1) When Parents Are Okay, Kids Will Be Okay
The challenges facing mothers and fathers during the pandemic are daunting, from their own work obligations to tending children who are home from school. For some families there’s also financial stress if a parent has lost a job due to coronavirus closures. The panelists offer these tips for coping at home.
- “The first bit advice I would have is take a deep breath and give yourself an opportunity to not be perfect,” says Dr. Allen Brenzel, medical director of the Kentucky Department for Behavioral Health Development and Intellectual Disabilities. “This is something we’re all learning to do together.”
- Kids will be okay as long as parents are doing okay. That’s why Brenzel encourages parents to make time for themselves, to exercise, get plenty of rest, or just be alone for a few minutes.
- You don’t always have to be a teacher or a disciplinarian, nor do you have to know all the answers. Sometimes it’s enough to just be a calm, reassuring presence with your children. Let them talk about their feelings and fears. If your child has a question that you don’t know the answer to, work with them to find the answer, or encourage them to research the answer themselves.
- Brenzel says some regression in a time of stress and anxiety is normal for children and adults. As disconcerting as it may be to see old behaviors resurface, Brenzel says they’re only temporary. He says the routine of a consistent daily schedule can comfort kids by giving them a structure to follow.
- Model the behavior you want to see in your children, whether that’s thorough hand washing, proper social distancing, patience under stress, exchanging TV or internet time for outdoor activity, or treating others with kindness.
- Remember you don’t have to do everything. “Make decisions and set priorities about what you can and can’t accomplish,” says Brenzel, “and then feel okay about it.”
2) There Are Easy Ways to Engage Children
“Kids understand the world is upside down, everything’s different, and there’s going to be some new norms,” Dr. Connie White, deputy commissioner for clinical services at the Kentucky Department for Public Health. That gives parents a chance to discover creative ways to engage their children in productive activities.
- Enjoy time outdoors, playing, walking, or having a picnic with family. Eamonn FitzGerald, family/community liaison with the Fayette County Public Schools, says he and his children start each day by feeding ducks at a nearby creek. He says this gives children the opportunity to see nature in ways they don’t normally experience.
- Common household items can be used to occupy kids of varying ages. FitzGerald says he asks his two-year old to count and sort Styrofoam packing peanuts, while his eight-year old has to build specific shapes and structures by connecting the peanuts with toothpicks. “We want to focus on one activity that we can individualize for each kid…with different learning outcomes for each,” he says.
- Younger kids can also create sidewalk chalk art. As they walk with parents, kids can look for stuffed animals that people have placed in their front windows.
- White says children can also ring a bell at 10 a.m. each day as a show of solidarity that Gov. Beshear has requested.
- Older children can write letters or create artwork they can send to nursing home residents.
- Students with musical talents can give impromptu front-yard concerts for neighbors. Bands and choruses can use teleconferencing software to create and share virtual online performances.
- Social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation. Children can text, call, or video chat with friends and family members, especially older relatives they can’t visit in person. “We know that those connections can help improve moods as well as their feelings that I’m connected to the world around me,” says Janna Estep Jordan, director of operations at Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky.
3) Even Now, There’s Help for Families Facing Addiction or Mental Health Concerns
Increased family time resulting from shelter-at-home orders gives parents an opportunity to have meaningful conversations with their children about problems they may be experiencing like anxiety, bullying, or substance abuse.
- Operation Parent provides a wealth of resources to help parents care for children facing these issues. Jean Schumm, the organization’s founder and president, says parents need not feel hopeless in these situations. “You can do this, you can get through this, you are the number one influence in the life of your child,” she says.
- Don’t assume you know the best way to help your child. Instead, Schumm suggests asking your teenager, “How can I support you?”
- With the unpredictability that comes with these uncertain times, Schumm recommends parents help children identify things in their lives that they can control. She also suggests setting personal or academic goals so they can gauge their progress towards that objective.
- Kids want to feel needed, says Schumm, so help them find ways to help the less fortunate. She says being of service to others is an excellent antidote to depression that can come from being self-absorbed. Making daily entries in a gratitude journal is another way to ward of depression.
- For parents who are struggling with their own addiction issues, Dr. Brenzel says now is an excellent time to seek treatment because recovery centers are open for business. He says active drug use can decrease the immune system and make a person more vulnerable to COVID-19.
- Alcohol and drug support groups are also still meeting, but have moved to online platforms. Dr. White says these virtual meetings allow people in recovery to stay in contact with each other and offer reassurance and advice.
- Times of widespread upheaval like we’re experiencing now can lead to increased incidents of child abuse and neglect. Jordan says all Kentuckians are required by law to report suspected abuse to local police or the state hotline, 877-KYSAFE-1. If a child is in immediate danger, call 911.
4) Instruction Continues Even Though Schools Are Closed
Since schools will be closed to in-person classes for the rest of the academic year, educators are employing non-traditional instruction (NTI) to make sure students continue to learn while at home. “The assignments that are sent for students to work on are not the same types of assignments,” says Kentucky Department of Education Interim Commissioner Kevin Brown. “It’s project-based learning, competency-based education.”
- While the coursework may be different, it’s definitely not easier. Berea Independent School District Superintendent Diane Hatchett says her teachers and students are working 10 times harder under NTI. “It’s not a one size fits all [approach],” says Hatchett. “It has to be personalized to where the kids are.”
- Hatchett says says NTI will encourage high-achieving students to do even more. For students who were already struggling, NTI will enable teachers to provide them more individual supports. For families with limited computer access or no internet connection, teachers are calling or making home visits to deliver class materials.
- Check out the services available through Family Resource and Youth Services Centers within many school districts. Paula Hunter, Family Resource Center director for the Nicholas County Schools, says her team is delivering school supplies, games, and food to their students. In Paducah, Family Resources Coordinator LaToya Benberry of McNabb Elementary School, is using social media to generate support for local food pantries and a community kitchen. With each meal they deliver, Benberry says they also try to include something to stimulate the child’s mind. “We’ve helped with finding fun activities for kids to do online, sending home things, passing out games, Frisbees, anything to keep them busy and to add a little normalcy to life,” says Benberry.
5) KET Is Here to Help
Visit KET.org/learnathome/ to explore numerous resources from KET and PBS Learning Media to help keep children engaged and entertained. There’s also a daily schedule of programming designed to foster at-home learning in language skills, math, science, history, and social studies. The programming is especially helpful for students who may not have easy access to a computer or the internet.
“We wanted to make learning come alive for them as well, so we’ve taken our main channel on KET and we have offered a 10-hour educational broadcast schedule... broken into grade levels of pre-K through 3 [third grade], four through eight, and nine through 12,” says Tonya Crum, senior director of education for KET.