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Monday, May 25, 2020

Pandemic Parenting: 7 Tips for Maintaining the Calm During These Overwhelming Times

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Life has a lot of fear and uncertainty at the moment. Most of us have seen our lives radically change over the last months. Perhaps more than anyone else, children have been impacted. School went digital and ended months ahead of schedule, play dates vanished, and some children aren't even able to visit extended family members. Parenting through the pandemic is incredibly challenging. Some parents struggle with the fact that no one in the household ever leaves home; others are dealing with trying to homeschool and provide childcare while still working. No matter what your life looks like at this moment in time, there are things you can do to maintain calm in your home for your children during this time.

1. Try to stay active with workout videos, socially distanced walks, bike rides, etc. Exercise can help the whole family stay calm and grounded.

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Physical activity reduces stress, tension, anger, anxiety, and depression. These are things most of us are trying to cope with right now. It also can improve sleep, and quality of sleep is essential in times of stress. So make time as a family for socially distanced exercise. It's the perfect time to make your yard into the playground of your dreams. Contact outdoor play equipment companies and stores for ideas.

2. Try to establish a routine, but be kind and forgiving to yourself if things don't go according to plan.

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Many of us are struggling with a lack of external structure. Children don't need to be at school at a specific time, appointments are canceled, and activities curtailed. Does this mean bedtime and other routines can be set aside? During times of uncertainty, everyone, but especially children, need a sense of order. A predictable routine is key to a calm day. Come up with your own schedule. Everyone up at by this time, schoolwork for however long, chore time, reading time, outdoor play, free play, et cetera should all be considered. If one day goes sideways and the routine is forgotten, forgive yourself and move on.

3. Practice deep breathing. Before reacting to a stressor, ask yourself, "Does the problem pose an immediate danger? How will I feel about this tomorrow?"

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Everyone is on edge. Young children probably don't have the insight or vocabulary to describe what they are feeling about their world changing and the stress they are picking up on from other people in their lives. Their stress might manifest as anxiety or inappropriate behavior. Older kids and teenagers are dealing with feelings of loss over anticipated events and milestones, and might be more irritable than usual. Some days, grouchy children are enough to send any overwhelmed parent over the edge. Instead of reacting, take a moment to take a breath and dispassionately evaluate the situation before you say or do anything.

4. Answer children's questions about the pandemic and the impact on their lives calmly and honestly.

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The most important thing parents can do is to cultivate an environment where kids feel they can ask questions in a stress-free environment. We all want to shield our children, but the pandemic is impacting their lives, and knowledge can help assuage their fears. Empowering children with age-appropriate information also gives them the insight they need about hygiene, and teaches them coping skills for their future.

5. Incorporate daily praise.

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One of the best ways to ensure a calm, peaceful household is to dole out lots of praise. Praise is highly effective at changing bad behaviors and reinforcing positive behaviors. When praising your children, be specific. That lets them know precisely what you are happy with about their actions. Tell them what a great job they did staying quiet while you were on a video-conference call, or tell them how nicely they cleaned up their art supplies.

6. Set aside time for each child.

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Since everyone is spending so much time together, it's easy to forget the importance of making sure everyone is getting adequate one-on-one time. Carve out specific time for each child, and let them take the lead on how they would like to spend it with you. Your outdoorsy kid might want to play on the playground equipment, while your bookish kid might want dedicated story time.

7. Incorporate appropriate socialization.

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School ended early, organized activities are on pause, and even play dates are rare. Just because kids aren't able to see their friends, doesn't mean they aren't missing their friends. And the same is true for adults! So set up some pandemic proof socialization! Schedule video chats, phone calls, or even every stays six feet apart outdoor walking dates so everyone can get in some time with their friends.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, May 18, 2020

9 Ways That Play Can Keep Spirits Alive During Times of Stress

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Are you a little stressed lately? Modern life is typically hectic and stressful, and play can quickly fall off the list of things for which we make time. Right now, many of us have plenty of time and are experiencing a ton of unprecedented stress. Engaging in play, whether it's with your significant other, pets, children, or others who live in your household is a way to keep spirits up during these trying times. And there's no need to make play a complicated endeavor that feels like one more task to be completed. Throw a Frisbee in the backyard, hang out on your backyard playground equipment, indulge in dress up, or play fetch with your dog. Any of these activities are fun and will help you and your family reap the benefits of playing.

