Parenting through times of uncertainty

The stress of the world around you can impact your health, how you show up at work, and your interactions with your children or partner. Whether you realize it or not, kids pick up on your stress without you having to say a word about current events, your job, or the pandemic (but they hear that, too). Cleo Guides answer member questions about coping with mounting social-, political-, or pandemic-related stress and talking to your kids about it.

How can stressful current events like race-based violence, politics, or the ongoing pandemic impact your mental and physical health?

There is a heightened sense of anticipatory anxiety. What that means is that while we know that there will be a resolution, it can be profoundly stressful anticipating what that result might be. And what makes that even more difficult is that it can feel like we don’t have control over what will happen.

With this level of stress we are bound to see and feel the effects in our bodies and minds. You might be experiencing insomnia, increased headaches, a feeling of distraction or lack of focus. Perhaps you’re having mood swings or emotional turbulence. There might even be aches and pains that you never had before or you might find that you have bursts of extra energy, only to crash later. These are all normal physical and emotional responses to stress. The most important thing to remember is to be gentle and kind with yourself and ask for help from your community as we move through this together.

— Kyla Krug-Meadows, Cleo Guide, Doula

What are 3 steps you can take to mitigate the effects of stress?

Limit screen time. Whether on social media or websites, too much time on the phone or computer can lead to less physical activity and more anxiety. Limit news intake to new information from reliable sources. And remember: there’s no benefit to re-watching news you’ve already seen.

Keep up daily routines. Following a regular schedule helps things feel normal, even if some minor changes need to be made.

Move your body. 10 to 15 minutes of exercise, indoors or outside, can make a big difference. Find a new workout online, walk around your neighborhood (with precautions in mind), or do squats during meeting breaks or commercials. Regular physical activity is associated with both lower levels of stress and perceived stress.

— Amanda Reyna, Cleo Guide, Full Spectrum Doula & Childbirth Educator

How can parents make sure their kids are doing OK?

Children are naturally resilient and can learn to cope through stressful situations. Most children can control and manage the stress they feel by relying on the positive experiences in their life and the outlook they have shaped through these experiences. This can really help carry them through tough times, and also allow them to see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, some children are more sensitive and can internalize stress. Too much stress can be unhealthy and can lead to the child feeling unsafe. It is important to make sure your child is okay, and that you can support them through any stress they may be experiencing. Here are a few ways you can do this:

  • Pay attention and give attention. Children need extra love and care when they are feeling stressed. It’s important to physically show you are there for them.
  • Control media exposure. The news is stressful. You don’t want to shelter your child, but you do want to limit exposure based on their temperament. Some children will benefit from watching clips of media with you so you can talk about it after. Others will do better if they get the information just from you.
  • Watch what you say around your child. Discuss your own fears with other adults when your child is not around. Note that it can be reassuring to a child to overhear you discuss what is being done to make sure things are safe.
  • Ask and listen. When your child reaches out, ask questions and listen to their concerns. Try questions like, “What do you think?” “What are you worried about?” Then address and support those specific concerns.
  • Show you care and understand. When a child says, “I’m scared,” try to affirm that feeling. You may want to respond with, “Don’t be scared; you’re fine.” But this can make children feel that there is something wrong with their feelings. It’s better to say, “I know you are scared. Some scary things have happened.” Then go on to give concrete examples of how you and others are making sure they are safe.
  • Talk at an age-appropriate level. Depending on your child’s age, don’t disclose unnecessary details that can add to stress. Rather be short and concise with answers to their questions, and try to end on a positive note.
  • Get support for yourself. Ensuring you are in a good space is the best way to help your child.

— Samana Hussain, Cleo Guide, Child Development, Behavior Expert & Patience Elizabeth, Cleo Guide, Psychologist