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Helping Others Helps You

March 27, 2020

Because definitive answers are nearly impossible to obtain in this time of global crisis, people are reporting higher levels of anxiety, stress, and uncertainty. All of these feelings lend to a general air of unease that can weigh heavily on each of us. 

At Housman Institute, we look at stress responses in adults and how that stress is carried over and absorbed by the children they take care of. Witnessing a parent in a state of anxiety can be more than just temporarily unsettling for children. Children look to their parents for modeling in how to behave and react in the face of uncomfortable or scary situations; if a parent seems consistently anxious and tense, the child will determine that a variety of scenarios are unsafe.

It can be difficult to think that, despite your best intentions, you may be passing your own stress to your child. Clinical psychologist and CEO of Housman Institute, a training, research and advocacy early childhood organization, Dr. Donna Housman reminds us that “making room for your own needs is as important as being there for your child – engaging in together time and separate and alone time; being aware of your own emotions and engaging in activities that reduce stress…will help you to deal more effectively with focus and calmness and therefore provide your child with the modeling they need to better deal with their own worries and fears.”

But, if despite your best efforts you do find yourself dealing with anxiety and start to notice your child exhibiting anxious behaviors, the first important thing is to recognize that the passing of anxiety from parent to child once made aware of can be effectively dealt with – it is not unstoppable. The second important thing to do is implement strategies to manage your own stress as effectively as possible, and helping your kids manage theirs. 

So what are some helpful strategies in dealing with anxiety during this particularly stressful time…

The first strategy should always be to talk about emotions openly and directly. Talking about anxiety openly gives children permission to feel the distressful emotion, and sends the message that being worried or anxious about a stressful event is normal and manageable. The next strategy that has been proven time and time again to relieve anxiety and help deal effectively with stress is very simple and especially timely: helping others. 

Below, you will find a list of ways in which you and your child can help your community while supporting your child’s mental well-being and your own:

  • Write, decorate and send letters to loved ones who are also in isolation. Social distancing can be difficult for anyone, no matter their age.
  • Call your local food banks and medical centers. Many places are in dire need of supplies. Have your child help you make a list of goods to then donate.
  • Send flowers or drawings of flowers to relatives who are living in nursing homes/communities. Even if you don’t have relatives there, call and ask if you can send flowers anyways.
  • Check out how the people at Nextdoor are keeping neighborhoods connected during these unprecedented times. On their site, you can post various services you are offering to help others nearby.
  • Help organize a drive-by birthday celebration for a classmate or relative. These acts of kindness have been popping up all over the news and the responses are always positive.
  • Have your child write a thank you to the amazing healthcare workers, law enforcement officials, sanitation workers, journalists, etc. who are still going to work each day and post it on social media. Chances are, it will be seen and much appreciated.

In times such as this, we are reminded of our humanity and interconnectedness with others. Embrace the frightening emotions that come with crises, but remember to leave room for positivity and the spreading of joy and community.

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