1. Play triggers the body's natural feel-good hormones and chemicals.

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Play can lift the spirits because even 30 minutes unlocks your body's feel-good hormones. These include endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. What do these chemicals have in common? They reduce stress, increase your sense of happiness, and make people feel alive.

2. Laughter releases endorphins to promote positive feelings.

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Need a quick burst of endorphins to brighten your mood? Try laughing. Studies have proven that laughing leads to a significant increase in endorphins and other opioid peptides. These chemicals are released in the parts of the brain controlling emotional regulation.

3. Play and laughter with loved ones can foster empathy, trust, kindness, and connection.

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Sometimes too much togetherness can strain familial relationships. One way to rebuild fraying bonds is to indulge in shared play. Having fun together and sharing light-hearted moments fosters good feelings, and restores connections between loved ones. Designing areas that foster family play will encourage spontaneous outbreaks of group play! Contact local outdoor play equipment companies and stores to design an area for your yard.

4. "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."

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Famed playwright George Bernard Shaw is the source of the quote and it still rings true today. No one is ever too old to engage in play. Play has a multitude of physical and mental health benefits that keep our bodies and our spirit young!

5. Play engages the mind and encourages creativity.

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Research has proven that play is the best way for young children to learn. Guess what? That same principle applies to adults. Adults, just like children, learn new tasks best when they are relaxed, and learning the skill is fun. Play also serves to activate the imagination, and an active imagination helps improve adaptation and problem-solving skills.

6. Need to boost productivity? Try playing.

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Play can seem like a distraction from our to-do lists and projects. Actually, it's just the opposite. The creative part of the brain engages during play and that little voice in your head, which regularly critiques your efforts? Play helps shut that down. A play break often will refresh your mind and leave you in the right frame of mind to approach an existing problem in a new way.

7. Play helps children and adults learn cooperation.

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Need a dose of positive socialization? Try play! Play encourages children and adults to get along, work together in a group, and follow agreed-upon rules.

8. Play is an excellent way to manage stress in a healthy manner.

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Feeling stressed? Combat it with play. Fun is a natural stress reliever! The endorphins released while playing also increases your sense of well-being.

9. Play can help heal trauma.

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Unfortunately many people have experienced a trauma at some point in their lives that affects their health in many ways. Play is an excellent way to restore emotional balance and work through emotional trauma. Engaging in playful behaviors leads to positive psychological health benefits for children and adults. Someone struggling with emotional problems benefits from playing with an emotionally secure partner, and often that shared play will help reshape behaviors.

As adults, when you play together, you are engaging in precisely the same patterns of behavior that positively shape the brains of children. These same playful behaviors that predict emotional health in children can also lead to positive changes in adults. If an emotionally-insecure individual plays with a secure partner, for example, it can help replace negative beliefs and behaviors with positive assumptions and actions.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

20 Ways to Stay Connect and Play Online With Friends and Loved Ones

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We all miss the days when getting together with friends or family was as easy as meeting up on the playground equipment at the local park. Today, it takes a bit more work and thought to stay connected with the people we love whom we don't share a house with. Luckily, there is a wealth of online tools to help keep us connected.

1. Watch Movies Together

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I've loved going to the movies with my favorite people since I was just a small child. Luckily, there are now a couple of different ways to watch movies with your friends and chat about the experience as you watch (something that's not allowed at your local multiplex). A Netflix Chrome extension allows Netflix subscribers to watch together, while WatchTogether also offers synchronized watching and private chat rooms.

