Rina Berkus
Clinical Supervisor at Kav L'Noar

Maintaining Sanity during Coronavirus Times

While the Coronavirus pandemic is something new for all of us, many of the same principles apply that we know have been helpful in the past. This is a time of uncertainty, confusion and significant worry for all of us. While we are not meeting face-to-face, Kav L’Noar would like to do what we can during this time to help strengthen family bonds and thus optimize functioning for all the individuals in each family.

We are now faced with multiple challenges: financial worries as businesses close down and people lose their jobs, managing many children of various ages in the home for an undetermined period, fear of contamination, and uncertainty regarding the future in all areas.

Because the duration is unknown but predicted to be at least a couple months, it is helpful to view this as the “new normal.” That means it is prudent to plan. We know that children thrive on structure and routine, so creating our own family structure will reduce their anxiety. That will result in less aggressive behavior, which in turn will reduce our anxiety as parents. It requires a little work upfront but promises enormous gains over time.

Following are 10 tips for creating a daily routine and maintaining your sanity in this new world:

Get up at a regular time each morning. It could be later than when there is school, but still in the morning. Eating and sleeping rituals are very important in establishing a routine. Read a story at a set bedtime each night.

2. Get dressed when you get up – both adults and children. This creates a sense of having it together for the whole household.

3. Have a set davening time (if this is done in your household) even if kids are doing something different, depending on their level.

4. Have regular meal times, even if the actual hour is different now. Involve the kids in planning and creating meals. Assign roles. Even a four-year-old can help set a table.

5. Create a daily curriculum that includes specific times for schoolwork, physical exercise, games, and yes, Pesach cleaning. Predictability reduces anxiety – so it is calming to know that 11:00 is storytime, for example.

6. Take advantage of the many classes and entertainment programs that schools, Israel’s Ministry of Education and other sources are putting out. The programs are age-appropriate.

7. Manage screen time for playing games. Accept that there will be more of this use of screens now, but also be aware that this can be dangerous and create a problem when life returns to normal. There are many educational documentaries online that you can watch together and then discuss. Plan arts and crafts projects, walks, or group cooking to actively involve the kids away from their screens.

8. If your kids range in age, ask the older ones to teach the younger ones. Rabbi Noah Weinberg, z’l, of Aish Hatorah, always said that if one knows only aleph, he can teach aleph. If he knows Bet, let him teach Bet. The sister in a dance chug can teach her siblings what she learned so far, or the brother in karate can teach what he has learned. Similarly, the older child can help a younger one with homework. This enlists all the kids as active participants and increases the likelihood they will buy into the program. Let them earn points toward some goal for helping out.

9. Projects are especially good because people feel stronger when they are productive – when they can point to a finished product at the end. That could be a painting, chocolate chip cookies or a room now clean for Pesach.

10. Help others. Run errands for neighbors in quarantine, help a neighbor with cleaning, or just call someone in quarantine to say Hi. When you do something for another person, you feel more competent yourself.

When we have a house full of kids, we often forget that we have to take care of ourselves first. We must do that if we hope to be effective as parents and during this time, as head cheerleaders. That means we have to manage our own anxiety. We need to eat healthily and get sufficient sleep. We should limit exposure to the news to three or four specific times per day and then only to hear the official announcements. It is not helpful to listen to pundits expound or to follow chats on the internet, which are often misleading and anxiety-provoking. It’s important to manage our own screen time to reduce our anxiety and to be an appropriate role model. The same applies to phone calls with friends and relatives. It is important to maintain social contacts electronically when we are otherwise isolated, but it is not helpful for children to see and hear us panicking while talking with others. They depend on us and take their emotional cues from us. When we need to express our fears and get support, we should take that call in a private room and at a time that the children will not hear. Spouses now need to be there for each other more than ever.

This is a very stressful time for parents. As people, we have our own worries and fears. Yet, we have to be a source of calm for the children. Recognizing this, we should schedule our own downtime. Take a walk together as a couple at night (according to health department regulations), schedule a time to talk with friends or learn with a study partner, make sure there is a time for physical exercise and have a scheduled “quiet time” while someone else supervises the kids. Know you will need your own time and put it in the schedule every day.

Israel is a strong country and we as Jews have weathered so many crises over thousands of years that we know, with Hashem’s help, we will come through this and be stronger for it. Hashem should bless you all with good health, both mental and physical.

Do not hesitate to contact us with specific questions or concerns. While we cannot meet in person, we will do our best to respond online.

Rina Berkus MSW, Clinical Supervisor at Kav L’Noar

About the Author
Rina is a clinical social worker with 30 years of experience in therapy, family counseling, clinical supervision and non-profit administration. She received her MSW from the University of Michigan and has additional post-graduate training in both family therapy and management of non-profit organizations. As the clinical director of a large community Youth and Family Services program in the States, Rina developed skills in working with inter-related systems for the ultimate benefit of the client. She has experience working with individuals and families with a wide range of emotional and behavioral issues. Rina is committed to family therapy as a means of empowering parents to be more effective in their role. She has worked with all ages of children from pre-school to adolescence, with the goal of improving child-parent relationships and reducing tension. Rina uses a solution focused approach to help both individuals and families identify their own goals and make progress toward them.
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