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Parenting in the time of COVID-19

People keep asking me for “best practices” for sheltering-in-place. My honest answer: We don’t know what the best practices are. We’ve never been through this before. We’re all just making it up as we go along. We’re all just doing the best that we can.

In that spirit, I offer this video, an interview with Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan about parenting during this global pandemic. You’ll see in the Facebook comments that I’m already revising my advice as we learn more and figure this thing out. Once we know better, we can do better.

I hope you all are finding some silver linings and also, letting yourself cry in the car on the way t0 the grocery store. I’m sending you lots of love.

Watch the Townhall Video Here

Coping with Disrupted Routines

Are you following along with our daily routine make-over? (In other words: Are you trying to keep everything from going to hell in a handbasket?)

Most of us are feeling like our routines have all been upended by the school closures and by working at home. But this could be an amazing opportunity to establish new happiness habits, and to extinguish the habits we have that detract from our wellbeing. This is an on-going series about how to do that (in less than 5 minutes a day). I’ll be updating this page (as well as Instagram and Facebook with videos) a few times a week.

Step 1: Make a list

Make a list of all the healthy behaviors that you want to hang on to or create in this “new normal.”
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Step 2: What Would Be Better Than Nothing?

Write down a “Better Than Nothing” routine for each of the habits you’d like to establish or keep. For example, designate a “better-than-nothing” exercise plan. This could be 10 squats, 5 push-ups, and a 30-second plank: something that only takes a minute or two.

Don’t worry: You’ll get to do more. Your “Better Than Nothing” routine isn’t your ultimate goal. But for now, what could you do that is super easy? What can you still do while stressed and overwhelmed? That you can do even when nothing is going as planned?

While you are looking at the list of the habits you’d like to get into or keep, perhaps add some that you’d never have thought of just one week ago. Like “Get Dressed” or “Shower.” ?

Download the Better Than Nothing Worksheet
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Step 3: Decide on a Structure For Your Day

It helps to decide when you’ll do something, and stick to that decision come hell or high water — for example, that you’ll do some exercise in the morning before breakfast, or a meditation when you wake up in the morning. That way, every morning (and afternoon, and evening) isn’t a negotiation between your best self and the one that is exhausted or overwhelmed.
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No Motivation? No Problem!

A lot of the motivating factors that got us out the door in the morning pre-Coronavirus have gone out the window. That’s okay! This is a great time to learn a way to get into a routine without relying on willpower or motivation to do so. “Motivation is unreliable,” writes BJ Fogg, the Stanford habit researcher.

“It’s unreliable with diets, exercise routines, creative projects, filing taxes, opening businesses, searching for jobs, planning conferences — self-improvement of all types.” Fogg now has a GREAT book out that you might like, it’s called TINY HABITS. I highly recommend it!
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Why a “Better Than Nothing” Habit?

Once a habit is hardwired into our brain, it is EASY. It’s on autopilot. We don’t have to WILL ourselves to do it. A “Better Than Nothing” habit is easy to repeat, again and again, until it’s on autopilot. You can do it even if you aren’t motivated, if you’re tired, if you have no time. And THAT’s the golden moment that we can start to expand.
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Can I Do More?

Are you feeling held back by your “Better Than Nothing” habit or routine? Are you itching to do more? Good news: You can! Under this ONE CONDITION. 🙂

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It’s so important for us to feel successful after we’ve enacted our “Better Than Nothing” habit. Why? Because we hate feeling like a failure. We humans avoid behaviors that make us feel lame.
So remember: You are building a habit here, a new routine that will contribute to your wellbeing. Feel good about that! Doing SOMETHING really is better than doing NOTHING.

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When it works best to reward yourself

Want a little treat? GREAT news, friends. There are actually THREE times when it is important to reward ourselves when we are trying to get into a new habit or maintain a routine. (As usual, I refer to BJ Fogg in this little video because I’m obsessed with his new book, Tiny Habits. Go buy the book! It’s great!)

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Why You Aren’t Doing that Thing You Meant to Do

There are 3 specific reasons we tend to struggle to re-establish our disrupted routines. Two of the reasons I’ve already addressed; the last reason I talk about in this little video. Post your questions in the comments! (Also, that’s my dog Buster at the end. He’s hungry and restless. Time for a walk!)

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How Self-Quarantine Can Strengthen Your Family

Here are three ways to cope while sheltering in place.

As our kids figure out how to learn online, we can retool in our families, too. Here are three practical ways families can cope—and even thrive—despite school closures, event cancellations, and a whole lot more time at home with the kids.

1. Create some structure around work and school at home.

I’m supposedly working as I write these words, but my high schooler just popped in to see if I knew where his phone charger is (nope). Before that, one of my daughters came in to get the dog and some stamps. I love seeing my kids and having them home, but each interruption breaks my focus. It takes ages for me to get started again; it’s so much easier to check my email (or the status of the coronavirus) than to do my actual work.

Clearly we need to get set up a little better now, rather than waiting until we know how long this is going to last (it could be a while) or until we are all at our wits’ end (possibly tomorrow). Constant interruptions are a recipe for misery. Not only do they hinder our productivity, but they increase our stress and tension levels in measurable ways.

We can minimize interruptions by carving out specific times and places for each of us to do our work. Our kids need individual work-at-home plans to finish out their semesters. If your kids need supervision and you also need to work from home, find partners (perhaps neighbors if you don’t have a coparent) to help you, and set up shifts so that you are either in charge of the kids or working somewhere that minimizes interruptions—but not trying to do both things at the same time.

2. Connect with your clan.

Social distancing is painful. We humans need social connections to feel safe. Those of us who live in families have a built-in way to counter the feelings of isolation that social distancing can cause. We can hug our kids and tickle their backs. We can share our meals together—all of them. We can relax and read and watch our shows on the same couch in the same room.

This sort of old-fashioned family time isn’t the norm. Before the pandemic, it was more natural to eat lunch alone in front of the computer. Kids today are more likely to watch videos on their devices alone than they are to join the family for an episode of TV. But we’ll do well to counter the distancing we’re experiencing from our broader school and work communities by deepening our connections to one another at home. Let’s not be alone together; let’s be together when we’re together.

3. Embrace not having somewhere else to be. 

Although a new form of activity has taken over our lives, something that was previously unimaginable for me has happened: Our family literally has no plans that take place outside of our home. 

This has been unsettling. We Americans feel important rushing from one commitment to the next. Busyness makes us feel significant. 

But if we don’t have time to get enough sleep (or exercise, or cook healthy meals) now, when will we? Let’s remember that we don’t have to be more productive during this anxious time. This is a time to take good care of ourselves.

Taking care of ourselves can feel indulgent at a time when so many people are sick and when our healthcare workers and so many others are sacrificing so much. But one of the best things that we can do for others is to take care of ourselves. We can better ward off illness when we are mentally and physically healthy, and this puts us in a much better position to help others.

These are strange, uncertain times. But we’ll do well to remember that “life is never made unbearable by circumstances,” as Viktor Frankl wisely wrote, “but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” This may be the longest “summer” ever—kids may be home for five months!—but let’s not forget to find the meaning behind it.

All of this is about helping others: We are trying to slow the spread of a lethal and virulent disease, trying to keep our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed, to keep our doctors from having to make decisions about who lives and who dies. We can welcome school closures, and curb complaining about inconveniences.

Stay home, friends. Stay safe. Help others.

Do you need more support?

If you and/or your family are struggling right now, I’ve expanded my coaching practice so that I can support more people. Learn more here.⁠