2. Have a Dress-Up Video Chat Date

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The kindergartners in my acquaintance now have busy video conferencing schedules! One way to make weekly chats fun is to come up with themes! Try dressing up in your finest clothes, or even try something like "'70s Roller Disco" for laughs.

3. Sing Karaoke Online

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Apps like Smule allow you to have all the fun of singing with your friends from the safety of your living room. Never tried karaoke before? What better time to try?

4. Enjoy a Scavenger Hunt

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Do a scavenger hunt together but apart. Make it a race. Choose things like "something small and blue" and "something soft and fuzzy" and take photos. An app like ActionBound might help. Also, check out neighborhood social media sites. Some areas are doing things like putting teddy bears in windows or hanging crystals off of mailboxes.

5. Play Words With Friends Together

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Ten years ago, everyone I knew loved Words with Friends. Reload the app and reach out to your friends, it's still one of the best apps for having online fun with your real-life crew.

6. Create a Minecraft Server

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Minecraft has educational aspects but also is a great way to build community. Build your own virtual world to escape to.

7. Play Cards Against Humanity

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Cards Against Humanity is one of my go-to's for entertaining. The online version lets you hear your friends' inappropriate thoughts even when you are away from each other.

8. Join an Online Book Club

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If you already are a part of a book club, move it to video chat. Otherwise, reach out to your local indie bookstore! You'll make new friends and support a local business all at once.

9. Solve a Mystery Together Playing Clue

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Love board game nights? Try getting together a group to figure out just what Miss Scarlett was doing in the library.

10. Use Houseparty to Host an Online Dinner Party

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Miss dinner parties? Set your table, and start a video conference. You'll get dinner time conversation, and maybe even pick up some ideas for new dinner recipes.

11. Don't Miss Out on Your Weekly Card Game

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Many card games are available online, including UNO. These games allow you to play card games online with your real-life friends.

12. Enjoy Trivia Night

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Trivia Night needn't be skipped just because you aren't going out. Each week, let one person on the video conference be the trivia master and everyone else be the participants.

13. Use Screen Share to Take a Group Trip

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Many museums and historic sites are offering free tours online. Find one that will interest your group, and set up a screen share so that your crew can enjoy the experience together.

14. Mail Craft Kits to Your Kids Friends

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Make up age-appropriate craft kits and mail them your kids' best friends. Then schedule a video call where the kids can work on the craft kits together!

15. Set Up Group Text Chains

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Texting makes it easy to stay in touch, but some days it feels like my phone never stops buzzing! Streamline texts by setting up group chats with friends and family groups. That way, everyone sees important news but you don't have to text everyone individually.

16. Virtual Outdoor Playdates

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Video conferencing doesn't have to stay indoors! Setup the tablet and let your kids play with their friends from afar. Noticing your yard isn't the playland you'd like it to be? Contact local outdoor play equipment companies and stores.

17. Schedule Regular Check-ins

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It's easy to get overwhelmed and withdraw from the people you enjoy most. Schedule regular check-ins via text, phone, or video chat so you also have something you look forward to on your schedule.

18. Engage in Group Projects, Separately

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One of my favorite days in quarantine? My college best friend and I set up a video conference and chatted while we worked on some DIY projects (I painted my kitchen while she refinished a dresser). It gave each of us the impetus to knock something off our to-do list while we had fun chatting.

19. Plan a Fun Outing For Later

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One day we will leave our homes again, right? So plan a fun outing for later. It might be as simple as a group dinner at the local Mexican restaurant or as involved as a multi-family international trip. The trip will give everyone something to chat about and look forward to!

20. Do the Same Activity and then Compare Notes

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Have you been meaning to watch some binge-worthy show you missed, or learn how to bake sourdough bread or take up a new craft? Reach out to your loved ones and see if anyone else is interested. Work on the project separately, and then share your progress and thoughts during video chats.

Find more about the author:Kim Hart