2020 will be a year to remember for sure.

Nothing about it seems normal. In fact, many people have commented, “I just keep pinching myself thinking I will wake up and this nightmare will be over.”

Living through a pandemic can take its toll on everyone, impacting you physically and mentally. As you continue to navigate through these times, there are ways you can be intentional about protecting your family’s mental health.

For starters, it is important to continually remind ourselves that we are going through something that’s very unusual. We’re all living in a heightened state of anxiety and stress that impacts us mentally and physically. Life as we once knew it has been disrupted.

Just when families felt like they were gaining the upper hand on a sense of normalcy, schools reopened. Now families are having to regain their footing when it comes to routines, rituals and structure. In times of high anxiety and stress, the consistency of routines and structure are soothing to everyone.

Make your home a peaceful place that is like a refuge from all the craziness going on in the world. Spend some time thinking about things you can do to create calm. Play calming music, light a lavender candle, let the sunlight in and encourage your children to find a comfy spot where they can read or play with their toys.

Be self-aware. Your children are like sponges. Whether you notice it or not, they are watching your every move, your facial expressions and even listening to conversations you are having that don’t include them.

They are quick to pick up and take on your stress and anxiety. Have adult conversations out of the hearing range of your children. Be proactive in dealing with your emotions.

Be open and intentional about having conversations about coronavirus and other things that are going on in the world. Ask your children to tell you what they know or have heard. Use their information as a platform to affirm accurate information, correct inaccurate details, assure them that your job is to make sure they are cared for and protected and you are doing that.

Exercise, getting enough rest and eating right are three essentials for protecting your family’s mental health. This is like the trifecta right here. Walk as a family, be insistent on people getting the rest they need and get everybody involved in creating fun, healthy meals.

Limit the amount of time you and your family members watch the news. This one action can dramatically decrease the anxiety, stress, anger, fear and drama in your home. Mentally and emotionally our brains and bodies were not meant to live in a constant state of stress, but that’s exactly what happens when we watch news non-stop.

Think of ways you can be helpful to others. During difficult times, it’s easy to become focused on yourself and all that is not right with the world. A great way to combat this as a family is to look for ways to help others. Deliver food, do yard work, run errands, bake bread or cookies and share them with your neighbors. (Let your kids do a ring and run when they deliver. It can be your secret.)

Make play a priority. Seriously. Play releases all the feel-good hormones that promote an overall sense of well-being. Heaven knows we could all use a triple dose of that right now.

Ride bikes, go for a hike, play hide and seek, tag, kick the can, four square, hopscotch, double dutch jump rope or any other active game you can think of. Just get moving!

Remind yourself and your family members, there is light at the end of the tunnel. This is hard and there are parts of dealing with the world right now that are not fun, but together as a family, you can do hard things. When one person is having a hard day, other family members can be encouraging and affirming to help them get through it. Being in healthy relationship with each other is one of the best ways to protect your family’s mental health.

When parents model and lead out using these strategies, it teaches children how to navigate through hard times in healthy ways. It affirms you believe they have what it takes to keep going even when things get really challenging. This builds self-confidence and helps them learn how to think and be creative in the midst of change.

A side note: if you feel like members of your family are not handling all that is going on well, don’t hesitate to seek help. Talk with their pediatrician and/or a counselor to seek guidance on other ways you can help them.

Julie Baumgardner is the president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at julieb@firstthings.org

Julie Baumgardner is the president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at julieb@firstthings.org

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