This quarantine has been an interesting experience for all of us. My little one doesn't really understand but seems to be enjoying having everyone home.
My teens are another story.
School was out for about 4 weeks and I saw them struggling with how to react to this. One side said, "Yay!" but the other side said, "What's going on?"
Our brains like schedules and consistency. When something happens that disturbs that sense of order and consistency, we perceive it as a stressor. How did my teens respond to the stressor? Both of them went into seclusion.
I am not a mental health professional so I don't know what this response is called but I am sure it's got a name, like "hide in my room syndrome." As parents. we didn't know what to do.
We wanted to give them space to be able to process things in their own way but we also wanted to help support a "healthy" way of dealing with this unprecedented change in their lives and ours. So we waited.
Waiting led to more seclusion. More "laziness." And a general "checking out."
By my estimation, not a good trend. So, we decided to see if there were some things we could do to help.
YOU MUST GO OUTSIDE
I'm a physical person. I like to move and exercise and spend time outdoors. So the first rule I implemented with my kids was to spend time outdoors.
Spending time outdoors is critical for your overall well-being. On sunny days it helps activate vitamin D for your bodies immune function, mood, bone and muscle health. There is also a psychological component. The Japanese call it forest bathing or shinrin-yoku. Time in nature reduces stress, supports your immune system and improves your mood. And if you were like me, it was just a good time. Running around, making up stories and adventures. Making forts, hiding under trees, pretending to be camping. A blast.
How did it go?
With my 15 year old son- great.
With my 13 year old daughter, not so much. Ugh.
TALK IT OUT
I know from reading the research on stress that we all need a confidant that we can talk to about ANYTHING. Someone in our lives that you can call anytime and discuss things that are going on in your life, even if it's all in your head.
We sat as a family and discussed the importance of being able to talk out what we are going through; what things we are struggling with and any stressors that are triggering us. It didn't have to be with us but I asked my kids if they had one friend or person that they could reliably talk to about anything. They both assured me that they did.
When I asked if they had anything to share or whether they had questions or concerns...crickets.
So... wanting to set a good example, I thought I would share how grateful I was that we were still working and able to feed the family and how terrifying it must be for everyone who has lost their job or had to close their businesses due to the pandemic. I shared with them that it was truly a fear of mine to not be able to support the family and the uncertainty of what the future held as far as "getting back to normal."
Quiet nods. ugh.
As an unintended consequence of social distancing, we are social distancing at home.
The brain likes routine and consistency, like I said before. As such, what we do outside with others, translates into a default behavior. Human beings need touch. It supports our overall health, happiness and longevity.
However, during this pandemic, I found myself and my family maneuvering around each other so as not to touch each other as we passed. We didn't hug and kiss hello, goodbye, goodnight, like before. We sat with greater distance from each other on the couch rather than on top of each other like we normally do.
My wife and I would take walks and not hold hands or touch each other at all. Bizarre.
Thank goodness for my 2 year old. Otherwise, we all would have suffered from touch deprivation.
We made a concerted effort to retrain our brains to be more "touchy" with each other as a way to make up for the lack everywhere else.
So far? Good all around!
So, what have I learned?
1. I learned my teenage son is physical and needs activity and exercise to stay sane.
2. I learned that my teenage daughter deals with her stress by talking with her friends on facetime. In her room. With music on. Sometimes playing a game together on a separate electronic device. Eye roll...but that's her way.
3. I learned that my wife needs more care from me, rather than being counted as just another adult in the trenches.
I would love to hear about what your experiences have been and the things that you have learned that can be shared with others. Again, I am not an expert in teenagers or quarantines; just a parent trying to keep it all together.
Stay healthy. Be kind. Take care of each other.
forest bathing: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5580555/
Talking it out with someone: https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/study-confirms-sharing-shared-feelings-reduces-stress-0204141
Touch: (fun article) https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/power-touch