2020 – The Age of COVID and Protests – Part 1: Parenting

I was interviewed on a podcast recently and some of the topics we covered were things I thought may be of interest to you. We discussed how to talk to children about all of our recent heavy headline news. And, are these times fostering more PTSD?

Let’s take a look at Covid and our kids; how do we safely allow them to see friends and be kids? It’s been about six months now and this virus is still in the headlines—in Arizona and some other states we’re even seeing a greater number of both new cases daily and more hospitalizations than we did during the first of the outbreak when we were under stay at home orders. It was tough to manage when the spread was new, but now that it’s continuing for so long it feels nearly impossible to keep our children happy at home away from their friends. So, what do we do? How do we talk to them about these times? Start by ensuring you have trusted and up to date information– take a look at the websites of the CDC, your state public health department, and Johns Hopkins, as examples. Only after you have a clear picture of what the current Coronavirus status is, are you ready to talk to your children. At that point, open up the discussions!

The first consideration is realizing that the conversation varies greatly depending on their age. For children 4 and under, it’s enough to simply say people are still getting sick in our city and we have to change the way we play with friends to help keep everyone healthy. Begin by teaching children to keep their hands away from their faces. Pull their hair back so it doesn’t tickle their cheeks and noses, have tissues ready for runny noses and sneezes, and choose age appropriate, size appropriate toys to keep their hands busy. Rattles, teethers, and soft toys for babies belonging only to them and well sanitized between uses are good options. For older children, choose things that aren’t choke hazards that are good for fidgeting, Rubik’s cubes, fidget spinners and cubes, and similar—keeping in mind that a toilet paper tube is a good size to put something through to test whether it is small enough to choke on.

Another good safety lesson for your kids is to teach them their personal space area, which is really well illustrated by having your older toddler hold a hula hoop around their body. Let them hold it and walk next to someone to see what it feels like to keep that distance from someone else and play. And–what does play look like at this age? The safest course of action is to create alliances with certain friends, setting expectations that each of you will only open your bubble to one another. Along with that, you’re maintaining safety by not going out to stores without a mask, not dining in restaurants, and not seeing people, including family, from outside of your own home other than the other family or families that have created the alliance with. If you decide to see someone outside your bubble, then you wait 2 weeks until you again see your playmate friends. It takes a commitment to uphold this level of conscientiousness, a level of honesty with the other family or families in the bubble, and a good degree of trust.

The next safest way to play is to meet up at a playground. Keep in mind what we’ve learned about the virus, larger, more open-air spaces spread out the germ load making the viral transmission less than in an enclosed space with people closely in contact. Playdates in the park could include not only the playground equipment, but also scooters, bicycles, kites, jump ropes, and hula hoops. Things that promote independent side by side play rather than heads huddled close together sharing Legos as an example. And if you’re not comfortable with the playground equipment, go to a part of the park with only grassy play areas and try the other activities mentioned.

Grade school children conversations can include a bit more information. Remember you’re not trying to encourage worry with your child, so don’t use scare tactics.  Rather, you are sharing with them the reasons their play lives don’t look the same as what they did.   You can ask if they have questions about this sickness that is affecting people, ask them what they know about it. By knowing what they’re thinking it can guide you in what you need to share with them. With this age, you can explain in a bit more detail the reasons behind changes you’ve implemented in your family activities. It’s okay to tell your children there is an illness that is causing some people to get very sick and sometimes need to go to the hospital. You can tell them that using a mask can help not only keep them safe and healthy but also those around them, so it’s important to wear a mask in public. If you’re having trouble getting them to wear the mask, treat it like a dress up accessory. Find or make a children’s mouth and nose covering mask that is in a print or style of a super-hero, maybe add a cape and let them wear the whole ensemble to the store. Or, maybe a princess mask and gown. Remember, children are imaginative and the more you can incorporate the mask into their imaginative play, the more likely they are to embrace it! The information shared on playdates for the younger set applies here too.

