The four Ps are guiding principles to help families during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Perspective. Keeping perspective means that people must try to see things in proper relation to the bigger picture. While it’s accurate that the pandemic has created a sense of unpredictability, our reactions to what is happening are very much in our control and have the ultimate impact on how well we fare through this crisis.
- Purpose. Many children and teens are bored and don’t understand why they can’t just do what they want—after all, they don’t have the virus, right? Governor Baker said it best when he told the people of Massachusetts that their purpose is to do their part to contain this pandemic. Children and teens need to understand that maintaining the shelter in place is doing their part. You may feel powerless over the situation, and yet your purpose is to help contain the virus.
- Positive thinking. Positive thinking has helped humans overcome so much adversity. Norman Vincent Peale described this phenomenon in 1952 in his well-known book, The Power of Positive Thinking. Since that time, numerous research studies have validated his hypothesis that positive thinking leads to positive outcomes. Being successful while living through this pandemic will require positive thinking. On the flip side, chronic worry will increase cortisol and lower immune functioning making people more vulnerable to the virus and other problems.
- Productivity. Most of us have more time because we are at home all day, every day. Be productive by learning a new skill or hobby. You have the time and take advantage of it and become proficient in something meaningful to you.
With these guiding principles in mind, consider the following strategies to address specific challenges.
- Develop and stick to a routine. Have set wake and bedtime times, set meal times, and outline a structure for the day for you and your children. The day should start with a positive tone and include learning activities, exercise, leisure time, chores, and family time. Business as usual is the best attitude to help children have a sense of control and normalcy. Children should do their assigned school work. Placing too few expectations on children will make their transition back to school difficult. Try to make things feel normal with reasonable expectations.
- Prevent social isolation by relaxing restrictions around a child’s phone use to text friends. Monitor texts as needed but allow access to friends. For younger children, arrange video chats with friends. Adults should prioritize their outside connections. Make regular contact with friends and family members and lead by example by setting a tone of optimism and hope.
- Limit intake of news from Facebook and television. People may become more anxious when influenced by the fears and doubts of others. The best sources of information are on the websites for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization.
- Don't be afraid to ask for help. Being too proud is outdated. Ask for help from neighbors if you need something at the store. We are all so independent and that is counterproductive in this climate. Therapists are practicing telehealth and basically their practices are serving as a virtual hotline for the community to access. Insurance will pay. There is no reason not to ask for a counseling session in this climate.
- Consider the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of being where a person is fully present in the moment and aware of their thoughts and feelings in that moment.
- Focus on self-care. Make sure you get sleep, exercise, and eat a healthy diet. Role model self-care for your children.
- Appreciate your family time. Engage in quality time taking walks, playing games, enjoying each other’s company. Avoid stressful conversation topics that will add to the stress you are already experiencing.
- Don’t overreact to COVID-19 by taking your child’s temperature when it’s not warranted. Instead, trust you’ll know when they are sick as you always have before. If you or your child gets sick, don’t assume it’s COVID-19. COVID-19 has little documented impact on healthy children.
- Encourage children to write and draw about their experiences. This is a great outlet as well as a historical record of what life is like with COVID-19.
- Local therapists want families to be prepared in case of an emergency. The usual relatives may not be available to help due to concerns regarding contagion. Families need to consider alternative caregivers, including a community-based group of younger volunteers that can be mobilized and called upon when needed. If you are someone who feels overwhelmed by anxiety, attempt to overcome your anxiety using the guiding principles of the four Ps. If you need additional help, therapists are conducting counseling via telehealth technology to keep everyone safe. I am more available than ever and will attempt to help as many people as possible.
Norman Vincent Peale, (1953). The Power of Positive Thinking. Simon and Schuster.