Wednesday, August 12, 2020

How to Help Kids Starting School for Fall 2020

With kids starting back in school this fall (and some that have already started), there are many different versions of what schools and students are doing this year.

Hybrid, virtual only pre-recorded, virtual only live classes, essential worker full time on-campus, some starting virtual then going in-person.  There are so many options, but no matter what your school is doing, it's going to all be different.

And each age has it's own struggles from Kindergarten and 1st graders learning to read, to elementary students needing lessons and one-on-one constant attention, to middle school and high schoolers missing the social skills, etc.  Not to mention children who rely on the food and meals given in public schools, to those without the parental support at home.

What can you do to help ease into this and lessen their anxiety?

1) Remember that anxiety feeds off uncertainty!  The more uncertain you feel, the more anxious you will be. No one knows when this pandemic will end or what the school year will bring, so we have to embrace the unknown, and expect worry to show up from it.  Easier said than done, I know!

But just call the worry by a name for your kids, and learn to talk to it. Say things like, "Yes, I know it's scary to not know what will happen and not have the answers, so when you feel that little butterfly in your tummy just say, 'oh hello there XYZ, I knew you would show up, it's going to be okay. Let's take a breath together and move on to our next activity'" etc.  Ignoring it won't make it go away, so just acknowledge it and them move on matter of factly.

2) Prepare your kids for any in-person school day. Talk to them about wearing a mask and the importance of staying 6 feet away from others. 6 feet is like a bicycle length away. Some schools have made video instructions kids can watch on how a day will look with wearing a mask or shield.

Talk to your kids about how to take a mask on or off if needed, how not to touch their faces and other things.  One good idea is to have an essential oil put on inside of it, such as lavender to help calm any anxiety.

Also of note too is to talk about if their mask comes off by accident or another child takes theirs off as well, or any other 'what if' scenario that could go wrong. We don't want to cause any additional anxiety, so teach them that mistakes happen, so if something goes wrong, what you can do about it?  Because believe me, there will be a lot of mistakes going on with social distancing when school starts!

If going in-person, go over how drop off and pick up will look like, carpool lines, eating lunch, walking down the hallways, how to ask for help from a teacher, etc.  

There will definitely be a lot of planning involved in this new normal on school campuses. New ways to go to the bathroom, washing hands, going to recess, etc.

As for masks, there are a lot of options out there, so you can Google things like 'breathable masks for kids' and accessories such as these expanders:

3) If learning virtually, take the time to set up a work station.

Desks are sold out everywhere lately, even at Ikea, but finding something that will fit in your lifestyle and your child is best so they can work under the most ideal conditions.  Whether it's a workstation in the kitchen, or if that has too many distractions, in their bedroom with the door closed, etc.

Have all their supplies within reach, such as pencils, notebooks, etc.

Invest in Google Wi-Fi routers for internet if needed to get the best connections around your house

Have all of the passwords, and websites typed up and posted if needed for logging onto their lessons

Have a schedule posted by their desk so they know what lessons they have for the week

Take the time to prepare your schedule as well, whether you are working at home, or a full time teacher/parent. You need to prepare your schedule for any work meetings, when to eat lunch, going on a walk to decrease your anxiety, dinner, activities, etc.

4) Start going to bed early a week before school starts.  Even though they may be learning from home, they will be starting school around 8 or 8:30am and need a good night's sleep. They have been relaxed all summer and need a week to get back to normal!  And kids benefit best on bedtime routine (more on that later).

5) Let's talk about how to decrease their anxiety:

-Routine!  Kids THRIVE on routine. They crave structure and do best when they have that in place, so going back to school should help decrease some of that anxiety (with schedules, etc). Again, knowing what comes next is huge in decreasing anxiety.  It's the unknown that increases it.  So help with any transitions you can.

-Worrying about school, Covid-19, etc is not problem solving.  If you 'what if'' constantly, give yourself a break. Stop imagining what things will look like.

-Worry does not prepare you, it just keeps you up at night!

-We all are feeling the stress of the pandemic. I barely have time for myself during the day, so at night after they get to bed is when I check emails, write blog posts, etc. And then I have to get sleep or I am not a happy person the next day, so that means maybe 1 hour of 'me' time at night- to watch TV that is not PG, or do anything that I wasn't able to do during the day. Okay, I could go on, but seriously, we are ALL feeling the stress, and kids may be feeling it even more than the grown-ups.