Middle and high school children have a much higher level of understanding than the younger set, obviously, yet the premise of creating a dialog remains the same. Open up the talk by asking them what they think about Covid, what facts they know, and what questions they have. This is an age that you can be a relatively open book about how this virus has affected our world. Remember that you are not attempting to create panic or anxiety so frame your words in a way that isn’t an attempt to scare them into submission, rather a factual account of the vast numbers of people that have been affected. From how long the illness is taking to get over, to the extent of hospitalizations and deaths, there is not an area than need be kept from this age bracket. However, know your child.  If he or she is a child who will remain up at night worrying about the lives of all those who are sick, limit your details about of the illness when discussing the symptoms of the very sick.  High school teens are able to get a lot of info on their own, and likely are through friends and social media.  We all know that some of this information is not correct, so it’s especially important to begin with what they know, what worries them about Covid, and what their thoughts are about this disease. 

If you don’t recall the specifics of past pandemics, now may be a time to look at how the influenza pandemic swept through in 1918, or any of the epidemics that have gone on in our country or world’s history. Your children have learned about these times in history more recently than you have and using the examples of the past may help them realize that with time, this will be something we are able to move forward from. Enjoying time with friends for the middle-high school age group looks a bit different than it did for the younger set. This is a time in life that maybe it’s okay to ease up a bit on the restrictions of their gaming devices, recognizing this is an area many kids play games with their friends—and in this case it’s a physically safe way to have some social time. Beyond that, this is where you model the behavior you want to see in your kids. They’re watching you, and if it’s okay for you to gather with friends, go out to dinner or drinks, or go to parties, they’re going to expect to be able to do the same. If you are distancing and your pre-teens or teens want to have a social life resembling what they had prior to the outbreak, you will have to set some guidelines—and remain consistent. If your child has a close friend and you know the family of that friend is also distancing and using the cautions you are at home, maybe you’ll decide it’s okay to let the kids spend time together. If the other friends’ families aren’t distancing, or you don’t know their family expectations, maybe you’d be okay allowing the kids to get together at an outside venue—a pool, or a lake—but not let them ride together in a car to get there. This is where well thought out judgement is necessary. It is a stressful time and will likely require you have conversations with your spouse or significant other to be sure the two of you are aligned in thinking so you can’t be played against one another. Make concessions so each of you feel heard if you’re not in total agreement, and as is always the case with good parenting, consistency is key. Upholding standards so your kids know what to expect each and every time can eliminate a lot of fights.

Talking with your children about race relations, protests, and the police all follow the same guidelines. Use your child’s age to determine how deeply you delve into the topic. If your children are young, picture books can be great, dolls with different skin tones can illustrate and model play among people of all colors—remember not to buy only dolls that look like your child. If your kids are older, it’s a wonderful time to ask questions to see how they think, ask what they’d like to see change, and help them navigate how to handle racist conversations with others, including the possibility that racism is coming from somewhere in your own family. If you are a person or a family who protests, go forth in the safest way you can—and pay attention to some of the really excellent graphics circulating on social media about how to protest safely including always wearing a mask and carrying water with you. Recognize that this may be confusing to children who are told they cannot attend a birthday party, yet they then see you or all of your family surrounded by hundreds in a protest. Be prepared to explain your reasoning and your safety precautions.

Some of your older children may be taking in the messaging on de-funding the police. They may have opinions about why it is a good measure, or why they’re afraid of it. Again, be informed yourself by reading up on the topic. Understand what de-funding means, and where the funds are proposed to be allocated instead. Ask your kids questions. Get a good understanding of their level of interest in the topic, their concerns or gaps in knowledge, and if you don’t know all of the answers with this topic or any—it’s okay to tell them that. Research it with them, or on your own and come back to the conversation after you’ve done some more reading. Try not to put it off for too long, lest they think their questions aren’t important to you. Remember that a lot of learning how to critically analyze a situation comes with maturity. Help them learn how to be critical thinkers by posing questions to them that go deeper than the superficial, and really listen when they speak to you.

