Recently I shared a photo on my Instagram story. This photo had popped up in my Time Hop from 8 years prior, and honestly, there is absolutely nothing remarkable about the photo itself. I remember when it was taken; I was getting ready for a work holiday party.
Predictable days stabilize the lives of children and teens, but planning those days has been made more difficult for parents since the onset of the pandemic. Uncertainty, social isolation and parent distress all have on impact on the mental health of kids and teens. Join Peace At Home Parenting founder Ruth E. Freeman, LCSW and teachers Aaron Weintraub, MS and Denise Parent, LMFT and other concerned parents like yourself for a focused conversation to help you recognize symptoms and find solutions to address your child's emotional needs as well as your own.
View our last Facebook LIVE Panel event: Teens in Turbulent Times
By Katherine Bergamo
Maybe you are thinking about taking your child to see a therapist. Or maybe you are just wondering about whether your child’s behavior is in the “normal” range. Maybe a teacher or childcare provider has expressed some concerns. In any case, you probably have questions, the main one being, “how can I help?”
Here are some important tips to help you get started:
How do I know if my child needs therapy?
Your child may not vocalize that they need, or are interested, in therapy. If your child is displaying any of these signs, it may be time to talk to someone – ask yourself, Does my child…
- Have trouble managing emotions or behaviors
- Seem distressed or upset for more than a few weeks
- Have problems in more than one setting – like both home and school or school and childcare
- Display behavior is getting in the way of everyday activities
- And finally, if your efforts to support your child are not helping, it may be time to ask for help.
Every child is unique and displays their emotions and behaviors differently. Your child may display different signs than the ones listed above. You know your child best. If you feel they are struggling and in need of help, reach out and speak to a therapist.
How do I Choose a Therapist for My Child?
It’s important to choose a therapist that you, your family, and your child trust. Start by asking people you trust – medical professionals, teachers, or maybe even friends and family. Most professionals recommend a therapist that is licensed such as a social worker, psychologist, professional counselor, or a marriage and family therapist. A good place to begin is to find a therapist whose training matches your specific concerns. These concerns could be family issues, anxiety, depression, behavior problems, divorce, or other major family transitions to name a few. Don’t hesitate to ask the therapist about their experience in treating the specific concerns you have and ask about the approaches that they use. It helps to ask if the approach is “evidence-based,” which means research has shown these strategies to be effective with children who have these particular challenges.
Trust your instincts and listen to your child. Make sure you support your child to see the therapist for at least 4 weeks and then assess the person and the process together. As a parent, you want to be sure that your child is seeing a therapist who includes you in the process, invites you to be part of goal setting, and offers you specific guidance about ways you can support your child.
There are no wrong questions to ask the therapist, just as there are no wrong answers to give the therapist. Here are a few questions to get you started:
- What is your experience treating this kind of problem?
- Do you expect us (parents) to be involved in sessions with our child?
- Will you meet with us separately?
- Will you develop behavior plans to try at home?
- Will you ask us to help our child practice new skills?
- Help us understand how therapy works and how it might be helpful for our particular child.
For more on this topic, please check out our class, “Children and Therapy: Let’s Talk.”
For many of us parents, he daily to-do list is so long that some things are bound to go undone. The things that end up getting scratched from the list are often what we so desperately need for ourselves, for our own well-being. Talking to parents, especially those with young children at home, I find that one of the first things to get ignored from that ever-present list is fitness.
There is just no time for yourself when you are doing everything for everyone else, and there is certainly not time for an hour or two at the gym, right? The truth is that while a 5k run or bootcamp classes certainly have their merit and value, fitness doesn’t always have to be structured or formal. There are many ways to include activity into your day on those days when spare minutes feel about as impossible as finding those matching baby socks.
There is plenty of pressure to have the perfect workout or spend an hour on your Peleton, but reality is a different story. Sometimes all we can muster are 5 minutes at a time in between house chores, distance learning, and outdoor play time. Those 5 minutes at a time can add up throughout the day. If you allow yourself the grace to let your fitness get a little bit messy, a little bit chaotic sometimes, we can lift that stress that builds up around working out and help ourselves make the most out of the limited time we have. Let’s figure out how to fit fitness into your life without it becoming a burden. Here are some easy suggestions we can follow to help fitness turn more into self-care and less into an added stressor.
