Frequently asked questions
In the last two weeks, clients have been asking regularly the same questions.
How do I reassure my children? How do I prepare for the partly self-elected and partly forced home education (or home-schooling as it is called in the US)? How can I handle my own overwhelm as a parent with my need to work on my Baseline and have me-time, while allowing me to be the best parent I can be in this crisis and still keeping up with my other responsibilities like work and my ill mum?
What? Home-educating my own children?!?!?
In the middle of all those stressful events almost a billion children have seen their schools close (Source). How can we as a parent trying to make sense of everything and re-find our balance amid all the overwhelming changes also explain the urgency of the crisis to our children in a reassuring way?
“I have made sure for the last few weeks, not to go far without my children (which I rarely do anyway), as I didn’t want to risk getting into quarantine without them. I have been ok, but yesterday I thought how much a challenge this will be to cope with for months. I am going to find some lovely games we can play etc. and make sure I only watch the news alone…..”
Remember it’s a crisis
When you see it is a crisis: treat it like a crisis!
First of all, it is absolutely normal to be overwhelmed in a crisis, just stop and allow yourself and your loved ones to feel fear and let it sink in and don’t expect anything from yourself nor from the children who are out of their ordinary routine. Focus on simple doable activities that are familiar and give all a sense of control.
“I’ve found that outdoor time in our yard helps us. My new hobby is raking leaves. It’s great for stress relief and I get exercise and feel productive.” PowerWood FaceBook Group
Be compassionate to yourself and your loved ones, big and small.
“You cannot be more compassionate to others than you are to yourself.” Simone de Hoogh
We cannot reassure our children, what we can do is normalise that we all are upset during a crisis and model how we can soothe ourselves together (Cuddle Alarm, Awareness Mantra, 4-7-8 breathing exercises, Power Poses, smiling, dancing, music, laughing, being silly, gardening etc).
That way, our children learn an emotional regulation skill that they will be able to implement whenever they are in crisis.
The challenges and benefits of having Imaginational OE
“… finding it very hard to cope with the active imagination side. I have learnt to manage it but when a threat is quite real it’s hard. I wish I was a person with a lack of imagination at the moment. However I am not surprised and things are panning out as I expected so I am thankful for that. I have been frank but reassuring to the children. I explained that people in the past lived with a much higher level of infection and the panic is getting used to a new reality. I would have suffered in silent terror as a child so I hope the talk about it will help them. PowerWood FaceBook Group
Give yourself and your children time to just calm down and find comfort in familiarity, as that will help in letting go of not helpful obsessive focus and bleak scenarios. Catastrophising is actually just another way of creating a false sense of safety with our thoughts when we are in the Cycle of Emotional and Sensory Overload.
Any change is very stressful. Right now stay away from making changes in family life for the first few weeks. There is no need to make any unnecessary changes right now. Due to social isolation there will be enough change to be dealing with. Keep your energy focused on surviving the crisis!
“Everyone in our family is a bit on edge, we try to talk about fear and what we can do in our community. I find this article really helpful: Don’t forget: disasters and crises bring out the best in people.” PowerWood FaceBook Group
Back to basics
Buy yourself time, keep to everything familiar when you get up, use the normal routine of breakfast, coffee, lunch, snacks and dinner, and go to bed at the usual time. This will maintain a framework to which you can gradually add stuff as and when needed in the long run (unless a change is helpful in calming down those who are upset).
Implement as many safe activities as you can that feel familiar and help the family to regain a sense of normalcy.
Use Oxytocin, the cuddle hormone, to calm all family members, let children averse to soft touching, who often crave deep pressure, play fight with an older sibling or parent. If you have an older child or teenager that is distancing, you could, for instance, say you want to to learn reflexology and ask if you could practice on their feet or hands, please pretty please. Most teens will grumpily agree, because they also need to be touched and despite feeling awkward in their bodies, they are able to accept touch to their heads, feet and hands.
Our Baseline needs attention
Our Baseline, emotional resilience and energy-level defines whether we are able to stay true to ourselves or fall into our stress responses and Involuntary Mechanisms. So building our Baseline is the right step if we know we are in the middle of a stressful life-changing event, such as the Coronavirus crisis.
Taking our own needs into account, even prioritising them as much as we can during a crisis, will enable us to stay calm and support our family by being strategic. We are also modeling to our children that it is normal to be upset, and that we will find our way through this as a family.
Give yourself me-time, strengthen your Baseline as much as you can. Disappear upstairs mumbling you are going to do the laundry, for example (the more boring the better), to prevent any followers and allow yourself just to lay on the bed, read a book, binge Netflix on your phone or take a nap. Set your alarm for at least two, preferably three of those episodes during the day, nobody other than you will hold the space for yourself and your family.
