly good enough”. My kids have also learned an important life lesson: how to make a good sandwich/​bagel/​wrap for their lunch!

On the school front, the kids have grown in independence and responsibility since the first school closure but I still keep an eye on their wellbeing and whisk them out of sessions and tasks if I feel they are just burnt out and need a break. If it’s a core subject, we’ll catch up later. These are not ordinary times, and they’re feeling the pressure too. If my family is mentally and physically well at the end of all this, and if the kids are still curious to learn, we’ll have won!

2. Get outside and move your body, every day

If you’d told me a year ago that my kids would willingly come with me on a daily evening walk, in the dark, to nowhere in particular around our suburban neighbourhood streets, I probably would have scoffed.

And yet they do! They are so frazzled by a day of remote learning (and largely being ignored while we work) that they are keen for a change, some fresh air and some together time and attention.

My very creative daughter has come up with a fun twist on these ultimately rather boring walks, with lengthy games of Follow My Leader. In these, she can come up with crazy moves, hops skips and jumps we all have to copy, no matter how embarrassing! It’s surprisingly good fun and stress-busting, not to mention quite good exercise. I hope my local community gets a giggle out of it too.

3. Ensure children feel secure, heard and validated,

Children thrive when they are secure in their social groupings, and when they feel loved, heard, and understood. Covid restrictions and periods of school closures challenge this, as children are dislocated from their familiar peer groups, routines and structure.

I’ve found it helpful to introduce some new weekly routines — Saturday night movie night and a long weekend walk or bike ride and a band of the week to explore on Spotify.

I’ve also tried to make sure I try and listen as attentively as possible during the times I am with them. I’m aiming for periods of undivided attention in amongst all the times I need to get through my list, or have a little time to myself.

Devices are a terrible distraction, and running my own business around my family they are overwhelmingly helpful, but I do try to put them to one side so my fun time’ and conversations with the kids are not interrupted by incessant pings.

Helping the children to name their feelings and emotions is one of my long term projects, often they don’t have the vocabulary for it or they aren’t conscious of what they are feeling, but I think it really is a valuable life skill for us to nurture.

One really useful tool is to ask the children each day how they are doing on a scale of 1–10, where 10 is fantastic and 1 is awful. They get some practice in checking in on themselves, and you get to know their average score so can spot if it suddenly drops, and use it as a conversation starter.

As parents, we can also model emotional literacy by talking about our how our emotions, both positive and negative, and perhaps giving ourselves a score out of 10 at the same time.

4. Drink ⅓ more water

I’ve never been brilliant at drinking enough water, so this third lockdown I made it my mission — and it doubled up as an unofficial science project too!

Each morning, I fill up two measuring jugs with 1l and 1.4l respectively. My son and I then aim to get through the day’s water quota and log our progress, along with how energetic and focused we feel at various points in the day. We also log the frequency of our loo trips for added child interest!

We’ve both felt a huge increase in our energy and stamina — plus we had a great discussion about what would constitute a fair test” for this experiment!

5. My own take on Hands, Face, Space

As well as following the government guidelines for keeping ourselves and our community safe from Covid 19, I’m using the slogan to remind myself of other self-care priorities.

Hands — We all need a helping hand and during the pandemic we have to find alternative ways to get it. Our support networks are not there in the usual way, but can still be called upon for respite.

Children can have online playdates, perhaps at a regular weekly time. Grandparents and wider family members can check in at teatime or bedtime, and explore new activities and interests together. My kids have got into crosswords with Grandma and online chess with friends, as well as endless discussions about Minecraft of course.

The whole household can help more with chores, giving you a helping hand and them a firm sense of role and belonging within the family.

Face — I’m a big fan of flexible working and worked from home several days a week pre-Covid, but being home-based 100% of the time and not having any opportunity or excuse to get smartly dressed has meant a few too many tracksuit days.

Recently, I’ve found it helpful to get smartly dressed for work, and create some zones and boundaries within my day. I also discovered an amazing Zoom trick for an instant facelift’. Within your video settings menu in zoom, try out the touch me up’ feature and marvel at your instantly smoother skin!

Space — Everyone needs it from time to time no matter how much we love each other. We’ve never spent this long on top of each other and the monotony of lockdown and reduced time with friends adds to the cabin fever.

Taking some time for ourselves isn’t selfish, it allows us to show up as best we can for our families.

Liane Katz is Cofounder & CEO of creative kids’ coding, and a champion for family digital wellbeing. You can book a no-obligation free coding taster session for a child aged 3–11 here.