Make moving the priority, not working out.
The most important thing to remember about physical movement is that it is an essential part of self-care, even during the busiest of times. Note that I used the term physical movement here instead of fitness, because sometimes just moving is enough. Focusing on “moving” instead of “working out” can decrease the stress of it all just by a mindset change. It can be a walk with the kids, running around in the yard with them for 10 minutes, or just staying on your feet and moving when at the playground, instead of sitting on a bench. (Of course, sometimes as parents, we do need that time to just sit on the bench too!). The point is, when life gets so hectic that the structured workouts simply aren’t going to happen, just finding ways to move must be a conscious decision.
Small bursts add up.
When it comes to fitness, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. All of your physical activity doesn’t have to come at the same time in the day. Ideally get 30 minutes to yourself for some exercise, but we all know that that can’t happen every day. Intentionally taking 5 minutes, 5 times during the day adds up to 25 minutes of physical movement that you wouldn’t otherwise have had. And you truly can do a lot in 5 minutes. Try making yourself a plan at the beginning of each day. You can spend 5 minutes alternating between squats and lunges, another 5 minutes working on your core. 5 more doing some push ups and plank holds, and there you have 15 minutes of full body exercise. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing. And some days that’s all we can hope for.
Give yourself grace.
It is so easy to get caught up in the mindset that you have to have the best work out every time you exercise. But life often has other plans, especially for parents of young children. I often don’t even have time to change into workout clothes, let alone plan and execute a killer fitness session. But forgiving myself for that is a huge part of being successful with fitness in this crazy season of life. If you get one or two quality workouts per week and the rest have to be “on the fly”, that is enough.
Physical movement is a stress reliever. Its a gift to your kids and a great way to take care of your mind and your body in one shot. The key is to find ways to keep it from being yet another stressor in your life. Let your toddler “lead” you in a workout, forget about the routines and just run like crazy around the backyard. Play leapfrog in the driveway or do sets of squats and lunges while your little one colors a picture. However you can fit it in, it’s the right way. Fitness doesn’t have to be formal to be physically and mentally beneficial.
By Cora Megan, M.A. and JoAnn Robinson, PhD
Many parents are asking, “How am I supposed to homeschool my child AND work from home? I am not a teacher!” This can feel overwhelming and impossible. You are not alone.
It is important to start small and plan no more than one or two activities for your child per day. Use items that you can easily find around the house- don’t reinvent the wheel. Here are some ways to set you and your child up for success:
- Organize your space to promote independent play. Remove hazards, and offer a variety of “open-ended” materials that your child can use independently. Cardboard boxes keep children of all ages engaged for long periods of time because they can be used in so many different ways. Use couch cushions for climbing or to build a fort. Offer buckets, Tupperware containers, or reusable shopping bags for filling up/dumping or transporting objects. You may be surprised at how simple activities like this keep your child occupied while promoting critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
- Give your child an assignment or a task to accomplish. For example, ask them to go into the backyard and collect 5 acorns, 3 pebbles, and 1 twig. For toddlers, keep the tasks very simple, such as filling up a bag with stuffed animals. Encourage them to check in with you when they are finished. Together you can count how many are in the bag. Praise them for completing the assignment with high 5’s. Not only does this promote your child’s independence, but it also brings them back to connect with you – an important motivating factor!
- Set up a “workspace” for your child next to where you are working. Use materials such as legos, train sets, coloring/activity books, or even sorting socks. If you set it up as a “job” for your child, they will feel like their work is important, just like yours! To encourage this independence for longer chunks of time, use a timer. Try 10 minutes of independent “work” to start and adjust as needed.
- Be sure to praise your child when they complete a task or are behaving the way you would like them to behave. You will get MORE of the behavior that you praise. For example, “You are being so helpful by matching those socks.” or “You worked so hard to collect all of those trucks!” Talking about each truck is great to promote language development, too.
