BY SUE ABDERHOLDEN
Students won’t be returning to school. While many parents knew in the back of their mind that this was likely to happen, it still came as a shock. Most had hoped that miraculously their children would return to school and then they could work – even if it was from home.
To say that the last few weeks have been difficult for families with children is an understatement. There is this image of detailed full schedules with experiential learning, children who are thrilled and engaged in distance learning, and parents lining up additional activities through the many museums and other entities to enrich their children’s lives. And everyone is smiling.
The reality is that the stress and anxiety related to COVID-19 is like a cloud over everyone’s head. The schedule worked for a day or two. The boss called while you were trying to teach division. The internet went out while trying to connect to distance learning. Your elementary age child dissolved in a tantrum and your teenager dissolved in tears or angry words. Or both.
For some families, the economic hardship makes it even more difficult. School lunches were important and now difficult to obtain. Your job may mean that you can’t be there during the day to help your middle school child. Your family may not have a computer or tablet and the worksheets that were mailed – well, it’s really hard to get your child engaged.
If your child is in special education, it may be more difficult. If they had a paraprofessional assisting them during the day – well, you are on your own. If you had in-home supports, they may not be coming out due to COVID-19. There is no way you can work during all of this.
So, what’s a parent to do? First, ban perfectionism. You can’t be perfect during a pandemic. Do what you can. Take one day at a time. The more stress that comes with instituting a tight schedule the more upset a child will be. Have a schedule, because that brings some normalcy to the situation, but also adapt to what you and your child need that day.
Second, work on wellness and coping strategies. Together, take deep breaths, move or dance, or use a meditation app. It does relieve stress and it will teach strategies your child can use in the future.
Third, help your younger children understand what is going on through some good books and videos such as The Oyster and The Butterfly or Time to Come In, Bear. For older children, understand and talk to them about how hard it is to not be with friends, to miss some of the events that are big in their lives such as dances, sports, and concerts. Listen and empathize. Even as adults, we feel anxious and upset about what is happening – and we have more tools than they do to cope.
It’s not an easy time. But if we try to stay calm, love and support our children, take one day at a time, and connect to others, we will get through this. Parenting was never easy, and now it’s really hard. Know that there are free classes, videos, resources, and support groups through NAMI Minnesota. Sometimes it helps just to hear that you are not the only one struggling.
Sue Abderholden is executive director of NAMI Minnesota (National Alliance on Mental Illness), a non-profit organization that works to improve the lives of children and adults with mental illnesses and their families through its programs of education, support, and advocacy. For more information, go to <namimn.org> or call 651-645-2948.