3 Key Principles for feeling in control when life is turned upside-down!

Important coping principles and ways to apply them in your family during times of crisis

As human beings and particularly as children, we need to feel a sense of control in our daily lives. We are all experiencing a world that feels out of control and out of the ordinary right now, and yet we still need to feel we can affect our experience to some extent. How can we keep life as normal as possible when abnormal things are happening in the world? How can we return to a feeling of calm and control, while things are still uncertain and our routines have shifted dramatically?


We have reflected on 3 key principles to shape your own experience and to support your family’s return to feeling at ease. Each principle is accompanied by at least one practical application, but make each principle your own by discussing it with your family and coming up with an action point for each.


You may wish to display the 3 principles in your home and set weekly time to reflect on how well you are living by them, through a family discussion. This should be a positive discussion, focusing not just on what can be improved, but celebrating wins and encouraging each other.

  1. Framing

The way we look at things determines our experience. For example, one person may look at a rainy day and complain, causing them to feel sad… while another looks at it as an opportunity for some rainy day fun!


Re-framing a problem does not mean denying its existence; it is instead an attempt to see it from all angles, to question our own assumptions, and to look for positives.


Try these framing exercises to practise seeing your situation from another perspective:


  • Ask of your assumption: Is this really the truth? Could there be another way of looking at it? E.g. Your child says ‘I can’t learn without my teacher.’ Challenge them to explore this assumption. Is that really true? How do you know? Do you think others can learn without the teacher? Where are there examples where children have learned away from the classroom? E.g. distance learning, learning while on holiday, learning while in hospital. Are my friends learning at home? How are they finding it?
  • ‘Build the muscle’ for looking for the positives. Start a daily gratitude practice as a family e.g. listing 5 good things today, or celebrating your big win for the day, or discussing what we loved about today.
  1. Daily Stress Relief

At times of high stress, it is necessary to have a daily routine to manage anxiety and worry.


One part of this routine should be an activity that prevents stress. This could be a family mindfulness/breathing exercise, outdoor play, or daily physical activity. Ideally, everyone in the family joins in, as it is important for children to see adults being pro-active about stress-relief and to see them looking after themselves, too.


The other essential part of the stress-relief routine must address stress as it happens. This should involve talking about how we feel, so that we know we are not alone in our experience. In times of high stress, it may start with an exercise to calm down, such as a breathing and counting exercise. Having a ‘go-to’ activity when your heart starts to race is extremely useful at any age!

  1. Daily Structure

What does our day look like? Knowing what to expect reduces anxiety, and having a sense of purpose reduces feelings of depression. This is true for adults and children alike.


Our day-to-day life has changed dramatically in a short time and we are already starting to adapt… but a solid structure to our days will help maintain our mental health in the longer-term. While flexibility is also important, having some sense of routine greatly assists children to be motivated to learn and to increase their autonomy to complete tasks.


  • Try setting structured learning activities for the same start time every morning, Monday to Friday.
  • Talk together about what is non-negotiable each day. Is it getting outside for some fresh air? Is it a mindfulness practice? Is it family dinner at the table? Is it playing music? Is it helping with a chore each day?
  • When we feel bored, sad or low in energy, reaching out to another person or helping someone in need is sure to raise our energy. How can you build a daily phone or video chat into the day, to check in with someone outside your home? How can you as a family commit to helping someone or brightening someone else’s day?

When problems seem insurmountable and questions unanswerable, it’s easy to dismiss these little daily practices as insignificant. Yet, there is a reason they are so frequently recommended. Daily attention to little healthy habits soon become ‘just the way we do things’. Layer by layer, they work to make us stronger and more easily able to cope with life’s surprises!

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