- Finally, make it a priority! Being in nature for a hike or playing outdoors reduces stress, and the exposure to sunlight and exercise helps to improve sleep therefore strengthening our immune systems. Find 20 minutes every day, even during a light rain shower, to be outside with your children. Stomp in the puddles together. Sing a song while you walk. Make some positive memories in the stressful time.
This is a challenging period for everyone, so be kind to yourself and to your child. The more practice your child gets being independent, the easier this will become.
Check out on-demand recorded class: Working from Home: How Can I Help My Young Child Play More on Their Own?
By Cora Megan, M.A. and JoAnn Robinson, PhD
Pacifiers are a great aid to self-soothing for infants and toddlers. It replaces using a thumb, the age-old ready-made tool, and is less damaging to developing teeth. Pediatric dentists recommend that by age three years children are weaned from using them.
Getting rid of a pacifier is tricky business. So often we are tempted to trick our children or cut it off without acknowledging their feelings or involving them in the process. We always encourage parents to involve their children in the weaning process as much as possible. Don’t underestimate how aware your child is of their attachment to the pacifier! Here are a few methods that have worked for Peace At Home parents:
- Prior to weaning, acknowledge your child’s feelings. “You love your pacifier! It makes you feel safe and comfortable.” Give them a little warning (3 days is generally good.) “In 3 days it will be time to say goodbye to your pacifier. You may have feelings about it, and that’s OK. You can share your feelings with me.”
- Then we encourage you to give your child a choice in the matter. “Do you want to give your pacifier to X or do you want to do Y?” The outcome of each choice will be the same; in 3 days she will no longer use her pacifier. By consulting your child you are giving them a perceived sense of control which will set you both up for success. Accept any strong feelings with open arms but don’t let the emotions sway the outcome. You can do it!
Acknowledging your child's emotions and giving them the words to describe feelings is a way of building emotional intelligence and strengthening the parent-child connection at the same time.
Remember: this process is no different than any other where your child is encouraged to share feelings.
So what are some X and Y choices to consider? Our parents shared these ideas in a recent conversation on our Private Facebook Page:
- Just before 3 when you're about to be a big kid (e.g., move to a big kid bed), the binkie fairy will trade you all your binkies for a toy.
- “Mail” binkies to a baby that was just starting out because they needed them more.
- Curate a few options on a shopping website, and let your child choose any toy, using his pacifiers to buy it. Tell your child that once they are gone, they would not come back. Put the pacifiers in a mailer (re-used if possible) and while they watch, put an address on the bag (perhaps your mother’s or a friend’s address), with a note inside – “Please throw these away, we’re using them to buy a toy.”
Your child may ask about the binkies or cry a bit but with a few days’ persistence and reassurance that they are able to feel safe without it, your child will let them go.
E-cigarettes and vaping devices are the most recent fad among teens, leaving parents anxious and sometimes paralyzed with fear. This smokeless, odorless and innocuous device makes detection difficult and easily hidden. Every day, over 3,500 youths start vaping. Whether your child is using or not, you can be sure that they are exposed. The importance of making an informed decision is the first line of defence in prevention.
What exactly is Vaping?
Water vapor is emitted from the device instead of smoke. A small heating element turns the liquid into a vapor that is inhaled through a mouthpiece. This vapor is primarily odorless and difficult to detect. Each device requires “pods” that contain nicotine. Nicotine is the addictive substance found in cigarettes and deemed “safe” by kids because of the absences of tar and ash found in tobacco products. Besides nicotine, these devices can contain harmful ingredients, including: ultra fine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs, flavors such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease, and volatile organic compounds. These “pods” are often sold in 6 packs and are marked with flavors that appeal to kids. Depending on how much you vape daily this habit can cost anywhere from $387 to $5000 per year. Products can be easily purchased on line as verified proof of age is not needed.
What’s the problem?
We know that adolescents' brains are under re-construction. Those regions in the brain that guide decision making and impulse control are still developing and not always online. The teen brain also inspires risk taking in ways that can impact health and safety. The long term effects of exposure to nicotine can include addiction, mood disorders, and permanently reduced impulse control. Nicotine can also affect the formation of brain synapses that control attention and learning.
