Health tips

Time at home relieves stress, builds togetherness

By Jeanne Riether | | Updated: 2020-02-28 11:55

This is a very stressful time for everyone in China. Fear of infection and staying inside for long periods of time can naturally wear on our nerves. But there are also benefits to spending so much time indoors together. Connection and belonging is a human need, and positive warm relationships, especially close family connections, can help protect us emotionally and build resilience.

Resilience is the ability to overcome problems and difficulties. Children take their emotional cues from the adults in their lives to see how to respond to difficult situations. For many busy parents who haven't been able to spend much time around their children, this time indoors is a golden opportunity to work on building warm bonds. They can show their kids that yes, life is different now during the epidemic, it's not easy and we can't do all the things we used to do, but life can still be good.

Play really is a secret weapon for handling stress. It's not easy being around kids all day, and tempers can flare, but I am very encouraged to see video posts on WeChat and other social media showing parents playing games together with their children during this time. Adults and children both need to play, but for children it is essential. Play distracts us from worry and helps us realize that life can still be good, even during stressful times. It boosts our mental health. Family play is a great way to bond with kids, getting down on the floor, playing with toy cars, dolls or blocks, setting up a board game or playing a game of cards, just having fun. Laughter helps us defeat stress and boosts our immune system.

Finding constructive things to do together during this time is important, and establishing routines helps give us emotional stability. Indoor exercise is a great stress reliever, of course, and experts also advise us to eat healthy meals and get enough sleep to keep our immune system strong. Exploring interesting things to do indoors together as a family can also help keep our emotional health strong. For instance, if your kids know more about computers than you do, let them teach you how to play an online game. Or you can try your hand together at art, music, cooking, dance, writing, or reading; there are so many activities to explore.

Reading aloud to kids is a great constructive activity. Too many kids just equate books with school, and never learn to enjoy reading on their own. Find an adventure story, a chapter book, a fairy tale or even a comic book, something you both enjoy, then relax and read together. It might become an enjoyable bedtime ritual that will carry on long past this quarantine time.

But I especially hope parents take this opportunity to tell their children stories about their own family, and pass on some of their family history. Family stories are very powerful because stories connect us. Some interesting research put out by Emory University in the U.S. indicates that children who know more about their families and family histories are more resilient. They tend to handle stress better, have better emotional health, higher self-esteem, perform better academically and feel more in control of their lives. It takes time to sit together and pass on memories of our own childhood, or tell about the struggles different family members experienced, but we've got lots of time to do this now that we're indoors together.

This process of sharing stories helps children feel connected to something greater than themselves, part of a bigger picture. It always reminds me of the story of the stick; alone it can be broken easily, but when tied in a bundle —  bound by a common family history — it is much more difficult to break. When I talk to the children I work with about their families, I am often surprised at what they don't know. If I ask how their parents met, what's mom's favorite food, where grandpa was born, or what was life like when grandma was a girl, often they have no idea. Parents and kids can make a game out of asking each other questions and getting to know each other better. They can write questions on pieces of paper, put them in a jar, pull one out each day, and see if they know the answer. If they don't know, there's a story waiting to be told! I think it is just as important for parents to listen to their children and learn about their feelings, dreams, ideas and struggles, as well. This process of sharing and communicating will build bonds.

It's especially valuable for children to hear stories of how their own family faced hardships in the past and managed to overcome their difficulties. Someday, the young children of today will be grown with children of their own. Then, they will tell them about the epidemic of 2020, what a struggle it was, but how we all pulled through it together. The stories we tell our children today will make the families of tomorrow stronger.

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