-One thing we need to remind ourselves is that kids feed off of our stress and anxiety. Try as hard as you can to not project your stress onto your kids. And it goes without saying to keep the news off as much as possible.

-Parents that are too controlling do not help with anxiety, it makes it worse.  Controlling your kids too much is a guarantee to cause anxiety in kids.  Try to foster as much independence in your kids as possible. Name 4-5 things you do for your kids, and try to knock off 1 or 2 things that they can do for themselves. If they take their plate to the sink, now have them wash the plate and put it in the dishwasher! 

 -Anxiety is contagious, learn ways to help control yours so it doesn't spill onto your kids.

6) Questions to ask yourself to help your kids as they transition to homeschool or Social Distance school:

-What supports does the child need?

-Social child vs. non-social?  If your child is super social, it's going to be hard for them to sit back and not be able to do all the normal things they are used to. What can you do to help them?

-Schools are full of routines and rituals such as Friday Night Football games, Homecoming, 1st Day of School Kindergarten Drop-Off, Talent Shows, Sports, etc.  We have to be creative and invent new ones, what will they look like? Time to get creative :)

-How can we promote socialization with kids? Extra Zoom meetings, socially distanced outdoor playdates? Riding bikes 6 feet away? Having Zoom games such as Monopoly or Clue? Having a SD picnic outdoors?

-How can preschoolers learn to interact socially? It's so hard for a 2 or 3 year-old to understand they can't hug their friends or run up and play with a child.  It's such a tough age for them going through this.  Maybe have a painting party outside, throwing down some blankets and let them paint and get dirty outside? Still hoping for cooler temperatures so we can do more of these things!

There are no easy answers to any of this as things seem to change on a daily basis!  But again, it's best to take it day by day, realize we are all in this together and we have to just take things day by day.  Don't stress over tomorrow.  I think we all have realized our kids are going to all be behind a little bit this year, but honestly I think it's a good thing we all needed to slow down as it was.  Our culture has been so fast moving the past 10 years, (forcing early reading in Kinder, elite sports in 1st grade, social media, etc) that a little break in the year has been a good thing for our family!

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Books for Raising Race Conscious Children

Covid-19 has had us all under stress since March, and then came the police killing of George Floyd.  So many emotions with this one and so much pain across our country.  2020 has been a tough year and it's only June.

With the police brutality that's been going on for years, in addition to overall racism in our country, it's a hard topic to talk to our children about.  It's not easy and how much you divulge depends on their age and what they can handle.  I think if you haven't already, starting with the discussion about slaves and mistreatment in our American history is a good place to begin.  Then you can talk about what racism is, and how unfortunately people still have a hatred towards people because of the color of their skin.  And how someone we hope can protect us, the police, unfortunately are racist and a few of them hurt a man, killed a man, just because he was black.  Sigh.  Just writing that is hard.  It's a hard topic for adults, and not easy for children to comprehend!

So, as a therapist, I love bibliotherapy. We have a collection of books at our house that raise awareness of differences and some on the history of slavery.  Starting with some of these can hopefully help children learn about race and diversity and start great family discussions.

1) Wilma Rudolph. I love this book series of famous people, and this one is about the famous Olympic runner who overcame Polio and lived in the segregated South.

2) Ada Twist Scientist is about a little girl with a lot of questions, and learns the value of thinking and STEM skills.

3) Josephine Baker Another one from Little People, Big Dreams, about Josephine Baker who struggled to have a career as a black woman in America, and took off to find her dreams in Paris@

4) Who Was Harriet Tubman?


5) The Snowy Day. The classic story about the boy who wanted to take home a snowball in his pocket!

6) Who was Sojourner Truth?


7) Martin's Big Words is a great children's book for an introduction to his life.  We read it every year around MLK, Jr. Day.

8) A Girl Named Misty is a sweet book from American Girl Doll about the life of the famous African American ballerina!

9) The Story of Ruby Bridges is about a little girl having to deal with school segregation.

10) Wilma Unlimited is another book about how Wilma defeated Polio, a great inspirational book!