Preparing for school’s out together
Making a list together with the children of all the activities that the children, as well as you, would like to be able to do while being out of school can be a helpful strategy to help children adapt to the changing situation.
Ask what they will need to be able to do that specific activity and if possible make sure you have it in the home available, but not if they seize the moment and over-ask for expensive games ;).
Make an emergency store of:
- Colouring Books
- Craft material
- Music lists
- Seeds, plants and pots
- Or whatever rocks the boat of you or your children
Do you have a garden? This might be the best time to start a vegetable garden, very calming for everyone involved, a combination of working on the earth, being outside and vitamin D will do the children a world of good and allows them to see plants grow, plus it will give you veggies you can eat together with pride and gratitude.
Even if schools are starting to give out online schoolwork, nobody will die if you prioritise settling the family emotionally and practically down in a new routine before taking on next responsibilities.
What to tell them
Try to prevent yourself and your children from constantly seeking information about the situation. If needed, have a specific time of the day to catch up on events. If it triggers you too much and you do not find it helpful right now, don’t worry, rest assured important information will get to you through your social network. If staying informed is necessary to maintain calm in the family, you might want to allocate it as one of the topics to the ‘Parking Book time’ (more information will follow). That way, when you do take a look it has more functionality than just creating further upset.
“I check the government website for updated info but don’t listen to the news. However, my son insists on watching lots about it as he does with anything that scares him, but then wants to discuss it and also needs support with his fears, so a bit tricky for me being triggered.” PowerWood FaceBook Group
(Strategy within the Multilevel Emotion Regulation Theory (MERT)
Below is an example of a Parent Pitch to explain the situation and to buy yourself time to find your feet again and prepare for the possible future:
“I’m your parent and it is my responsibility to give you the best possible start in life (You might want to skip this bit if you feel it is too much information, and an even shorter message would work better). It is very normal to be upset or frightened when there is a crisis. Right now we don’t know what is going to happen, so it is normal to focus on stuff that gives us a good feeling e.g. cuddling, laughing, enjoying each other’s company (child)/downtime (teen). Let’s make a list of everything we all individually would like to do during the coming weeks.”
Taking care of yourself
When your children are at home and you still have to finish your work or assignments in time, you are likely to feel overwhelmed. It is important that you focus on supporting yourself through this challenge.
Make a schedule of all the common activities you do, factoring in any changes if you are in employment, such as working from home. Stay away, if possible, from making any changes as that will only increase the stress. You can do this in your mind, or put it down on paper but bear in mind that having it written down could trigger some children (and sometimes ourselves) into resistance or making demands/comments/argumentative talk e.g. if you are ‘late’ for the daily recurring events. Be as specific or vague as is helpful to you to carve out the easiest way to create me-time for Baseline nurturing or enhancing activities, and set an alarm for it to make sure you do not forget it in the heat of the moment.
Pitching your work
(Strategy within the Multilevel Emotion Regulation Theory (MERT)
Make sure your children know that your work is what pays for all the birthday and Christmas presents and fun stuff, and that you need to work to enable the family to live in the house by paying the bills.
If you work specific hours, you might want to fit it clearly in the schedule in your mind and whenever they disturb you, remind them of the ‘Parking Book’ and have a pitch ready.
“I’m your parent and am responsible for giving you the best possible start in life. So I have to work in order for us to live in this house and so that you can go to school to become ‘an inventor’ or ‘have time to practise singing’ (whatever fits your child or teen).”
Tools to support ourselves
Power nap (Improving Baseline)
A power nap is a short sleep that terminates before the occurrence of deep or slow-wave sleep (SWS). It is intended to quickly revitalise the subject. The expression was coined by Cornell University social psychologist James Maas.
Power naps as brief as six or ten minutes restore wakefulness and promote performance and learning. A 30-minute nap may also be able to reverse the hormonal impact of a night of poor sleep or the damage of sleep deprivation. A University of Düsseldorf study found superior memory recall once a person had reached six minutes of sleep, suggesting that the onset of sleep may initiate active memory processes of consolidation which, once triggered, remains effective even if sleep is terminated. (Source Wikipedia)
Hard to fall asleep
If you have trouble falling asleep during the day, you might want to try meditation at the start of the power nap. Let go of the idea that you have to fall asleep, and also let go of the idea that you have to meditate. Just use the half-hour to relax and see what happens, you might surprise yourself and fall asleep, however if you just meditate, or have a rest, that’s good enough as well.
