Ked Dixon is a social worker and family therapist. She was born in south Georgia, got to New Orleans as soon as she could, and has been here for 19 years. She and her four-year-old son Jack live in River Ridge with two older dogs, three rescued cats, and Ked’s partner, Alex. Jack’s dad lives in Mexico.
COVID-19 SURVIVAL GUIDE
Greetings, fellow parents and people interested in parenting! My name is Ked, and I’m a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Registered Play Therapist. I work with children, adolescents, and their families to work through a variety of issues. You were supposed to meet me and my child, Jack, in the May issue, and read an exciting account of my phoenix-like rising from the ashes after my tragic divorce. However, since we are amid a pandemic and our children are all home from school, I thought I’d chime in to give some reassurance and guidance in these weird and uncertain times. The following suggestions are not intended to be clinical advice or opinion, nor should they take the place of a relationship with a licensed mental health professional. If these suggestions do not work for your family, please do what works best for y’all. If anything is contraindicated by your doctor, follow the actual medical advice.
KEEP IT AGE APPROPRIATE
As far as we know, most children are at a low risk for contracting COVID-19. For many children, the knowledge that they’re not likely to get sick is enough to calm them down, but they will still have questions. For young children, or children who are cognitively impaired, say something like: “This is what we know so far—Coronavirus is a virus. Viruses make people sick. This virus is dangerous for people who are old or who are already sick with something else, like cancer. They may become very sick. They may have to go to the hospital where doctors and nurses can take care of them. People who are young and older people with healthy immune systems may still get sick, but the sickness probably won’t be so bad. Still, it’s important to try to stay healthy and not get sick. The best way to keep ourselves healthy and to protect each other is by washing our hands and covering our mouths when we sneeze or cough.” For older children and adolescents, you can talk about how diseases are spread from community to community or the concept of underlying diseases.
EVERYONE LOVES A ROUTINE
While our lives are being rearranged to help keep everyone healthy, it can be helpful for us to stick to a routine that allows for work, rest, and play. There are many sample routines available online and I’ll use the routine I had during my early days as a single mom as an example. I like it because the time for each part can be expanded or contracted based on the needs of the day.
It goes like this: Wake up / Eat / Activity / Morning Snack / Late Morning Activity / Lunch / Nap or Rest Time / Snack / Activity / Dinner / Activity / Bedtime. At least two of the activities should be exercise-related. Follow your child’s school recommendations for online learning and take advantage of some of the virtual visits that are being offered free of charge. My favorite is the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Have a dedicated work and study space for everyone who needs it. Make it clear to small children that adults and older kids should not be disturbed while working.
I’m gonna be honest with y’all: If I can make it til noon without putting on Netflix, I consider it a victory. This is an unusual time, and Jack will end up watching way more television than he usually does, and that’s OK. I know that although my goal is to be active at least twice a day, I won’t always do that, and that’s also alright. I can always reset after nap time—assuming naptime happens at all.
YOU GOT THIS
Look, you’ve already accomplished some incredible feats of weird parenting just by living in New Orleans. Maybe you took an infant to Jazz Fest. Maybe you took your teenager to Krewe du Vieux. Maybe you’ve entertained four children under the age of 8 using only public television, complimentary breakfast, and a pack of markers over a four-day hurricane evacuation and lived to tell the tale. This is like a hurricane with unusually good weather. You’ll be sheltering in place and you will all be spending a lot of time together. Keep peace by practicing ongoing self-care with exercise, sleep, and regulation in the moment.
Engage in intense exercise, like stepping into another room and doing 20 jumping jacks, or running around the block if you can. If you can, take it outdoors, because we benefit psychologically from being in nature. You should aim for 20 minutes of cardio at least three times a week.
Sleep deprivation will exacerbate any issues that you or your family already have. It makes grumpy kids grumpier and short tempers even shorter. According to the National Sleep Foundation, school-age kids should be getting 9 to 11 hours of sleep, teenagers should be getting 8 to 9, and adults should be getting 7 to 9. Keeping a regular sleep schedule helps keep people mentally and physically healthy as well as promoting learning.
If you find that tensions are running high, remember that your body maintains anxiety by shallow breathing and muscle tension. You can influence both those things.
Practice deep breathing; inhale through the nose, pause, and then do a longer exhale through the mouth as if you were trying to keep a feather in the air for as long as possible. If you notice any tension in your muscles, try to actively relax (or flex and relax) to help your body calm down. Also, changing your temperature—such as drinking something hot or cold—can also help “reset” your emotions.
USE THIS TIME TO RESET
Times of upheaval bring with them a certain clarity. Maybe you’ve realized that all the extra things you were doing don’t bring you the same joy they once did, and it’s time to let others enjoy them. Maybe you’ve finally had time to enjoy the parts of your life you have right now, and you realize that these parts—these essential parts—really are enough.
As we know from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, there are only ever four solutions to any problem. You can solve the problem, tolerate the problem, change how you see the problem, or stay miserable. Ultimately, you get to decide what parts of this you focus on. Yes, everything is in upheaval; but in this upheaval, you have a unique opportunity to reset your life.
illustrations Victoria Allen