Tips for talking to your kids about vaping
Keep the following in mind.
- Take time to cool off. Engaging in an angry and emotion filled discussion that is a result of a recent discovery or suspicion of your child's use, is counter productive. Step away and collect your thoughts. Avoid accusations, blame and name calling. Stick to the
facts. For example:
- I am deeply upset and worried about your use.
- My main concern is your health and the addictive qualities of vaping.
- We don’t support this and it will not be allowed in our home.
- We will monitor your use and will look through your room and backpack as necessary to keep you safe until you can keep yourself safe.
- Take advantage of teachable moments. Let the news and current events open the dialog. If you have read an article or seen a program, share it with your child. Ask for their point of view on the issues. Make it more about a discussion than a lecture. The more your child knows and the more often you have open dialog about substances, the more likely these conversations will become routine for everyone in the family that it is safe to voice opinions, concerns and questions.
- Stick to the facts. This is important. Avoid judgement about smoking. Teens are already self- conscious and can often feel insecure during this complicated developmental stage. Judging choices made by your child or their friends will close the door to future conversations. Avoid put-downs and criticisms. Using “I Statements” will keep the discussion focused on your feelings about an issue rather than blaming or shaming someone for theirs. For example:
- I am concerned about the health effects related to vaping. From what I have read there are many chemicals and their danger that have yet to be determined. What do you think about this?
- I have noticed many ads and discussions about vaping and the unknown side effects. What have you heard?
- Plan for this to be an ongoing conversation as it is not one that will result in a definitive solution.
- Make rules and expectations clear. Just as you outline and discuss expectations regarding household chores and curfews, plan to be clear about rules and expectations about vaping and other substances. Communicate that you do not approve of use and your related concerns. Make the consequences meaningful and appropriate for the infraction. In addition, transparency about how you will enforce house rules is important. Be honest about how or if you will exercise your right to search their room or backpack as well as other items brought into your home.
- Get an expert involved. Asking your pediatrician or school counselor to speak to your child may be better received and will support and reinforce your messaging and guidance. Assure your child that this discussion will be confidential and not shared outside of the office. There are also many reliable government and professionally curated websites that can shed light on the evolving research.
- Allow for the natural consequences. Learning from the natural consequences their actions can increase teens’ sense of responsibility. Making excuses or interfering with consequences does not help your children in any way. Failure or disappointment at this age as it can prove to be the most impactful lesson and save more harsh consequences later in their young adult life.Keep in mind:
- You know your child best. Educate yourself and use your best judgement when addressing vaping or other substance use with your child.
- Stick to the facts and reserve judgement.
- Make your expectations of family rules and consequences clear.
- Reach out for help for yourself or your child.
- Allow for natural consequences.
Parenting can be challenging and there are no perfect ways to meet your child’s needs. Open communication with your children and the parents of their friends, if possible, can facilitate ongoing education and discussions as well as promoting a unified front.
For more information:
If you are feeling concerned about your child’s involvement with vaping or other substances, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a private coaching session with a Peace At Home expert.
No one can say how long we will be living in isolation. We don’t know if kids will be home from school for a month or if they will end up being home through the summer. What we do know is that children thrive on consistency. Consistent routines lead to more cooperation from kids. More cooperation from kids leads to more productivity for everyone.
To make this time easier for the whole family, create a new schedule and do your best to stick to it. Consider the following as you create a new family routine:
- Communicate Your Plan
Talk to your partner or other caregivers about how you want to create a new family routine while your kids are home from school. Discuss your individual needs and the needs of your children. Then hold a family meeting and communicate your plans with the kids. Let them know that you’re all in this together – you’re all adjusting to a new way of living for a while. Share what you would like your days to look like and ask if they have any thoughts or feelings they would like to share. Listen to their ideas and concerns.
- Start Your Workday Early
Get up at 3:00, 4:00, or 5:00 am, pour a cup of coffee, and start your workday before the kids wake up. Try to get your most important work done first. You’ll be happy to have finished pressing tasks by the time your kids start their day.
