Ask Dr. Paul: Ways to help your family cope with the pandemic

It’s important to address stress, anxiety and any other issues caused by the COVID-19 emergency.

The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting all areas of our lives and presenting new challenges for families everywhere. School cancellations, orders to stay home and working remotely are forcing everyone to quickly adapt to a “new normal.” It’s important we address family issues and challenges, including stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic.

Let’s look at ways to help families get through these trying times.

Q: My teenage daughter has shut herself in her room most of the day. I’m really worried about her. What should I do?

A: The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted the lives of millions of kids. School provides youth with structure and provides easy social opportunities. School closures, while necessary, are hard on kids and parents. Teens struggle with an uncertain future, as well as worries about how this will impact their friends, their family and older relatives. They may also grapple with feelings of guilt when they have very normal feelings of loss when contemplating missing graduations, proms and other social events that are important to them. Like us, many of them are scared, sad and mad.

Knock on her door, sit on her bed and ask her how she’s managing. Ask her what she’s thinking, feeling and doing. Maybe she’s spending the day talking with friends or viewing her social media feed. Perhaps she’s watching YouTube videos. Maybe she’s just staring at the wall — worrying.

Listen. Ask questions. Don’t give advice or lecture. Don’t provide false reassurance. Do acknowledge and validate her feelings. Stick to the facts. Ask her what she thinks might help her feel better. Make her participate and come up with her own ideas and plans.

Help create structure. Establish a wake-up and bed time, a schedule of activities, a time for school work, family time, exercise, chores and cooking. This may be a good opportunity for kids to help with house projects. Include your daughter in developing the structure. Negotiate on the small stuff. But be Attila the Hun on the important stuff.

Limit screen time. I know it’s tough, but kids (and some adults) need to learn how to structure their lives without being entertained. Be reasonable about how much time you allow, but then stick to the limits you set.

Q: My wife has always been a worrier. Now she seems to be spiraling out of control. What can I do?

A: This is scary time for everyone, but even worse for kids and adults who are worriers on a good day. Anxiety can spiral out of control — obsessive hand-washing, fretting over whether something is contaminated with the virus, emotional meltdowns, disrupted sleep, or getting stuck on some small detail.

It’s also tempting to watch a lot of TV news. Television news can be negative and cause worry. For worriers, this can like pouring gasoline on an already roaring fire. While it’s important to stay informed with accurate information, try turning off the news and picking up a book or finding some other calming way to engage your mind and body.

Listen to your wife’s concerns without making suggestions, giving advice or telling her that she’s overreacting. Ask her how she wants to handle these concerns. Encourage her to list all her worries, without looking for a solution for each one. Making a “worry list” can be very helpful. Suggest a walk together. Moving in space can change what and how we’re thinking.

Most of all, keep your own cool. All of us tend to absorb the emotions of others. Let your wife soak up your calm.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog. Do you have a behavioral-health question related to COVID-19? Sending your questions to askdrpaul@everettclinic.com.

Talk to us

More in Life

Homemade pot stickers are filled with seasoned ground pork and served with a garlicky dipping sauce. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)
Make these pork pot stickers with soy-garlic dipping sauce

These dumplings are a toothsome marriage of crispy (on the outside) and tender (on the inside).

Caleb McArthy, 17, left, and Hank McCarroll, 15, right, wear bandana masks while skateboarding on Friday, May 8, 2020 in Langley, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
5 reasons to wear a mask even after you’re vaccinated

Health experts explained why Americans should hold on to their masks until the pandemic is over.

Keep watch for studies about the benefits of wine and cheese

More research looks at certain components in food that may be helpful to our thinking as we age.

Rocky Oliphant gets a flu shot at the Everett Clinic on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
COVID precautions are helping to keep the flu in check

Evidence suggests that infections are down, likely due to COVID-19 social distancing and mask wearing.

Ask a pediatrician: How much gaming is too much for children?

About 10% of teens had symptoms of unhealthy gaming that got worse over time. They have a few things in common.

Piselli (braised peas in tomato) from "Frugal Mediterranean Cooking" by Melanie Lionello (Page Street Publishing Co., 2020).

(Courtesy of Melanie Lionello)
Frozen peas, canned tomatoes a healthy, penny-pinching dish

An Italian grandmother’s recipe for piselli — braised peas in tomato sauce — costs 91 cents per serving.

John and Rebecca Roberts have been trail angels for the Pacific Northwest Trail since 2012.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Whidbey wandering on the rugged Pacific Northwest Trail

The trail snakes down the island on its often-confounding route from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

Trapped in her room by a tricky doorknob, a sixth-grade girl relies on her brother to hear her cries for help. (Jennifer Bardsley)
A family comes together to solve a middle-of-the-night crisis

She was grateful that her son had heard his sister’s call for help. His late-night hours had proven useful.

Rue Cler’s stores make picnic-shopping fun in Paris.
Rick Steves’ Europe: Fine living at a Paris street market

Parisians shop almost daily because their tiny kitchens have tiny refrigerators, and fresh produce makes for a good meal.

Most Read