Let us know what cultural and racially diverse books you have for kids!
Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Family Movie Nights

If you've been searching for more and more family movies, like we have, I found a great list!  I also  I ordered some movie supplies from Amazon (see below) and some free printables online to have a fun movie night with the kids last week.

As far as movies go, it's always good to take your child's sensitivities into consideration. Some kids can handle certain scenes better than others, so you can always check Common Sense Media for reviews.  And for all of the beloved 80's movies, I've realized a lot have bad words or words like (ass) in them and are still rated PG :).

Family Movies:

A League of the Own
Akeelah and the Bee
Alexander and the Terrible, No good, Very Bad Day
Annie (original)
Blue Velvet
Bridge to Tarabitha
Charlotte’s Web
Cheaper by the Dozen 1,2
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Cinderella (new one)
Cool Runnings
Cops and Robertsons
Crocodile Hunter

Curly Sue
Decendants (Disney)
Despicable Me 1,2
Dolphin Tale
Dr. Doolittle (original)
Enders Game
Escape to Witch Mountain
Evan Almighty
Facing the Giants
Father of the Bride
Finding Nemo
Flight of the Navigator
Flubber (original)
Forever Strong
Free Willy 1-4
Harry Potter
Herbie the Love Bug (original)
Home Alone 1,2,3
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
Indiana Jones
Into the Woods
Judy Moody
Karate Kid (original)
Kit Kitridge
Lego Movie
Little Giants
Little Rascals
Mary Poppins
McFarland USA
Mighty Ducks
Milo and Otis
Mr. Poppers Penguins
Mrs. Doubtfire
Nacho Libre
Nanny McFaddin
Nanny McPhee
Napoleon and Samantha
Napoleon Dynamite
National Treasure
National Treasure 2
Neverending Story
Night at the Museum 1,2 3
Nim’s Island
Operation Dumbo Drop
Parent Trap (original)
Patch Adams
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
Polar Express
Princess Diaries (all)
Remember the Titans
Richie Rich
Rookie of the Year
Savannah Smiles
Sharkboy and Lava Girl
Shirley Temple
Sound of Music
Spy Kids
Stand By Me
Star Wars
Swiss Family Robinson
Teen Beach Movie 1,2
The Apple Dumpling Gang
The Big Green
The Blindside
The ButterCream Gang
The Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoes
The Gameplan
The Goonies
The Librarian (series with Noah Wyle)
The Mask
The Odd Life of Timothy Green
The Pacifier
The Perfect Game
The Princess Bride
The Rookie
The Sandlot
The Way to School (on Netflix)
Tooth Fairy
Toy Story
Watcher in the Woods
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken
Willy Wonka
Wizard of Oz
Wreck it Ralph
Yours, Mind and Ours

Here are some fun popcorn boxes to buy:

And you can order fun Movie Candy here

Anyone have a favorite movie to watch with your kids??
Friday, April 24, 2020

Fighting the Virus Children's Book, Free!

I came across a therapist's book on the Coronavirus and found it to be super helpful!  It not only talks about what the virus is, but explains all the BIG feelings kids are having about having to social distance, not see their friends, etc.  It's called Trink and Sam: Fighting the Big Virus.  It's free and downloadable here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Sibling Rivalry (and Couple Rivalry) During Shelter at Home

Being stuck at home during this pandemic can bring on more family stress, sibling rivalry and grown-ups having disagreements!  We all enjoy quiet family time, but too much togetherness ALL DAY LONG, can make anyone want to pull their hair out.  If you were working outside the home before, just being away from home was a break, or maybe you were a stay at home parent and had a mother's day out break.  Now?  No breaks and everyone wanting to kill each other.  Not to mention the growing anxiety we are all feeling- The fear of getting sick and not knowing when our shelter-in-place will end.

With parents trying to homeschool while working at the same time, or trying to get anything done, siblings are a given to not get along. Sometimes I just want Nanny Netflix to take over, because let's be honest, turning on the TV zones them out and there is a a sense of calm (as soon as they stop fighting over which show to watch that is).

So, while being inside at home all day, here are a few tips to help with Sibling Rivalry,:

1) Plan a family meeting, no matter their age so they know what is expected of them during this time inside. Kids LOVE structure, routines and knowing what is expected of them.  Want to see kids act out? Not knowing their limits and expectations.