- Wake Kids at the Same Time Every Day
Let kids sleep in until a set time (8:00 or 9:00 am). Consistency is essential for young children and maintaining a sleep schedule is important for everyone. Dr. Lynelle Schneeberg, author of Become Your Child’s Sleep Coach: The Bedtime Doctor’s 5-Step Guide, is offering a free, online class about best sleep practices for school-age children. To sign up for her class, click here and look for Be Your Child’s Sleep Coach: Help Your Child Become a Great Sleeper.
- Set the Tone for the Day
With young children, set a playful tone for the day by doing some pretend. Ask your child: “Who do you want to be today? Bobby Bear? Or Little Mouse? Who should I be today? Daddy Bear? Or Poppa Mouse?” After breakfast, take 2-5 minutes to do some yoga and stretching together. Praise your young child’s participation using their pretend character. These moments of mindfulness will help you refuel and can set the tone for a calm start of your schedule. We recommend this guided yoga activity for kids on Spotify: Kira Willey – Dance for the Sun.
- Set Goals for the Day
After breakfast, talk about what each person in the family hopes to get done today. You can include something for school/work and something fun – connecting with a friend, finishing a puzzle, reaching a certain level on a video game, etc. Write down the goals and see what got done at the end of the day. If all the goals weren’t met, discuss what will help kids meet their goals tomorrow.
- Make Challenging Routines More Enjoyable
If waking up is tough, make it more enjoyable by smiling and cuddling for a few minutes. While getting dressed or preparing breakfast, you might try incorporating a song that suits your child’s morning energy – it could be rousing or soothing. If brushing teeth is always a battle, try to make a game out of it.
- Schedule in Connection & Fun
We recommend spending 20 minutes of one-on-one time with kids every day to strengthen connection and decrease misbehavior. Some of children’s misbehaviors are bids for attention. If you fill your child’s “attention bank,” he will be less likely to beg for your attention later – and you will have an easier time sending him off to play alone while you get your work done. If you can’t do it every day, schedule one-on-one time whenever possible.
In addition to family playtime, ask kids who they would like to play with or talk to this week. Then schedule virtual playdates and calls with relatives. Kids can play games like “Battleship” and “Guess Who” virtually if both parties have the game! Take advantage of the time that kids are entertained by someone else to get some of your own work done.
Try to schedule connection and fun after chores and schoolwork as incentive to get those more challenging tasks done.
- Encourage Independence
Once kids understand how to do a routine with your guidance, they can master it and do more of it on their own. Lavish praise for what you liked. “I like that you put your socks on yourself!” Encouraging independence will take some pressure and responsibility off of you.
- Anticipate Emotional Meltdowns
Right now, many people are experiencing anxiety about the future as well as grief about all the things that will no longer happen this year. Your kids are no exception. Check in with them to ask how they feel about everything that’s happening right now and don’t be surprised if they burst into tears when you least expect it. Turn toward your kids’ emotional displays. Hold them, look them in the eyes, and listen to what they have to say. These meltdowns may come at inconvenient times, but do your best to respond with gentleness and compassion.
- Schedule Self-Care
You have a lot on your plate and it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself when worrying about your kids’ needs and your work to-do list. But if you’re caring for yourself, you’ll have more patience and energy for your work and family. Don’t feel guilty about scheduling a little me-time into your weeks – it will end up benefiting the whole family.
Remember, this is new territory for everyone. If you’re a month into isolation, you’re likely just beginning to establish a new “normal.” Don’t put too much pressure on yourself or your family to have it all figured out. Take it day by day and expect there to be some difficult times. For more support, check out our COVID-19 Parent Toolbox.
You are usually so good at monitoring your child’s screen time. Maybe you practice Tech-Free Tuesday, or you limit video games to an hour, or you keep phones out of the bedrooms. But ever since the Coronavirus pandemic hit, you’re feeling like you’re losing the screen time battle.
Kids are now home from school, but still “going to school” online. That means they’re spending more time than usual in front of screens. On top of school, kids can only socialize virtually. And with the added free time, they are likely playing more video games and aimlessly scrolling through social media more than usual.