My theme here has been talking and creating open communication. It is a healthy start to help a person move through these news headlines that are so heavily weighted. Matters of health, social injustice, overhauling our police forces are among the most stressful and highly charged topics in life. So, is all of this exposure to so much right now fostering more PTSD? I don’t believe so in most cases. But the news can potentially trigger PTSD if watched too frequently. By proactively limiting exposure to these events and viewing of the news, social media, and talking through these matters with your children or teens who may also see the coverage, the potential can be minimized.  And, as has been highlighted in nearly every writing I’ve done on stress, take note of what media you’re consuming, both in your sources and in the amount. If you find it difficult to digest, have a hard time sleeping, have ruminating thoughts, and/or find yourself anxious, it’s time to unplug for a while. Rest. Meditate. Be in nature. Check in with friends. Talk to someone you feel really hears you.  If this is not enough, always seek professional help. People are resilient but do much better at handling difficult times using healthy tools. There was more discussion centered on PTSD, trauma, self-care, and stress in the podcase, and we’ll be issuing a part 2 to this blog within the next week or two, so stay tuned!  You can also listen to the podcast, click here.

Finally, as the numbers are increasing so very quickly of COVID in our county and state, please take care of yourself and let us know if you need any assistance.  Grief is sure to be an issue we’ll be dealing with in coming blogs, but in the meantime if you need to hear more about this topic, you can do so here or on stress and COVID here.  As always, I wish you good health–both mentally and physically, and encourage you to take care of yourself daily, moment by moment. 

Dr. Beth


Decisions…Difficult but Important to Choose and Own

Our current times continue to present challenges in many ways for all of us.  From the smaller decisions of what to purchase at a grocery store and how to do so: online, via delivery, or in-person; whether we’ll follow the guidance to wear masks; to the no-brainers of breathing in and out each day, and to the largest decisions about when to retire and other big life changes.  We can say that some of these decisions are easy, whereas on others we will not reach agreement with everyone.  As Eleanor Roosevelt said “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves.  The process never ends until we die.  And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility”.  There are crucial decisions being made by governors and legislators right now related to COVID-19, the economy and businesses, as well as protecting individuals.  At this time, we are also called upon to make our own choices, and decision-making is often challenging and stressful.

Part of this stress is brought on by hearing multiple conflicting ideas about how to open a country back up, what is too soon, what is too long, how much individual health and lives should be considered versus the economy, and whose guidance should be followed in these areas.  I believe, as Eleanor Roosevelt and others have said, that we are responsible to determine what is in our own or our loved ones’ best interest.  Some of the decisions our leaders make we need to assess and determine what to follow and when, such as the recent ones, and ones to come, about reopening.  So, I thought it was time to review a few basics on decision making.    

First, get yourself in a quiet place, without distractions, and relax yourself.  Hard to do in a Covid-19 world, but perhaps these steps will be taken over a period of a day or two, and that’s fine.  This might be doing some meditation, prayer, deep breathing or yoga, or other ideas you might have.  It’s important to have our brain available, and when we are relaxed, we have more capacity to use our full brain without it being impacted by a fight, flight, or freeze change in brain reaction. 

Second, once you’ve done the above, write down what the decision is that you’re trying to make.  Tie it down to one decision, after all we can’t make more than one decision at a time.  Writing it down helps you to focus.

Third, do the research you need to do.  For decisions about work, going out of the house, deciding whether to go to salons or restaurants, or even just whether to grocery shop versus using pick-up services, I’ve found some sources of information and am providing those here.  These links provide various views so you can consider what the pros and cons are.  But seek out your own sources as well.

  1.  CDC suggestions/plan on how to reopen

**I’m providing several Governors’ plans as it will allow you to see what they are considering and that may help you in making your own decisions.

After reviewing the facts and areas to consider from the above or other information you have, the fourth step is to write down your pros and cons on choosing to take various steps, i.e.:  go out to dinner vs. picking up dinner or having it delivered, going to the hair or nail salon, working in these environments and offices, and the others you’ll be faced with in the next week to months.  Then if it is clear to you what you will do, be clear with yourself how you reached the decision.  We can only make the best decision we can on any one day and with the information available to us.  You’ll want to reassure yourself later why you made a decision if later you question it.  If it is not clear, consider talking it through with your spouse, a significant other, close friend, person you respect, or trusted other.  And then follow the above once your decision is made. 