       During the meeting, empathize how hard it is to be inside most of the day, and how it's normal for them to feel anxious, tired, moody, etc.

       Go over what each family member can do to help.  Tell them we are all going to have to help more at home. Suggest things such as, "instead of just bringing your plate to the sink, help wash it in the sink and put in the dishwasher, etc."

      Talk about how everyone can get on each other's nerves, even Mommies and Daddies.  Talk about taking time-ins: going to their own rooms, or if they share a room, have a space they can go to be alone for awhile.  Encourage breaks!

     Then have the kids come up with ideas for other routine things like meal times, tv times, school, etc. even if they are 3,  they can give their opinions :)

2)   Make a sibling bulletin board, or wall or use your fridge to stick notes for "catching them being good".  When you see them treating each other kindly, write it down and put a sticky note up on the wall! When there are 5 or 10 each (depending on age) give them a silly reward (extra story at bedtime, baking something fun, having a pillow fight, etc.)

3) See if you can get them to take pictures of each other goofing around that you can print out and put up on the bulletin board to create a sense of having fun with each other!

4) Have regular alone times away from each other.  If you discussed this in the family meeting, talk about places where they can go for a 'time-in.'

5) Have them settle their differences on their own if no one is getting hurt physically!  They won't accuse you of taking sides either :) Plus it teaches them how to come up with a good solution, which is what we are trying to teach them to do to become adults, right?  If they still insist on help, then listen to each side, repeat back what each said so they are heard and then say, "It sounds like you both feel the other was wrong, and I trust you can come up with a solution that will work!" :)

*Side note on screen time: try not to let them play too many violent video games, it can backfire and make the kids more aggressive towards each other.

How can the Grown-Ups stay sane too?

1) Make sure you are taking alone time breaks.  Parents need sanity breaks too! Steal away 15 minutes of alone time here and there during the day.  Even if you need to turn the TV on for the kids, or let them get on a device or video play games.  It's okay during this stressful time to allow more screen time.

 2) If you are feeling stressed around your partner, recognize it and admit you are feeling overwhelmed.  It's easier to have compassion towards someone when they admit they are feeling worried, rather than lashing out in anger.  So admit you're scared or worried instead.  If your partner didn't practice great cleaning skills with the groceries or packages, instead of yelling at them, tell them you are upset and worried about keeping the family safe.

3) Try to wake up a few minutes before the kids and sit quietly in peace before you start your day.  And don't start your day consumed with coronavirus related news.

4) Be kind to yourself and allow your own fear and anxiety.  Mood swings are common during prolonged stress.  Allow yourself  to feel these feelings, and it will help you bring more kindness to your partner as well. Shutting out these feelings keep them bottled up inside ready to explode.  Journal or take a warm bath to help relax.

5)  Take it one day at a time.  This experience of being sheltered at home is new for all of us!!  Don't worry if the trash isn't taken out, or school work wasn't done.  Give yourself a break and things will feel a little less stressful with your partner/family.

As a family here are a couple of ideas to help make the day more cheerful:

1) Encourage everyone to think about, "What are 1-3 things that brightened your day today?"  Maybe it was when your partner heated up your coffee for you, or your child gave you a hug!
Write them out and stick them on a marker board, talk about them at dinner, or write in a notebook.

2) Another meal time question can be, "What is one unexpected thing that happened today, and how did you solve it?" This is a technique from an anxiety expert, Lynn Lyons, who says it helps kids and adults learn to decrease anxiety by showing they are in charge of something, and not your anxiety.  Anxiety loves to be the boss and take over, so this empowers people to be in control.

3) Play hide and seek.  I know this is an old classic, but in the middle of the day, have everyone take a break and have the kids hide and the adults seek!  It will bring a much needed time out from daily stress and lots of laughs!

What do you do to help your kids and partner stay sane?

Friday, April 3, 2020

Coronavirus Coloring Book and Time Capsule

I just came across a coloring book made especially for the Covid-19 Virus for kids by St. Judes.  You can download it here for free!  It's a great way to talk to your kids about the virus, and start a conversation about how to stay safe.