Looking down (Improving Baseline)
(Tool within the Multilevel Emotion Regulation Theory (MERT)
Looking up activates our nervous system, neuroscience has proven. When feeling anxious it helps to look down (below eye level) while keeping your head level so you don’t constrict your ability to breath freely. This prevents further activation of your central nervous system and helps you to calm down.
4-7-8 Alarm (Improving Baseline)
(Tool within the Multilevel Emotion Regulation Theory (MERT)
When to apply
The 4-7-8 breathing exercise is the most effective way to reset your brain when feeling upset. See the YouTube video 4-7-8 Most effective breathing exercise with Simone de Hoogh & Karin – PowerWood for full instructions.
Setting an alarm to remind you to take the 4-7-8 breath in challenging periods of your life can be a huge support and make a big difference as it will help you to stay calm.
Below are possible situations in which the 4-7-8 might help:
- Surviving and making sense of any unthinkable changes in the world, and right now during all the world changes caused by the coronavirus crisis.
- During any other life-changing events that are normally emotionally stretching, e.g. becoming a new mum, losing a loved one, etc.
- Going through a stressful period, e.g. change of work, sudden unemployment, marital issues, dealing with illness, moving etc.
- Guiding a neurodiverse child, you will need your calmness to not unnecessarily add to his or her emotional upset and to be able to keep your eye on the long term goal etc.
You might want to set the alarm for a certain period of time, e.g. every 15 or 30 minutes or each hour, what feels best for you. When the alarm goes off, you do the one-minute 4-7-8 exercise (or anything else that is short, re-energising and resets your brain). This will in general help you to up your Baseline and be better prepared for what is going to happen because your Baseline will be more solid.
Checking in emotionally
Before doing the 4-7-8 you can also ask yourself when the alarm goes:
“What is my most present feeling?”
Imagine your answer is ‘anxious’ or ‘anger’, consequently you can ask yourself “Where am I on the scale of anxiety”, if zero is an absolute lack of anxiety and ten the most anxious you have ever felt.
Be aware, if you are on five or above there is a huge chance your stress response has been triggered and you are most probably in the Cycle of Emotional and Sensory Overload, and anything you do or say will be defined by that. In this situation it is recommended to go for Low-Key Self-Care and focussing on strengthening your Baseline.
Measuring where you are emotionally and how doing the 4-7-8 (or anything else that is short and re-energising) affects you will help you increase your awareness about where you are emotionally at a certain moment.
The value of power poses to reduce anxiety
The power pose is a universal way of expressing triumph and success, and by making the gestures we will induce the feeling that comes with it. As Amy Cuddy says in her Ted Talk:
“Fake it until you make it”..
This article ‘The proven way to feel less anxious, more confident & more empowered in two minutes’ gives some background information and this is the research it’s all based upon.
© 2020 Simone de Hoogh
Help us to continue support to all neurodiverse families and individuals
During these challenging times, PowerWood facilitates access – also to non-members – to all information, tests, strategies and tools.
PowerWood offers to (self)-isolating families understanding, simple tools and strategies that enable us and our children to support ourselves and our children through emotional overwhelm. If you enjoy reading the articles please support PowerWood by becoming a PowerWood Community FreeBee or Friend member. Thank YOU!
To facilitate access to all PowerWood articles in the PowerWoods Emotional Coronavirus Crisis Guide are also available to non-members. If you enjoy reading the articles please support PowerWood by becoming a PowerWood Community FreeBee or Friend member. Thank YOU!
Find understanding, tools and strategies that work in an understanding, respectful and compassionate Community.
PowerWood can be your and your families advocate and your second family.
Explore how joining our PowerWood community by becoming a member will benefit you and your family and what types of memberships are available.
Available to Members*
*Booking a one-off Free Introductory Talk of 45-60 minutes by Skype or FaceTime with Senior Consultant Simone de Hoogh is one of the benefits of being either a FreeBee PowerWood Community Member or a Friend PowerWood Community Member.
You can read more about PowerWood’s Consultancy Sessions, the Benefits of a Free Introductory Talk and PowerWood’s Consultancy Services Tiered Fee Structure.
OE (Overexcitability) is an element of a Developmental Theory –Theory of Positive Disintegration by Dabrowski- that is one of the underpinning theories of MERT (Multi-level Emotion Regulation Theory) developed by Simone de Hoogh. Overexcitability explains and allows us to look at ‘extreme’ behaviour as a valuable asset in our or our children’s life.
A HUGE thank YOU to the son and daughter of Ernest Hartmann’s who gave PowerWood permission to use and put the full academically approved questionnaire about the Boundary in the Mind on PowerWood’s website.