The fifth step, that will seem familiar to all who have studied science – from junior high forward, is to re-evaluate and make sure the decision still makes sense as you go.  Feel free to change your mind if that makes sense to you later.  For example, as many have suggested from a lot of entities and as we’ve seen in other countries, the numbers are going to go up as we reopen, so you may choose to change your decision if they are going up very rapidly, or begin going back down.

I ran across this in looking for a poem on choice and decision-making.  And in the end, I loved the simplicity of it:

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Source credit: quotesgram.com

Having peace during these times is challenging – but remember that with following all the guidelines we already know from so many sources, continue to:

  1.  Wash your hands often, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  2.  Wear a mask in public.
  3.  Cover your nose with a Kleenex if sneezing anywhere.
  4.  Cover your mouth with a Kleenex if coughing.
  5.  Socially distance keeping 6’ between you and the other person/people.
  6.  Clean and disinfect touched surfaces regularly and throughout the day.
  7.  Do not touch your face or wash your hands after you do.

All of these get tiring to hear about at times – but they will be essential for a long time to come.   And they can provide you with peace within that you are doing all you can to protect yourself and others. 

Finally, remember to take time to relax, enjoy your family around you, reach out to friends in socially distant methods, pray, meditate, and use the tools we and others have provided. 

See our website for general resources.

We also have COVID-19 specific resources as well as blogs on ideas in managing these stressors.

You deserve to take care of yourself, and I encourage you to make your own decisions, and take care in all the ways you need to do so during these challenging days.  We’ll be back to the regular blog again on Sunday, but I wanted you to have these thoughts earlier as things are changing rapidly. 

Take care,

Dr. Beth

Caring for Yourself in Times of Fear and Illness

This week has been a stressful one for many people.  The combination of the coronavirus, the stock market, the grey skies and rain, school and college closures, and the world news each day has been very hard.  But . . . in all of this, did you catch any of the good news?  It’s a bit hard to find, I learned, as I went to locate some for you to try to balance the week.  I did finally find a couple of pieces: 

            The La La Land Kindness Café in Dallas has hired 9 foster kids who aged out of the foster care system and were having trouble locating jobs.

            How about the House and the President agreeing, within just a couple of days, to relief legislation for victims of the coronavirus? 

            The Dow started a rebound today – that’s very good news for most!

            All of the fast action employers and schools/universities are taking to protect their employees and students – it seems unprecedented to me, although it may not be.  From Amazon in Washington to ASU to Ford to many others many are limiting exposure by providing employees with laptops and having them work and study virtually.  

All of these are truly ideas that are very positive news – and get covered in the anxiety so many are feeling, and the care for family that is often at the root of this.  Just tonight I learned one of my sisters-in-law may have been exposed to it, and her father likely has it.  Yet of the 16 members of my family nearby, she is the only one, which is good news thus far. (Edit 3/15/20: Good news! Her father’s test results reflected negative results.) See how we can flip it?  In psychology it’s called reframing the bad or difficult situations by looking at life a bit differently, without denying the hard does exist as well.

We sent out notices about Covid-19 procedures for our office this week.  Now it’s time to also offer some concrete help along with the above reframe tool.  The American Psychological Association and the National Association for the Mentally Ill are the two sources I’m using for the ideas that follow.  I wanted you to have some resources to print or click for the coming weeks.  What I know from 911 and other events is that when we are faced with being bombarded on social media and news media with information that is difficult, we tend to seek out more information and stay focused on the difficult situation.  This merely drives fear and anxiety up further.  We do need to know what we can do to try to protect ourselves; but once we know, i.e.:  wash hands to count of 20, do not shake hands and stay a further distance from others, and isolating someone with clear symptoms including fever, cough, and shortness of breath, we need to also look at how we care for our family and selves in a way that minimizes the fear and focuses on good things in life.  And, in the situation we have right now, we also need to know how we can cope with isolation whether from working at home, not going out for social events, not being able to travel to family or friends on trips we have had to cancel, or other reasons.  And we must have a method to deal with the uncertainty, fear, loneliness, depression, resentment, and challenges we face trying to secure things we may need.  So, here goes!

