Commentary

Top Ten Ways to Support Your Family Through Tough Times

By Amanda Sovik-Johnston, Ph.D.
Owner and CEO of Virginia Family Therapy Services

A family sharing quality time . (Courtesy Photo)

We all know the last few years have been exceptionally hard. Parents are burnt out, kids are struggling with mental health and we have all experienced more grief and loss than we feel we can bear. Although we can feel alone in our challenges, therapists realize that most folks are struggling with similar themes. Here are our top ten ways to support your family’s mental health at this critical time:

1. Pay attention to how the adults are doing.

Adults are the cornerstones of families. We know you all have dealt with a lot over the past few years and that you will continue to work to make sure your children have what they need. This is your reminder to check in with you every now and then make sure you are giving some energy and kindness to yourself. Even five minutes a day will help you stay balanced— and that will help the whole family.

2. Keep the routine where you can.
We know it’s tough when it seems like something new is thrown at you everyday, especially if you are solo parenting. You and your children will be able to manage the hurdles more easily if you have a routine that you can fall back on. Try focusing on meals and bedtime first

3. Maintain realistic expectations for yourself.
Given the challenges you have already faced, it is okay to make mistakes and struggle with parts of family life right now.

4. Prioritize where you put your energy.
Identify what parts of your life are most important to you. Is it your children, job, friendships? Put your energy into those spaces and feel okay walking away from areas that are not as fulfilling.

5. Maintain realistic expectations for your children.
Your kids have had a hard few years, as well. We have noticed that they are all about one year behind academically, socially and emotionally. While we cannot predict the future, we expect that most children will catch up developmentally over the next few years.

6. Talk to the school.
If school has been particularly difficult, you are not alone. If you can, identify someone you trust at the school and talk to them about your child’s experience. Most teachers are overwhelmed with administrative demands right now but welcome opportunities for thoughtful and personal conversations around helping students.

7. Sleep and exercise.
Both significantly improve mental health for adults and children. When life gets stressful, increasing both by just twenty minutes a day can offer just enough of an emotional lift to get you all through.

8. Connect with each other.
Sometimes it feels like we are always with our children, yet we are never really with them. Spending just five minutes of focused, uninterrupted time with each child can prevent behavior problems down the line. Moreover, making sure we prioritize safe connections with people outside of our home can boost everyone’s mood and sense of well being.

9. Count your blessings.
Identifying moments of happiness and joy is restorative and healthy for adults and children. Model being thankful for little moments, help your children identify small successes and talk about times they felt happy throughout the day. The more everyone practices, the more it will come naturally.

10. Honor your losses.
We have experienced insurmountable loss over the last few years and it is important to give you and your family time and space to grieve. Most of us are experiencing loss on multiple levels, including the death of loved ones, missed time with friends and family and drastic changes in the way we thought our lives would look. Increased sadness, anger, and fear are to be expected and allowing space for these feelings may help you move through or alongside these emotions. We are thinking of you and your family and hope you know you are not alone.

Learn more at www.virginiafamilytherapy.com