As a parent, you may be concerned about the effects of all this screen time on your kids. Take a deep breath. We’re here to help you create new screen time rules to get you through the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Think Screen Usage, Not Screen Time
For a long time, we’ve been talking about the effects of screen time on our kids. But the reality is that not all screen time is equal. Time spent doing schoolwork online or connecting with family virtually is more valuable than time spent watching certain TV shows or playing certain video games.
Brainstorm all your family’s screen uses – consider including your partner or other adults involved in parenting. Make a big list. Then, take a look at the list and choose the things you think are necessary and/or valuable – like school, work, and FaceTiming grandparents. These things do not need to be limited, though you may decide they only happen at certain times of the day. Identify uses that you do want to limit as well – like social media or television.
- Invite Kids into the Conversation
Hold a family meeting and bring your list of screen uses. Assure kids that your main priority right now it to keep your family mentally and physically healthy. Let them know that you think it’s important for everyone to get outside, exercise, and do other activities without screens every day. Tell them that you understand the importance of connecting with friends and family virtually, and that you want to work together to come up with a plan to manage screen usage. Share your list and ask if you’ve missed anything. Then, ask which activities they want to be allowed to use their devices for regularly and how much time they want for these activities.
After hearing everyone’s opinions, make a plan together. Write out a weekly schedule if your family doesn’t already have one. Include school, work, family meals, exercise and play. Then identify times in the day when family members have free time to use their devices in any way they choose. Try to agree on this plan together. If you can’t come to an agreement, parents get to decide. Try your plan for a week and then reevaluate.
- Refrain from Criticism
Try to stay positive and curious. By asking about games and apps kids use, you will learn more about their interests and they will feel understood by you.
Refrain from criticizing your family members’ screen uses. Do your best to avoid language like, “I hate that game you play,” “Those videos you watch on TikTok are all stupid,” and “We didn’t have cell phones when I was a kid and I turned out fine – you’re lucky I let you use one at all.” Even if you’re thinking those things, try not to say them. Those comments probably won’t increase cooperation or connection.
- Think about Video Games Differently
Many parents get into arguments with their kids when asking them to turn off video games. Kids don’t want to stop playing because they’re in the middle of something. But parents want their kids to transition to the next task.
Rather than putting a time limit on video games, consider asking your child what their goal is for the day. Explain that they are allowed to meet that goal and then they have to stop playing until tomorrow. It’s also a good idea to ask kids to explain how to play the game, what they like about it and what’s challenging. If you don’t know much about video games, let your child teach you something. This will strengthen your relationship and you’ll be able to tell when your child has reached their goal. Praise kids for stopping when they said they would.
You may want to think about when you are allowing kids to play video games as well. If they’re playing right before dinner, you may be yelling and nagging to get them off the game and over to the table. And if they get to play right before doing chores, it may be nearly impossible to get them to transition. Try to schedule gaming time after a less enjoyable task, like doing chores. And if you move into asking kids to set goals for their game time, you’ll have to be flexible with the start time of the next activity.
- Allow for Exceptions to the Rules
Maybe you don’t want your kids watching TV for hours on end, but you have an important meeting today and it seems like the only way to keep kids from disrupting your work. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and you probably can’t ask a babysitter to come over. Let the kids watch a little extra TV if it’s the only way to get your work done.
Maybe your kids usually have limited video game time, but it’s now the only way for them to talk to their friends. There is value in socializing and working together to accomplish a goal virtually. More video game time than usual is okay right now. When life gets back to normal, remind kids of the importance of socializing in person.
Be gentle and realistic with yourself and your family. This is new territory for everyone, and tensions are already high without added arguments about screens. You may not like how often your kids are on screens – remember that this will not last forever. You can remind kids of that too. You’re allowing them to use their devices more than usual, but the old rules will be back when we’re out of quarantine.
We hope these ideas lead to connection, health, and peace in your home. For more tips about managing screen time, watch our online class Rethink Screen Time: Navigating the New Normal.