I’m writing to you parent to parent on a windy Friday afternoon from my home office in Washington DC. Before I wrap up for the weekend, I wanted to share some thoughts for parents all over the city, and for parents who are all throughout the nation sheltering at home with their children.
I know this is hard–it could be one of the hardest times in your life. As I write in another recent blog, I recognize that this is a time of crisis and grief for all of us. We are scared~We might be feeling alone~We could naturally be feeling sad. Of course, we are overwhelmed. As I’ve spoken with parents all week long, I’m aware of how it may really feel like too much to handle.
So I want to go back to the basics. Do you remember those early years of trying to soothe and comfort your infant? Do you remember being completely enveloped, eternally exhausted, and constantly overwhelmed with the tasks of parenting? I do. I remember the hardest times, the most laughable stories, and the sweetest moments, ever—everything else is a blur!
I also remember desperately searching for strategies to soothe my daughter who had acid reflux and often cried out in pain as we tried to put her down at night or comfort her back to sleep. I read book after book, and finally found one book that helped–Dr. Karp’s, The Happiest Baby On The Block.
I used Dr. Karp’s 5 S’s [Swaddle, Side or Stomach Position, Shush, Swing, Suck] with my children so much that eventually I started adapting it and using it in my therapy practice with children and teens. I would age it up for children to include [Swinging, Sucking [on a water bottle], Sounds, Side Burrito Position/or Swaying, and Smells] and for teens [Swaying, Suckers, Sounds, Smells and Sandwiching]. In therapy sessions with children and teens, I would work with them on customizing their 5 S’s–what worked best to calm them down when they get anxious, angry or agitated? Then, they would take their list of 5 S’s home and practice their soothing strategies during times of upset and crisis.
As I have moved through conversations with parents this week, I’ve been thinking that it’s time to age these up for adults. Parents, we need some S’s!!! So here are a few tips to help you soothe yourself and your partner during this intensely stressful time.
5 S’s: Supportive & Soothing Strategies for Parents
- Sound:-When you end your day or need a break, turn on the softest, most relaxing music that you can find, ideally without words. Close your eyes, breathe, let the sounds wash over you.
- Sight: When you need to be reminded of your sanity, take a minute and look at pictures on your phone that bring you comfort and calm. Walk outside into the fresh air and look at the sky, breathe in the air, and feel the sun and wind on your face. My favorite sights are in nature–I can almost always reduce my heart-rate with a walk in the woods.
- Smells: Change your physical and emotional state by introducing a favorite smell. For some, it might be a favorite hand lotion or perfume. For others, it could be a deep inhale of an essential oil, either rolled-on or diffused in the room. I enjoy lighting a candle every evening when I cook dinner.
- Swaying; When you are anxious, try tapping your legs back and forth with your hands or swaying your hips from side to side like when you were rocking your babies to sleep. It works for us too! You can also try dancing with your partner. It feels good to connect through your bodily movements, and it changes our physical state, which can shift our emotions. Any bilateral movement will do! My favorites have been running, swimming/counting, and walking.
- Sensual Touch: Yes, the adult version of swaddling is SEX! Our skin needs contact with another’s skin. Do you remember doing “skin-to-skin” with your infants in those first few hours and weeks after they were born? I’ll always remember the image of my 1 day old daughter on my husband’s bare chest. We co-regulate by touching each other and by being touched. And, if you’re too tired or “not in the mood,” try Spooning or some other version of light touch.
Remember, be soft on yourself, not hard. Speak sweet things to each other. Support yourself first, and then make time for your children. And, don’t forget your 5 S’s.