On Dec, 31, 2019 the world celebrated the beginning of a new decade. 2020 brought hope and excitement. Who could have predicted that less than four months later, we would be battling a worldwide pandemic and the family stress that was ushered in with it?

Historically, many families have always juggled the stresses of fragile family relations, incomes that barely pay the bills, mental and physical illness and addiction. They’ve figured out a delicate balance and they are able to get through their days as long as nothing tips the scales.

This pandemic has more than tipped the scales for all of us. People who never drank before are now using alcohol as a coping mechanism; people who did drink are drinking more. People who never experienced anxiety or depression before are dealing with feelings of fear and hopelessness. People who never needed assistance to meet their basic needs are now waiting in food lines.

And lots of parents had to become teachers overnight. We are collectively facing the biggest crisis of our lifetimes, and we need to remember that our children are facing it with us.

How do we address the unspoken needs of our children?

First and foremost, if you are a parent, you need to assume your children can feel your stress even if you are trying to hide it, and it’s causing them to be stressed. Some children will show it outwardly (angry outbursts, not eating or overeating, not sleeping well or sleeping all the time, bedwetting, etc.); others will bottle it up and try to put on a happy face in order to keep you happy. None of that is healthy. Families need a system that allows everyone an opportunity to express their feelings and be supported.

One way to do this is to create a family feelings board. Purchase emoji face stickers or print and make your own. Next, create a chart that has everyone’s name, including adults (we also have a printable individual chart on our website at this link: https://www.revvedupkids.org/feelingschart).

Each day, or at different times during the day because our feelings change constantly, family members can put up a sticker to indicate how they’re feeling. If a child puts up a sticker to indicate they are feeling less than happy, it’s the parents’ job to ask them if they want to talk about it, or if they need to do a stress-busting activity.

If a parent puts up a less-than-happy sticker, there should be a family plan in place to respond (Do you want a hug from your child? Do you want to talk with another adult in the home? How can others support you?)

Create fun stress-busting activities that are physical. Some can be calm like playing with sand or water, taking a nature walk, writing about the feelings, etc.; others can be anger releases like pounding on a pillow and screaming or running sprints; you could even set up a fun family game that’s physical and mood changing — how about a water balloon fight?

The goal of the chart and the activities is to acknowledge that stress is happening and to allow family members to work through it openly and with support from each other. This will create a family culture that says it’s all right to be less than all right and there are people who love and support you no matter how you’re feeling.

Alli Neal is a child safety expert and the Executive Director of Peachtree Corners based Revved Up Kids. Revved Up Kids provides prevention training programs to protect children and teens from sexual abuse and exploitation.

If you’d like to learn about Revved Up Kids programs, please contact Alli at admin@revvedupkids.org.

People Helping People is a publication of the Gwinnett Coalition for Health & Human Services. For more information contact Ellen Gerstein at ellen@gwinnettcoalition.org or at 770-995-3339.

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