It’s 9 months and counting since the world changed for all of us, since things slowed down and “normal’ became increasingly out of reach. In my personal life and in my work as a community social worker, I’ve seen individuals and families show incredible creativity and flexibility in finding ways to adapt, and even thrive in 2020.
Now it’s the new year and there is hope that we’re entering the home stretch of this pandemic life. Yet, as a lifelong runner, I know how incredibly hard the home stretch can be. You know you’re close to the finish but you’re exhausted and it can feel like hell to get there.
The challenge of the moment, of this still-in-the-pandemic winter, is REAL.
There’s no one-size-fits-all how to get through the last winter of a pandemic guide. Instead, I offer six possible tools. These are not “take a walk” and “bake bread” sort of suggestions, but more like strategies. Think of it as a Swiss army knife, you take it out, open it and voila, so many useful tools. But what’s helpful to you right now?
The tools you need to get through this winter
1. Coping ahead: also known as planning ahead but slightly different
This is a commonsense idea, borrowed from DBT therapy, that is easily missed in stressful times. Coping ahead involves making a plan, in advance, to deal with situations that you know will be hard or you think might trip you up, and plan ahead how you can respond in a better, healthier way. For example, a person in recovery might anticipate that a holiday party will be tough. Coping ahead might look like attending with a support person or bringing ingredients for a fun mocktail or leaving early.
In this Covid winter, we can collectively see into the next few months to guess what will challenge us, to different degrees: Less daylight, cold weather limiting time outside, socializing restrictions, decision fatigue (is x or y safe to do?), upended schedules (school changes, quarantines), fill-in-the-blank personal challenge.
Ask yourself and maybe ask your teen: what is going to be the hardest. Is it the limited daylight? Can he plan a walk/outside time every afternoon and finish up school or work tasks in the evening?
Will it be missing social time with friends? Can she plan a weekly outdoor social time, with creative ideas for winter fun?
For your young adult child, will it be the infringement on freedoms? Could you and he sit down and plan for how he can keep house rules but still have appropriate adult freedoms?
It seems simple but this simple act of coping ahead can avert increased frustrations and resentments through the winter months.
2. Instead of talking about limits on screen time, focus on offscreen time
Screen time issues are often a struggle but right now it can be a super struggle. I’m a grown woman and I sometimes wish I had my mom around to force me off the screens between work zooms and family/friend zooms, paying bills, etc. It’s a bit too much. I have to self-police: how do I feel after two hours on Zoom? Crappy. What helps? A 10-minute walk outside or a 5-minute meditation.
Forcing screen limits on teens and young adults is possible but not advisable. I anticipate the rebuttal from the “my house, my rules” parents. BUT I’m going with the positive spin, assuming collaboration and mutual respect on this road to a well-ish winter.
There’s a suggestion I love from the Indieflix film, Like, to count hours off-screen instead of onscreen. Onscreen is such a muddle of activities anyway, who can count what’s good or bad or academic or a waste of time??
Counting off screen hours is just cleaner and easier. Something like “everyone needs two hours per day completely off screens” (adapted to each home and kid’s age and needs). It could be more of a “let’s try this” for older teens and young adults who probably should be managing their own screen time anyway.
I recognize that there is a small subset of teens/young adults who may have significant problems around regulating screen time. If this is true for your teen, this generalized suggestion may feel inadequate. Gamequitters for parents is a resource for additional support and help for a teen with screen time or gaming habits that seem out of control.
3. Certainty anchors
Doesn’t that sound way better than routines? When I hear the word routine, I automatically think boring and feel an almost automatic impulse to push back. What? Bedtime is 8:00?!
Certainty anchors are less rigid but offer some similar benefits. I think of them as rooting a person in the day. It’s a term I first heard in a podcast targeted to creatives and entrepreneurs- people who don’t want to be tied to the clock but also do need some roots in their days.
The certainty anchor term was coined by Jonathon Fields, author of Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance:
A certainty anchor is a practice or process that adds something known and reliable to your life when you may otherwise feel you’re spinning off in a million different directions.Jonathon Fields
- A certainty anchor could be taking the dog out at lunch break, yoga with Adrienne at 1:00, walking to the mailbox every afternoon, calling a rotating list of friends each evening, hot cocoa break in the afternoon, you name it. Can you take something, anything, you do on a regular basis and turn it into a ritual that soothes and settles and doesn’t require thought or planning?
4. Divide up the workload and “assign” chores that include movement and senses and maybe even the outdoors?
Chores can be a contentious topic in many households BUT I believe in them. It’s fair to ask people living in a house to help out AND chores do really teach valuable life skills. I highly recommend using a “let’s figure out how we can get everything done by all pitching in” approach, that brings down resistance and puts fairness at the forefront (a favorite concept of kids and teens).
During this pandemic winter, chores can do double or even triple duty as a certainty anchor, time off screens, and even a coping skill. Take the dog outside to play every day at lunchtime? (Movement, outdoor time, purpose, dog love). Sweep the kitchen after dinner? (movement, mindfulness, off screens). Take the trash cans to the curb? (Movement, outdoors, off screens, maybe socially distant connection with a neighbor?) You get the idea.
5. Share power/decision making (as much as possible).
Much of what happens these days is out of your control and out of your teen’s control. There’s not much anyone can do about changes in school schedules, sports cancellations, and missed social events. We’re all a bit powerless over Covid right now.
This is not easy but it’s particularly hard for teens and young adults, who are solidly in a developmental stage of growing independence and increased personal decision making. Of course, parental limits and boundaries are important, but things will be better if you can share power when and where you can.
The nonprofit Search Institute explains the value of shared power this way,
Sharing power with young people helps prepare them to be responsible adults and shapes the quality of our relationship with them as they grow up.Search Institute
Right now this can be as simple as shared decision making on issues like chores or homework time.
6. Family meetings?
If you have never done family meetings, this might be the time to start. And yes, you can absolutely start family meetings with teens. Family meetings can take the pressure away from daily hassles: little brother is driving you crazy with his whistling? Put it on the family meeting agenda and the aggravation goes down.
There’s the promise of a solution or at least an airing of grievances. I often suggest a whiteboard agenda in a common area-that way agenda items can be placed and also erased as the meeting time approaches (every Sunday afternoon? Friday nights along with pizza?)
Family meetings can wrap up some of the above suggestions all in one package-creating a certainty anchor (every Friday night) and coping ahead (planning & problem solving are built into family meetings) and of course, shared decision making. If you’re unsure about the structure of family meetings with teens or the idea is new to you, here’s a guide to family meetings with teens that may help.