In the beginning, it was stressful when schools across the country closed. Learning how to adapt to a new normal of homeschooling and working was challenging, to say the least. But eventually, you kinda sorta got your groove, and you were able to make it through those weeks until summer break. And just when you thought that you had your anxiety in check, your state has probably started its reopening phases (read: you can all go outside again). But what if you don’t want to? If you’re experiencing anxiety over taking your child back outside after quarantine, you’re not alone.
From getting your child to wear a mask to making sure that they don’t touch any surfaces, going outside those first few times with your child after social distancing for months can be nerve-wracking. That’s why you’ll need to keep yourself calm in order to make the excursion exciting. “It is important not to overwhelm yourself or your child as you begin to come outside,” says Dr. Markesha Miller, a licensed psychotherapist and mental health expert. “Ease into your outside activities, while continuing to take precautions.”
But if you’re still worried about what will happen when you venture outside, take these tips to heart—and wear a mask, for goodness sake.
1. Know Your Why
Maybe you and your kiddos just want to get some air. Or it might be that you want to pick up a few snacks at the supermarket. Whatever your motivation is, it’s important that you know the goal of your trip. “You need to ask yourself what do you want to accomplishment with this outing?” says Dr. Helene Laurenti, PhD, a licensed psychologist in private practice in Charlotte, NC. “That way, you can plot a brief behavioral plan ahead of time, since ambiguity creates anxiety.” Knowing who you’re going to see, where you’re going, and what time you’re going to be there can reduce stress and make the trip more pleasant.
2. Communicate With Your Kid
If you thought that you were the only tense one, think again. Most likely, your child has picked up on some of the paranoia about leaving the house, too. So be sure to communicate with your child before getting into the car. “This can be a very confusing time for children,” says Dr. Miller. “Therefore, it is important to have appropriate conversations with your children in the language that they can understand about the pandemic and the necessity of the guidelines.” Make sure that the communication is clear so that everyone is on the same page. Put an emphasis on safety and the task at hand, whether it’s grocery shopping or a trip to the dentist.
3. Let Your Child Be Part Of The Process
To give your child a sense of inclusion, you should ask for their input about how to go outside safely. “Safe, creative alternatives are always great…especially if you allow your child to take part in developing it,” says Dr. Miller. It might mean having a discussion about the importance of face masks if your kids are going to have a play date, or how to stay safe and social distance while playing at the park. That way, it can help if you’re experiencing anxiety over taking your child back outside after the quarantine.
4. Keep It Short
While you might want to cram a lot of activities into your initial outing, it’s best to be brief. “Keep it short in duration, to start,” says Dr. Laurenti. “Anxious people can better tolerate the idea of a brief encounter, with a specific end-time and a specific exit.” So start with a short stint outside, like 30 minutes or up to an hour, and see how everyone handles it. (You can even set an alarm on your phone as a gentle reminder.) And once you’ve assessed the situation, you can determine how much longer you should stay outside—or even plan for subsequent outings.
5. Focus On Fun
Sure, a short shopping trip sounded like fun, especially if you’ve all been cooped up in the house for what seems like forever. But if you’re going to jump every time your child touches a surface, you’re defeating the purpose of going outside. “Don’t allow your stress to overshadow the purpose of the outing,” advises Dr. Miller. While you should obviously do everything in your power to protect your child, be sure to celebrate the fun moments as well—and wash their hands later.
In order to alleviate everyone’s fears, you might want your first foray outside to be something fun for everyone. “For example, you may arrange for your family to do a getaway so that your first time out of the house with the kids is enjoyable, while practicing the safety guidelines for your day to day activities,” says Dr. Miller.
6. Be Mindful
When you’re worried about what could possibly happen (and why that guy in aisle 4 doesn’t have a mask on), you’re not just agitated, but you’re also denying yourself of the joys of being outside with your family. “Don’t let your anxiety rob you of actually enjoying the outing,” says Dr. Laurenti. “Set out to accomplish the goal, whether it is visiting a loved one, people watching, or just soaking up the scenery.” Putting yourself in a more mindful state will reduce stress and just make you overall happier.
7. Have A Plan
A big part of the anxiety you might be experiencing is not knowing what could potentially happen and how it could negatively impact your family. So have a contingency plan in place for any unforeseen circumstances. “Have a safety plan for the outing that the family is comfortable with,” says Dr. Miller. “Planning allows us to feel as if we have some control over our environment.” For example, you might want to know where you’ll be going ahead of time, approximately how many people will probably be there, and above all, what you’re willing to compromise on—and what you won’t.
8. Accept Your Decision
It’s easy to second-guess yourself or beat yourself up about what you did (or didn’t) do correctly. But that’s only going to lead to more stress. “Separate what you can control from what you cannot,” advises Dr. Laurenti. “Make the best decision you can with the data you have collected up to that point.” Of course, you should always wear a face mask outdoors and social distance as much as possible. Then, you should wash your hands well after each outing, But you have to leave it there, though. “Once you have gone on the outing, don’t second-guess or torture yourself with what-ifs,” says Dr. Laurenti. “Gently assess how comfortable you feel, and use it as a new data point for making future decisions.”
It’s easy to understand why you might be experiencing anxiety over taking your child back outside after the quarantine. There is no guaranteed guideline or roadmap that will ensure that everyone will stay safe while they try to bring their lives back to some semblance of normalcy. But by taking proper precautions and being kind to yourself, you can get your kiddo out of the house — and have some fun, too.