Why does self-care for families matter? How can families integrate self-care into their routines? Why is self-care so important? And why is it vital for parents to take time for self-care? In this interview with Dr. Dan Peters, psychologist, author, and cofounder of Parent Footprint, we will discuss the answers to these and other questions. You can watch the Zoom video or read the transcript below. Please note that the transcript has been paraphrased in a few places to make for easier reading.
Don: Many of us face continued home-based work and schooling, with limits on the social activities we enjoy. Lots of parents and their children are struggling to cope with their feelings. Today I’ll also be talking with Dr. Dan about ways to cope with stress, anxiety, depression, illness, and the many negative emotions that we are experiencing during this time. Dr. Dan, welcome.
Dr. Dan: Thanks, Don. It’s good to be back.
Don: As most of us here have had to isolate ourselves and curtail most of our social interactions due to COVID, why has this had such a powerful effect on people’s moods and their ability to function?
Dr. Dan: Well, so much has been taken from us, even so many things that we have taken for granted. I have clients who are living in cities, and they don’t even feel safe walking on the street because it’s congested and there are people who are not wearing masks and not keeping distance. And so, if you think about not being able to go to athletic activities, movies, state and national parks—all these places where we could get out, we could get in nature, we can get air, we could exercise, we can gather with friends. So many kids and parents are just suffering from not being able to connect with their friends, not being able to play Magic: The Gathering because you can’t touch the same card and you can’t be close enough together.
There’s not only isolation—we humans are meant to connect and be together and we have these mirror neurons which still work to some degree through screens, but not the same as being in the room. With all of these restrictions and these limitations and this isolation, it creates a lot of pent-up energy, angst, sadness, anxiety, and that’s not even thinking about COVID itself and everything we have to think about to stay safe and the concern we feel for our loved ones.
Why Prioritize Self-Care for Families
Don: Well, I certainly have experienced a lot of these feelings and emotions myself. So I’d like to talk a little bit about self-care. How does self-care provide relief when we are feeling stressed and overwhelmed?
Dr. Dan: It’s key. I just want to acknowledge that for working parents—whether they’re working out of the home or working in the home, or single parents who are doing that and then trying to help their kids with virtual school—it’s really hard at multiple levels.
And as I just talked about, all these things [we used to be able to enjoy doing] have been taken from us. These are the things that would fill us up. Going outside, getting exercise, talking to a friend. We need to find ways to have some time for ourselves. It can take many, many forms. I think the thing is that as parents, we usually put ourselves last. Kids’ needs come first. Other family members’ needs come first.
You really have to prioritize your own health because of how instrumental you all are to your families. How we are as parents trickles down—from an energetic level, from an emotional level, from a behavioral level—to how our kids are. So building in self-care—even for a couple minutes a day to ten minutes to fifteen minutes to a half hour or whatever you can do—is key. There are several forms. Sitting and just breathing. Listening to music. Reading a book. Journaling. Doing yoga. Everything now is on a screen, right? People can exercise, do guided meditation, guided yoga through your phone or computer. Talking to a friend. Going for a walk, whenever you can get outside to get some fresh air, some nature, and some sunlight, depending on where you live in the country. Just to feel the air is critical for the health of your biological system.
Ideas for Self-Care for Families
Don: Very, very nice. Now a lot of parents may be thinking, “Well, self-care, that’s kind of selfish.” And you mentioned why it’s so important. But what suggestions would you have for parents as far as activities that they can do with their children and also to help their children see the importance of self-care?
Dr. Dan: I’m on the West Coast, so the weather—aside from the rain—allows us to be out more than some folks in the Midwest and the East Coast. With that said though, doing self-care together—I still feel like you need to get your own in, just a little bit of time with no interference from kids. But we need to model. So again, it could be reading time. It could be doing a puzzle together, having some downtime, some away-from-screen time. It could be, “Hey, let’s put our screens down and let’s just talk.”