I also encourage the idea of your kids being the super-heroes and battling the virus by washing their hands, practicing social distancing and covering their mouths when they sneeze and cough!  You can have them draw a picture of their super-hero!

Another great activity I found to do is a time capsule! It's a printable you can do with worksheets to fill out and bury it or keep it in a scrapbook!  Click here to download.
No photo description available.

I also found a Coping After a Disaster coloring book you can download here.  It talks about how it's not a child's fault, touches on feelings and calming techniques.  A great activity to do while we are all at home this weekend!

EPIC Insider: Coping With a DisasterSt. Jude Coronavirus coloring book

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Helping Kids/Teens and Adults with Anxiety During Covid-19

If you haven't suffered from anxiety before, then I am sure you are feeling it now.  Anxiety is worry and I think it's safe to say we are all having some worry right now with Covid-19!  The pandemic is something we have no idea how long, how widespread or catastrophic it will be.  Which means we are uncertain of the future = anxiety.

Anxiety feeds off of UNCERTAINTY.  Any time we don't feel like we have control over something,  or feel uncertain, we worry.  And Covid is the definition of uncertainty.  We have no end in sight.

If adults are feeling it, then kids and teenagers are as well.  How do you handle it for your kids and for you?  With my training and some great advice from Lynn Lyons and others with the Association for Play Therapy, I combined it all and came up with a few tips.

How to help kids deal with anxiety during Covid-19

1)  Check in with your kids. Ask them how they are feeling, ask what they have heard about the virus, if they are afraid of getting it, etc?

2) Explain the virus in developmentally appropriate language.  That means young kids (preschool and younger) don't need to know a lot about it.  Just explain that there is a virus that is going around and we are staying home to keep the family safe.  For older kids, explain a little bit more that it is a new virus that came from China, and since it is new and unknown, we have to be safe and stay inside, practice social distancing so we don't spread or catch the germs.

3) Don't immerse yourself in the news, Twitter, stats of the virus, etc.  It's easy to become obsessed. Just a quick daily update is all you need.  We need to model as parents that even in the chaos, we don't have to be caught up in it and become more anxious.

4)  Have your children be a "Super-Hero".  Kids usually never have power, it's always an adult telling them what to do.  This is the time that kids can be powerful and their superhero job is to stay inside and protect people by washing their hands, and not spread germs to older people who aren't as strong and healthy.  You can have them draw a picture of themselves as a superhero getting rid of the virus!  My children drew pictures of themselves kicking the virus :)

5) Stick to a routine. Kids THRIVE on routines.  It helps decrease anxiety!  Children will act out less if they have limits and boundaries and know what comes next.  Make a schedule for your family and stick to it.  Have lunch around the same time too.  Keep the same bedtimes if possible as well.  Have kids get up around the same time but you can be a little flexible too.  Kids need their rest, to stay healthy as well as to decrease anxiety and meltdowns.

So if school starts at 9am, they can get out of bed at 8:30.  Have them eat breakfast, brush teeth and get dressed.  As adults we need to do the same thing.  I have my pajamas that I'd love to keep on all day, but I will change into my 'lounge clothes' like sweatpants and a t-shirt.  You can be a little more flexible too and feed them breakfast for dinner.  But also try to have them go to bed around the same time each night as if things were still the same.  Plus adults need our alone time to watch our R-rated binge shows when the kids go to

5) Have your kids keep a journal.  It can help ease their worries on paper.  Sometimes it's easier for kids to write than to talk to you.  And now is a good time to write about their experiences as it will be amazing to look back on in 10 years! My grandmother lived through the Spanish Flu and it's interesting to hear her talk about how her family survived it.  (She is 100!)

7) Empathize with your kids!  These feelings they have of being scared, sad, and angry can be overwhelming for them and us, but let them feel them!  Let your teens be angry with you for not letting them socialize with their friends.  We can't eliminate anxious feelings.  When we have these 'bad' feelings, allow them, accept them as normal feelings, then do something to reboot them such as going for a walk, coloring, playing with play-doh, and other moving activities, so we don't ruminate (think over and over) about them too much.

8) Have your kids and teens get connected to others!  Facetime or Zoom friends and family; play a virtual game with family such as Yahtzee, Uno, etc.

