A PARENT’S GUIDE TO STAYING CALM AMIDST CHAOS
The world will long remember 2020 as a year of chaos—and despite the end of election season and the development of COVID-19 vaccines, the chaos is far from over. If the January 6 mob vandalism at the U. S. Capitol wasn’t enough, feel free to look up (though I strongly suggest you don’t) reports of mismanaged vaccination programs, new lockdowns, or “political/social concerns” in general.
There may be little you can immediately do about large-scale problems, but there’s much you can do to protect your family from secondhand anxiety damage. Even when chaos literally hits home—whether in the form of illness, unemployment, severe weather, or simply a family argument—a clearheaded response can keep trouble from turning into catastrophe.
Here are my top suggestions.
Establish Firm Rules Against “Doomscrolling”
Of all news media sources, the internet is everyone’s worst option for staying informed. Even the most well-managed and objective sites are loaded with “read this too” links and sidebars—quick routes to hours of wasted time and dozens of new worries. Get your news in measured doses from carefully chosen sources (the fewer nonessential details the better), and limit screen time for all family members, making official lists of alternative activities if necessary. Hold each other accountable for following the rules—this includes allowing your kids to correct you.
Focus on the Positive
Like any essential tool, optimism needs maintenance if it’s to perform when most needed. If you develop the “everything always happens to me” habit when times are “normal,” you become a top candidate for going to pieces when “normalcy” is shaken up. And if you constantly whine about life, your children will catch the habit, and you’ll have a miserable-all-over household in good times and bad.
Even if you had the negativity habit when chaos erupted, you can plant better attitudes now. Regularly turn conversations to what you still have: a home, enough to eat, each other. Say “thank you” prayers around the dinner table. Have fun together, work with purpose, and stick to your values even if there’s no immediate reward. Remember that real happiness comes from the right mindset, not from fickle circumstances.
Throw Away Your Panic Button
Most chaos in most people’s lives is, literally, all in their minds. They see a “COVID cases at record high” headline and envision themselves dying from the virus next week. They read articles on child safety and, rather than using the information proactively, fret themselves into panic imagining that tragedy is stalking their family with personal vengeance. They make nervous wrecks of themselves, drive their children crazy with overprotection, and create an atmosphere of chronic stress that leaves everyone in the worst possible shape to deal with whatever real-life chaos may happen.
Once you’ve taken every reasonable precaution against trouble, give yourself permission to enjoy life. Do steer clear of dangerous situations. Do take care of your health. And do teach your children to do the same. But above all else, do have confidence in your and your family’s ability to cope in chaos—when you live that way, even crises become less chaotic!