  1.  Make sure you have some games to play that are age appropriate for you and your family, and especially if you have children.  If isolated, the family will need ways to entertain themselves, laugh, enjoy each other’s company, and get through the days together.  We know that closeness breeds irritation, so have some things that can break up the days and draw you together, not apart.
  2. Have a plan with your doctor.  My physician sent out a text announcement to all of his patients tonight just letting us know he’s there, where to go for trustworthy medical information on the virus, and what to do if we are having symptoms.  Reach out to your pediatrician, cardiologist, pulmonologist, or primary care to know ahead what to do and how their office is managing this.
  3. Use the tools that help your mental health on a regular basis.  So…do:
  4. Keep up your physical activity – there are some great YouTubes on how to do yoga, walk along with you to keep your steps up (I like Leslie Sansome’s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9yI2LGZRE0), and many others depending on what you prefer to do.
  5. Make sure you have enough medication or supplements like Rescue Remedy, Vitamin C and B, and other things around to keep you feeling better and less anxious. 
  6. Stay on a schedule.  We can get very loosey-goosey when at home too long or too much.  So make sure you keep an agenda to normalize your life and not fall into the doldrums too much.
  7. Make sure you can connect with Messenger, FaceTime, and the others available.  It helps for you to actually see friends, not just text.  We’re learning that the more texting that is done, the lonelier people are becoming.  So, in this time of increased stress – reach out even more and if you can’t touch one another, at least see one another.  I know someone who was separated from a loved one for quite some time, and they would watch a favorite show while connected on Facetime.  Another dad who was away who would play checkers with his children.  Get creative in your connection!
  8. I know you get tired of it – but remember to breathe when anxious.  Or start a mindfulness app during this time.  The website has a number of these on the Links page, and this is a great time to learn to do it and practice.
  9. Listen to music that uplifts you – for me that might be one thing – but what is it for you?  Listen!  Music does a lot to impact our moods.
  10.  Keep some numbers available if you need to reach out to a warm line, i.e.:  you’re not suicidal but you are feeling isolated and need to connect.  See SAMSHA’s line for disasters at 1-800-985-5990 or locally at 602-347-1100.  And remember AA, Al-Anon, and many other groups have online and phone meetings.  Take care of your sobriety as well! 
  11.  Pay attention to your spiritual practices.  I love labyrinths and downloaded the Mount Mojo Labyrinth Journey app to my cell phone quite some time ago.  I can walk it by finger on the phone even if I have only 5 minutes and can’t get to one locally.  Or, call a friend to pray.  Watch a Joel O’Steen, Beth Moore, or even your own pastor or rabbi may have something online to watch or even just listen to. 
  12. Humor, humor, humor!  You have to laugh!  I go to Bob Newhart videos, Carol Burnett, or Tim Conway as well as Friends and Frazier.  My mom loved SpongeBob Square Pants (I did not ever figure that one out!)  How about funny movies often free on Amazon Prime, Netflix, and other places you may have membership. 

All of these are tools – now you just need to use them.  As I said in my letter to current clients, I’m here and I am available.  Feel free to call and schedule an in-person or video therapy session.  The teletherapy appointment is on an encrypted service that meets HIPAA standards, we don’t use FaceTime or other things that might seem easier – but don’t offer the privacy.  So, if you can’t come – we’ll walk you through how to set it up. 

May you find these ideas helpful – and know there is a hand to reach out to.  And keep reaching out to friends as well.  Do you have other ideas?  Let us know and we can share those on our Facebook page. The disasters end.  The illnesses come to an end in such large proportions.  The blue skies come out again.  Something my mama told me growing up is that “it’s always darkest before the dawn”.  Obvious, right?  But it kind of normalizes problems and difficult times.  And reassures us – that “Joy will come in the morning!” (Psalms 30:5).  And so it will!

Take good care of yourself!

Dr. Beth