Coping Techniques for the Entire Family
There is no time like the present to begin to teach your children coping mechanisms. Every parent needs to be attuned to their child’s needs. What works for one child may not work for another child. Here are a few tips how to teach your child to identify and regulate their emotions. Some children who were highly affected by the war will need to use these skills even when the war is over, and life has “returned to normal”.
Mindfulness is the act of being present, in the moment without judgment. Mindfulness helps a person stay in the moment, so their emotions do not take control of their lives. During a time of war our emotions tend to rule our thoughts and actions. A mindful person is an observer, who describes without judgment what he is seeing at that very moment. Being mindful means being present, aware of our surroundings. When teaching mindfulness, I use the following exercise to illustrate my point.
Choose a food that everyone likes. Tell them that when they are eating, no one is allowed to speak. After every bite they must put down their food. When chewing, notice the smell, texture, taste and just enjoy the food. Take your time eating so you can enjoy it. When everyone is finished, ask them to describe the experience.
Most fears are our projection of the future. Keeping oneself in the moment, brings down the level of fear. When a siren goes off and everyone needs to be in a sealed room, one can feel afraid. When the danger is over, I can leave the room. The army is telling me it is safe to leave the safe room. I can continue what I was doing before entering the sealed room so that I am no longer in danger. I am safe.
One can practice mindfulness at any time. All you need to do is just observe without judgment, and when your thoughts wander, just refocus on observing your surroundings. Mindfulness keeps a person grounded and present in the moment.
Calming exercises are a good way to return our minds and bodies to their original state after a fearful event. Breathing exercises is an easy way to calm one’s nervous system. Here is a simple breathing exercise. Breathe in a deep breath, hold it for about 4 seconds and then slowly release it. When breathing in, say to yourself that I am breathing in fear, anxiety etc. When exhaling, breathe out, say to yourself I am breathing out all the fear etc. This should be done 4-5 times. This can be done a few times a day when you want to get rid of any emotion that is playing a negative role. For a young child or anyone who is finding this exercise hard, Shevi Brenner suggests the following. Take a plant or flowers that have a nice smell, ask the child to smell the plant and then to hold their breath, then take a candle and ask them to pretend to blow it out. Repeat it a few times.
Make a sensory box with different textures and sensations. A soft piece of cotton can be soothing to the body. Slime, playdough and finger painting can help release tension in the body.
Manya Ronay suggests Bilateral Tapping. As you tap, you say out loud statements such as, I am safe now. I am doing what I can do to keep safe etc. Internalizing messages of safety will send the brain the message that you are safe.
Guided Imagery is my favorite tool. Guided imagery allows a person to set goals and focus on where they want to be in the future. Take a few minutes a day and imagine the type of parent you would like to be. No one can be a perfect parent. Imagine yourself reacting the way you aspire to act. Imagine the scary siren, the fear, gathering the family into the sealed room etc. How do you want to respond? What do you want your family to learn from your reactions? Parents are role models for their children. This is how they learn to behave, from watching their parents. Decide what type of values you want to instill in your children during this time.
Guided imagery can also be used as a calming technique. Sit down with your child and have them close their eyes and imagine playing on the beach in the sand, describing the waves, the feel of the sand, the heat of the sun etc. When the child feels relaxed have them slowly open their eyes.
Arts and Crafts
The war is causing us to feel so many emotions. Some people have a natural ability to express their feelings, others find it hard to express their feelings. I suggest for younger children that, together with them, you make puppets or masks that express different emotions. When they feel an emotion arise, they can go and pick out the puppet that best illustrates their feelings. Older children can make a feeling chart. The quicker a person can identify an emotion, and receive validation, they are able to move forward in life. Reminder at times both children and adults are not aware of their emotions or what is the cause of these feelings. It is very important to not assume that you know what someone else is feeling. Ask questions without judgment so they can become aware of their feelings.
Connect with your peers.
Face to face is always the best way to connect with a friend or relative. When that is not possible, platforms such as zoom can be used. If that is not possible, then make a phone call. Isolation can cause both physical and mental problems. Every family member should try and connect on some level with someone outside of their immediate family. If you can’t go out for coffee with a friend, then have a coffee session on zoom.
Children can chat on zoom or on the telephone, everyone needs to connect with their peers.
Exercise causes our brains to produce Serotonin. Serotonin is a natural antidepressant. Basic stretches can help relieve stress. Standing on your tippy toes and stretching your arms to catch a star will make you feel better. Activities such as jumping jacks and running in place do not need a gym. This is also a good time to put on fun music so everyone can dance and let it all out.
Brenne Brown found in her study that those who have gratitude are joyful. This is very counter intuitive. The people who wrote gratitude lists, sometimes multiple times a day, were more joyful. In a time of war, it is so important to focus on the positive. There is so much for which to be grateful. Look around and see all the chessed that is being done. This war will end. With gratitude, we can emerge stronger.