9) Give them more autonomy in the home.  Having them help out at home helps decrease anxiety.  Have them do more of their normal laundry steps, dishes, bathroom chores and help with the pets, etc.  We don't expect the house to be perfect and clean, but being home more means the house is getting used a lot and it needs to be cleaned more.

10) Get Moving!  Kids, teens and adults all need to move. Movement helps decrease anxiety.  We can use this as a Reboot- we can't get rid of anxiety, as that is not possible, but we can reboot/restart.  Go for a bike ride, get out that old exercise trampoline for indoor jumping, get a jump rope, do online exercise videos for kids and adults, drive to a park you can walk around in if you don't have a backyard.

11) For teens, they are having a hard time now not being with their friends.  Developmentally, they have a sense of immortality- they think they are okay texting and driving or drinking and driving- that it doesn't pertain to them.  Almost like the egocentric stage of toddlers.  Explain to them that this is about helping our community.  The impact is beyond them, it's for everyone.  Let them be angry with you about having to stay away from friends, that's okay.

12) Role model for our kids good coping skills!  Talk about a mild worry you have, give it a name and talk to it as a role play.  For example, tell them you are worried about not getting enough sleep and name it 'sleepyhead'.  Talk to 'sleepyhead' and tell her she needs to move over, not be the boss of me and let me get some sleep!  Show them it won't boss them around.

*Also on the role model note, try not to teach your kids and teens that alcohol is the answer, even if you say it jokingly.  We don't want them to learn that drinking alcohol is how you cope through chaos and stress.  It's okay to have your glass of wine or beer at dinner, but you don't have to talk about how it's the only thing getting you through this right now.

Also remember it's more important that our kids will remember how we bonded with them during this time at home, not how much they learned homeschooled or if they broke a rule.  Be there for them, give them extra hugs, hot chocolate and cuddling.

How to cope with anxiety as an adult and parent:

1) Try to go to bed and get up at the same time each day

2) Don't become too obsessed with the news, Twitter, CNN, etc.  It can overwhelm you reading the statistics, especially before bed!  Just get a brief update in the mornings is best.

3) Make sure you have some downtime for yourself. Whether you live alone working from home, or with family and managing a household, schedule an hour out of the day to do something mindless. Read a funny novel, a magazine, adult coloring books, etc.  I try to set aside an hour in my day to go to my bedroom, shut the door and read a book/magazine or journal.

4) Do yoga every day!  It will help calm you down and ease stress.  Plan it the same time each day and stick to it.  I started doing yoga in high school and did the old school method of Hatha yoga that was super slow and more meditation style.  There are so many variations out there now, but I prefer the stretching kind that helps relax you, not power yoga.  You can find a 30 day yoga routine on You Tube, or google Hatha or Raja yoga.

5) When you feel overwhelmed or anxious, stand up and go outside for fresh air. I know this sounds easy to do, but sometimes when we get anxious, we panic and freeze up and forget the most obvious thing!  Belly breathing helps as well.  Breath in while your stomach caves out, then breath out as your stomach caves in and pushes the air out.

6) Journal.  Write down your thoughts and fears.  It helps lessen the anxiety overload in your head.

7) Socialize on Facetime or Zoom.  Even if you live in a house of 10 people, call a friend, reach out to relatives, plan a book club via Zoom, or a guys' poker game!

8) Eat Healthy!  It's so easy to stress eat and bake cookies during this time.  Believe me, I am tempted every day to bake chocolate chip cookies.  But unhealthy foods make us feel worse.  Research shows how our moods are affected by what we eat.  I know it's hard to find food out there during this crises, but try to stick to healthy fruits and veggies.  When I need a snack I try to go for a clementine orange or a handful of nuts.  Or a piece of dark chocolate :)

9) Minimize alcohol.  It can increase anxiety and trigger panic attacks.

10) Remember you can't control what is going on. Accept the anxiety as something you can't get rid of and then as we do with kids, reboot it.  Tell yourself it's okay to feel anxious, then start to move and go for a walk, do some jumping jacks, or yoga, etc.

I wish there was some magic potion or words to help it all go away.  As we know with history, this will pass, it just will take some time!  Embrace the slowness we have going on right now.  Embrace the not rushing from activity to activity.  And embrace the ones we love!

Anyone have any words of wisdom?