Tips I shared on the TODAY Show to reduce parent burnout and stress during uncertain times.

Uncertain times are making us feel on edge. We’re overwhelmed, anxious, concerned about our health, safety, finances and the future all while assuming more roles: parent, teacher, day care, cook, cleaner all while working at home. That’s why many parents admit that they feel burned out. 

The TODAY Show asked me to offer ways to fight burnout. Parents sent in dozens of questions and I answered them with Hoda and Jenna. Here are a few parent top concerns and tips so we can do to help our families stay strong and get through these tough times.

 “Many parents right now are feeling burnt out because we’re trying to do it all.  How do we take off our ‘Super Mom’ cape?”

“Burnout”  is caused by unmanageable workloads, unreasonable time pressure, unrealistic expectations and lack of support with no psychological buffers. That’s exactly what is happening now. The easiest way to reduce burnout is to take off our “Super Parent Capes” and rethink our role.

What kids need most is our Calm Presence. That is what keeps our children’s stress down and thriving abilities up. In short, our kids need us to be “nouns”—just present with them-not verbs–or one long to do list. JUST BE, NOT DO.

Identify YOUR ONE THING that helps you decompress so you can be emotionally present for your child. Is it reading a magazine? Walking? Doing yoga? Praying? Set a goal to do that ONE THING regularly to help curb your  burnout. You might be able to even do it with your kids (read with them, do yoga with them, walk with them). That ONE THING will help you and your family. It may also help your kids to learn a resilience skill.

“I’m worried about my children’s development? How is the quarantine life affecting them?”

Science has studied children enduring all types of trauma-war, poverty, mass shootings, abuse-and found that three things affect children’s development during adverse times. I call them the 3Ps:

P1: Prior stress or trauma. Did the child have mental health issues prior to the pandemic? A crisis generally amplifies preexisting mental health problems.

P2: Personal proximityDid the child experience financial distress, death of loved one, was a family member’s health affected or some other personal trauma.

P3: Protective buffers. Does the child have coping skills to handle the challenge? 

Resilience is made up of teachable skills like self-regulation, optimism, adaptability, problem solving which help minimize the impact of trauma. Our children are living in uncertain times and will need those skills to help them thrive. We can use these weeks to teach kids those essential skills to help them thrive. Kids are sure to need those now and later.

 “Are parents with younger kids more burned out than middle school or high school aged kids?” 

Parenting is always hard, but different kids’ ages and temperaments create different kinds of burnout. Younger kids are usually more physically draining. They’re more active, have shorter attention spans, and need more supervision. Older kids, especially teens, are usually more emotionally draining because they’re worried about bigger issues: their friends, school, financial stability, the scholarship, health. Both physical and emotional stress cause burnout, but it’s why we must take care of ourselves so we can take care of our families.

 “If you feel like you are about to lose control and just start yelling at your kids what do you do?”

Stress comes before anger. The secret is to catch the stress before it builds.

Create a nonverbal, signal that means that the sender needs space to calm down. It could be as simple as holding your hand straight out like an umpire or touching your nose, but everyone in your family knows that signal honors it. 

The secret to calmness is learning to identify your stress signs that warn you’re about to lose control. They might be a pounding heart, rapid breathing, light headedness, feeling on edge. Track your signs and then tune in closer so the split second you feel yourself getting on edge do three things:

  1. Tell yourself, “Calm down!”
  2. Take slow, deep breaths.
  3. Use the calm down signal to let your family know “I need space.” If used as a family, the signal does wonders to minimize outbursts and keep family harmony. So, turn it is a regular daily routine. 

You could also appoint your mom, sister or friend as your “rescuer.” If you really need a breather, tell your child, “Grandma wants you give her a call.” 

 “I am studying with my kids Monday through Friday, working weekends and still cook, clean and care about stuff. Who cares about me?”

There’s a reason airlines tell you to put your oxygen mask on first before you put on your child’s mask. You can’t take care of your children unless you can take care of yourself. It’s why we must do self-care. 

  • Sleep is crucial to keep stress at bay. Adhering to a regular schedules improves sleep. Turn those screens off at least 30 minutes prior to lights out. Don’t rely on liquor to make that transition. 
  • Exercise restores energy. Add things like walking, biking, working out, or yoga to your schedule. Better yet, do it with your kids. Even better, add recess to your day! Kids need brain breaks!
  • Connection reduces stress. Find a tribe of caring parents to support each otherDo regular check ins, zoom coffee times or send supportive text messages. Some parents rotate roles of leading a Facebook kid sing-along, recess break or read-aloud which gives other parents a break.   

“Is there something we should be doing with our kids now so eventually we don’t look back and say, I should’ve used that time to …”

The single greatest correlation of children who triumph over hardship it the presence of a stable, caring parent who helped them recognize “We will get through this together!” Let that be your family mantra. Say it over and over so kids feel the strength of your family. Your voice will become their inner voice.

“For so many parents, the challenging thing about this pandemic is that there is so much we don’t know.  What’s the best way to stay positive through this crisis?”

Staying positive isn’t easy, but science tells us that optimism can be learned and can do wonders at curbing burnout.

Negative news creates burnout and builds pessimism, so limit your intake of depressing news. Look for uplifting stories in the news of ordinary, compassionate people to inspire your heart and give you hope.

Set a google alert for “Google News” for inspiring stories of ordinary people doing good things for others. Some parents do “Good News” reports with their kids before bedtime or during family meals.

In fact, the best way to learn resilience traits like optimism is to practice and model it. You’ll learn it faster, but so will your kids. 

“How do we balance independent play with interactive play when we have to get our work done? I feel like I’m working and my son is playing independently I’m just ignoring him.  When does independent play become neglect?”

Take a big breath and relieve your guilt. Neglect is completely out of the picture because your intention is to create a safe environment for your son and keep a roof over his head.

The silver lining is that kids need to learn independence which builds resilience, self-efficacy and creativity. Self-directed play is one way young kids those crucial thriving traits.

 Quality parenting always trumps quantity. Your free time is when you can be present for your child. Meanwhile, encourage activities where your son can learn to enjoy his own company like sandbox, drawing, clay, block building or playing dress up.  We’ve been helicoptering our kids. This is time to say, “You can do it!” instead, “Mommy will help.” 

We’re pretty bummed that our daughters cannot see family and friends that we’re used to seeing each week.  What can we do to ensure that they get the bonding experience with family and friends?”  

Extended families can be a fabulous support system and burnout reducer. Families are finding creative ways to use shelter in place time to strengthen bonds between kids and relatives and friends. Here are a few ideas:

  • Book reads. Each night a different family member outside your home (Grandma, Aunt Sally, Uncle Paul) reads a book virtually (like Cat in the Hat or chapter from Harry Potter) while all kids listen and enjoy virtually. 
  • Family movie nightsCreate a Family Movie Google doc of appropriate, accessible movies for extended family members to see. Choose top picks and then sets a regular movie night (like every Wednesday) when everyone watches at the same time. Tell your child: “Grandpa is watching with us. ” Viewers can then review the film on Facetime. 
  • Play virtual gamesAll you need in a zoom account to play Bingo, Pictionary or Charades.  The trick is to set regular family gatherings so you all enjoy each other’s company. 

Remember, what every child needs to thrive is feeling safe, accepted, capable and loved. Take care of yourself, so you can take care of your kids. 

For more information on how to on self-regulation and coping skills for you and your family, view Chapter Four in my book,Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine.  All the best!