As August winds down we know that stress ramps up for parents. The back to school season is one filled with a lot of different emotions for you and your children so we want to use this as an opportunity to remind you to pause and check in with how you and your children are feeling heading into the new school year. This is a great time to sit down and have a discussion surrounding mental health. Ask your children how they are feeling about going back to school. This not only helps you understand how your children are doing but also shows them that you are always there to talk if they do start to struggle with their mental wellness.
One great activity to do while having this discussion is to sit down, put technology away, and have everyone in your family create an Emotional Safety Plan. This easy, quick, and free activity would be a great wrap up to a discussion about mental health. After you are done chatting with your family have them all create an Emotional Safety Plan. Be sure to have each person put their personalized plan in a place where they will see it regularly as a reminder that in your house that mental health is taken seriously and help is always available.
The purpose of an "Emotional Safety Plan"
"The heat of the moment," is just that; heated. When stress is high and you are overwhelmed by a big project at work or school, or you are up to your neck in scheduling therapy sessions and extracurriculars for your kids it can be hard to think straight.
As parents of children who are struggling with their behavior or mental health ourselves, we understand that your plate is full, That is where an Emotional Safety Plan comes into place. This document is designed for you and your children to make your mental health a priority.
Here you can see our Emotional Safety Plan document.
An example of how it can help
You are your least rational when things are very stressful. At the moment where tensions are high, it is hard to think "Okay, I am stressed right now, what can I do to calm down?" That is where the Emotional Safety Plan comes into play.
In our example, you can see where one parent; Hannah Clark, has already written down the things that help her relax. Clark is one of our members, and we asked her to sit down and think about what her go-to calming activities are for the first step. "My number one go-to is always making a cup of tea. It is something that requires me to physically get up from whatever is stressing me out (for example my work, or a family situation) and complete a simple mindless task that gets my body moving. Those 15 minutes where I have to gather everything together to boil the water, pick a favorite cup, get the honey and select which tea I want, allows me to concentrate on something else. With my tea made, my focus is drawn to the feel of the warmth in my hand, the delightful smells coming from my steaming cup, peppermint, cinnamon, or lemon encourage me to take a deep breath, and watching those first whiffs of steam float away often encourage a few moments of daydreaming."
"If I do not have tea, or don't want it I try and get out my headphones and shut out the world for a minute." She explained that something about playing her favorite songs allows her to get her mind temporarily off of what is overwhelming her. No matter how stressful the situation is, if she closes her eyes the rhythm can reenergize her and she can't help but sing along to words she has heard in better times. If the situation presented feels like it is too much to handle she might want to get some physical distance from what is stressing her out. A quick walk around the block provides fresh air and a chance to recenter before getting back to it. If listening to music on her walk doesn't help she will call a friend. Getting an outside perspective or just an ear to listen to you vent can be incredibly relaxing for Clark. Letting all of the thoughts in her head sit and fester usually makes things worse for her. A quick 5-minute call to her mom, her best friend, or her cousin allows her to get all of her emotions out in a safe and loving place.
How YOU can use it
The things that calm you and your children down are going to be different than what works for Clark. Maybe you hate tea or can't keep track of a pair of headphones to save your life. That is the beauty of the Emotional Safety Plan - it is unique to you and your children. We have a printable version of the Emotional Safety Plan that does not feature Clark's personalized plan. Print this version out and have it ready for your mental health chat. Model how a plan is made. Show your children how seriously you take your wellness as you brainstorm your calming techniques.
Once everyone has completed a plan, keep them somewhere that is easily accessible. Your fridge, on the bedside tables of your beds, near a chore chart; anywhere where you and your children can easily get at it when you feel yourself getting stressed. That way when things start to get out of hand all you have to do is look it over and select one thing from your list to try. If that doesn't work, move on to the next. Don't forget to review your plan often, adjust your strategies as seasons change or as you add new stress-busting tools to your toolbox.
If you don't have access to a printer you can grab any piece of paper and write your list on it. The best part about an Emotional Safety Plan is its simplicity. All it requires you to do is write out the things that you and your children believe will help you all relax, even if it is on the notes app on your phone.
Our Emotional Safety Plan is one of our most popular tip sheets! We know that now more than ever people need to prioritize their emotional safety. If you benefited from creating an Emotional Safety Plan and would like to see more tip sheets from us consider supporting our work by becoming a donor here.