I love getting outside, whether you’re roller-blading, walking, jogging, going on a bike ride, throwing a ball, or kicking a soccer ball at a park. These are all things that show kids that we need to get outside, or we need to do something different, or we need to plan “us time.” And “us time” or “me time” is so we can replenish our bodies and our minds. And I think part of doing it is also talking about it so we’re modeling the importance of it for kids.
That hits something else you said, Don, about the selfishness. This is really important, because a lot of parents feel guilty—particularly really involved mothers—if they do anything for themselves. They think, Oh, no, no, no. I shouldn’t be doing this for me. And I’m here to say that you absolutely should be doing it for you, not only because you need it for your health, but it’s important that your kids know that you matter as an individual and have your own needs and your own desires and your own wants. That’s good for kids to see. Now of course I’m not talking about taking this to an extreme. We’re just talking about saying, “Hey, you know what? I need to go lie down for fifteen minutes. I need to go just take a break. I need some me-time right now so I can feel more present and show up in a way I want for you.” It’s important to articulate this.
Self-Care for Families by Limiting News Consumption
Don: Excellent suggestions there. Now one thing that I’ve also found necessary in my case is to limit myself as to how much news I watch because everything is bad and everything is negative, and if you’re so focused on the daily news, not only does it have an impact on yourself, but it can have an impact on your children. I’m sure you probably notice that yourself.
Dr. Dan: Very much. I’ve always been someone who stayed away from the news just because it’s an anxiety management technique. The news is there to shake us and to make us worry about things, so I’ve stayed away from it successfully. However, with the elections and with how it all dragged on and with what’s been happening and with the Capitol and all the stuff we’re dealing with, I found myself glued to watching the news as again. I think it became a [different] method of anxiety management. I wanted to know what was happening, but I can tell you—I think we agree here, Don—it was too much. I was watching too much news and I was amped up and I was less present and I was thinking about what happened.
And now, moving away from it again, I just feel so much more grounded. My parents used to say, “If you don’t watch the news, how are you going to know what’s going on?” But I always tell people, I have never missed a major event. Somehow it always gets to me.
So I think what you mentioned is really important. People need to be mindful of how much news they’re watching and remember that our kids are always listening, even if they’re not in the room. So especially with what has been going on over the last several months and with the pandemic and this year, we want to really be mindful of what they’re hearing and what we’re talking about so we don’t increase any stress or distress for them.
Striving for Hope and Acceptance
Don: Very nice. So is there anything else I haven’t asked about practicing self-care for families that you would like to share?
Dr. Dan: Hope and acceptance. We have to acknowledge that these are—everyone always uses the word unprecedented, right? This is a tremendous time we’re living in.
It’s not only the pandemic. If you look back over the past year, you have political stuff, you have elections, you have racial injustice, you have police brutality, you have climate change, you have all of these things that we’re trying to deal with—which are really big things. Our lives have changed. We have to accept, we have to acknowledge, we need to mourn and grieve for so much suffering at so many levels. We have to work really hard to accept the reality which we area living in and try to cling to hope.
If we look back through time, you don’t have to look too far back for bad stuff to happen and for people to have to persevere and be resilient and get through it, and we’re in one of those times right now. So I just try to have the larger perspective, which is hard. Try to do your best to accept the situation we’re in, the limitations, the restrictions, the isolation. Do your best to really do what you can with self-care, with creativity, with fun, and try to keep that hope that we will get through this and it will be different one day.
Don: Thank you very much, Dr. Dan, for taking the time to talk with us today about the importance of self-care for families. You can click on the links below to learn more about Dr. Dan and the Summit Center and also his books. Thank you again.
Dr. Dan: Thanks, Don.
About Dr. Dan Peters and The Summit Center
Dr. Dan Peters, licensed psychologist, is the co-founder and executive director of The Summit Center, specializing in the assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and families with special emphasis on gifted, talented, and creative individuals and families.
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