Surviving a Pandemic with P.A.U.S.E – How to cope with the stress of Parenting

Hello, my name is Samantha Bennett and I am a Psychological Therapist and Life Coach who specialises in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness. In this series of “Surviving a pandemic with P.A.U.S.E” I am sharing my expertise in the hope that it may help anyone who is struggling with overwhelming emotions during this pandemic. 

This blog focuses on managing the stress of parenting during a pandemic.

Being a parent can be incredibly stressful on any normal day. We are not in normal days. It’s understandable that you are feeling unpleasant and overwhelming emotions during this difficult time. 

You are not alone in your emotional struggle to look after your children.

In this blog I’m going to emphasise the importance of taking steps to better manage our emotions in order to better cope with the stress of parenting during a pandemic. 

These steps use P.A.U.S.E. 

P – Pause 

A – And breathe 

U – Understand

S – Stop blaming

E – Engage

When to use P.A.U.S.E

P.A.U.S.E is a technique you can use when you feel unpleasant emotions rising within you whilst parenting and also when you notice your children experiencing difficult emotions. 

You are understandably going to feel frustrated, angry, anxious, tired, stressed, sad, emotional at times whilst looking after your children. Our emotions influence our behaviour, our thoughts and the sensations we feel in our bodies. This means that we may react to difficult parenting situations in ways we regret or in ways that escalate the situation. We may feel out of control of ourselves or our children. Using P.A.U.S.E. helps by interrupting our emotional reaction to situations before we become overwhelmed. We are then more able to engage in positive actions, which will help us feel more in control.

P.A.U.S.E steps explained in detail

P – Pause 

Pause any time you feel your emotions building. Pause any time you notice you are reacting in a heightened way to a situation. If your emotion is overwhelming go to a different room, if you can leave your children safely for a few moments.

Your children are also likely to be feeling an increase in negative emotions because of this pandemic. Encourage them to pause when you notice their emotions building or they are reacting in a heightened way. Maybe they need space to pause in a different room, if they are old enough.

A – And Breathe

Now that you have paused, breathe deeply for several breaths. Breathe at a slow pace that feels comfortable for you. Let your breath in and out be even in pace. For a few moments concentrate on your body and your breath. You might want to put your hands on your diaphragm (the upside down V area just below your ribs) and feel yourself breathing. You may want to try counting to three slowly, in your mind, as you breathe in and out to help focus your thoughts on your breathing.  

You may have heard this advice before and have questioned why breathing? Our breath is a powerful tool to help us change the way we feel. Our bodies react to our emotions, the breath plays a big role in this. When we experience heightened emotions like anger and anxiety, we breathe quicker, it’s the body’s natural defence mechanism. We can reduce the intensity of our emotions by changing the rate of our breathing. When we slow down our breath, we slow down our emotions. This makes us feel better and also gives us the best chance to manage difficult situations that arise whilst looking after our children.

Help your children to manage their emotions by teaching them to breathe deeply. Breathe with them when you notice their emotions building. Breathe deeply in front of them to show them how you manage your emotions positively.

U – Understand

Understand that this is difficult for both you and your children. Empathise and be kind to yourself and your children.

You will likely be experiencing an increase in difficult behaviours from your children. It is understandable that your children might be acting out. This is a very difficult time for them and they may not have the emotional maturity or language to express what they are feeling. They may not know what to do about the increase in their negative feelings. They may not have their usual coping strategies, for example sport and seeing their friends. Your younger children may be having more tantrums and outbursts. Your older children may be willing to break rules and national guidelines. Empathise with your children. They are likely expressing what they are feeling through their actions. When they act out, ask yourself, what emotion is driving this behaviour? How can I help them manage their emotion?

Empathise with yourself. Understand that it is hard to parent and to manage our emotions. In flight safety advises us to first put on our own oxygen mask before putting on our children’s. We need to look after ourselves in order to best look after our children. Think about your own needs and do what you can to be kind to yourself.

S – Stop Blaming

Let’s stop blaming ourselves. You are not to blame for your children’s behaviour. Your children’s behaviours are driven by their emotions. We feel worse when we say to ourselves, “I am useless, failing, not good enough” “I should be coping better”. We are less likely to react in positive ways to difficult situations when we are critical of ourselves. We are less likely to see solutions when we are harsh and uncaring towards ourselves. Looking after our children and managing our emotions during this challenging time, is difficult. Let’s stop blaming ourselves and beating ourselves up. 

Try not to blame your children when they act out, for example “You are naughty” “You are not a good child” “You should be behaving better” “This is your fault”. By shaming your children, they are more likely to continue acting out and are at risk of developing low self-esteem. If you tell your children repeated “You are X”, eventually they will believe it and behave like the label they have been given. Instead understand their emotions driving their behaviours.

E – Engage

Engage in positive actions. Think about what you can do to make things better. Reduce any behaviours that are not helping and engage in behaviours to help you cope during this time.

Engaging in positive actions may include talking with your partner or other parents you can trust. We often hide how we are coping because of shame and guilt. You are not alone. Parents all over the world are struggling with stress whilst looking after their children in a pandemic. Sharing our experiences can be supportive and help to normalise what we are experiencing.

Encourage your children to engage in positive ways to manage their emotions. Talk calmly to them about how they are feeling and behaving. Listen to them without judgement. Help your children to understand what they are feeling and comfort them. Create coping strategies together. Congratulate your children on what they are doing well. Lead by example. If you raise your voice, they are more likely to raise their voice. If your emotions become heightened when talking with your children, then go back through the P.A.U.S.E steps.

Recap of P.A.U.S.E. 

P – Pause 

A – And breathe

U – Understand

S – Stop blaming 

E – Engage

Closing words

This blog has introduced you to the technique P.A.U.S.E to better manage the stress of parenting during a pandemic.

I hope you find the P.A.U.S.E technique helpful. Please write your comments or questions below. I would love to hear from you. Feel free to share with anyone who you think this blog might help. 

Please check out my blogs for more information on managing through this difficult time.

Parenting Helplines

Family Lives Helpline: 0808 800 2222 or visit familylives.org.uk. Parent line Scotland helpline: 0800 028 2233 or visit http://www.parentclub.scot/coronavirus.

Thank you to Anthony Tran for feature image.

Well wishes

Samantha Bennett MA, MSc, MAC

2 Replies to “Surviving a Pandemic with P.A.U.S.E – How to cope with the stress of Parenting”

  1. Excellent. Hopefully this will help many struggling with the stresses surfacing during lockdown . Well presented Samantha.

    Like

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