Pandemic Parenting: Parents Are Struggling Too

Pandemic Parenting: Parents Are Struggling Too

written by Dr. Liz Matheis, posted on Psychology Today

As parents, we have been watching our children struggle since March 2020. We have tried to absorb the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by trying to maintain all of the parts of life that were changing. We’ve turned into teachers, paraprofessionals, magicians, game show hosts, short-order cooks, entertainers, and so much more.

When the pandemic hit, we, as parents, had to juggle a great deal and take on many additional roles. In some homes, the responsibilities were split between both parents, and in others, the responsibilities fell primarily on one parent or the other. Try to balance a full-time job on top of all of the additional roles, and this has been a recipe for impossibility. It should come as no surprise that this pandemic has wreaked havoc on the mental health of parents as well.

The Continued Negative Impact of COVID-19 on our Teens

The Continued Negative Impact of COVID-19 on our Teens

written by Dr. Liz Matheis, published on Psychology Today

KEY POINTS

  • The last two years have had a strong negative impact on adolescents’ mental health.
  • Parents may feel that their children are the only ones who are having a hard time, but they should know that they are definitely not alone.
  • Listen, validate, check in, and seek help if you are not sure how to navigate your child’s struggles.

Moriah Ballingit wrote, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning of an accelerating mental health crisis among adolescents, with more than 4 in 10 teens reporting that they feel ‘persistently sad or hopeless,’ and 1 in 5 saying they have contemplated suicide, according to the results of a survey published Thursday” (The Washington Post, April 1, 2022).

These are staggering statistics and truly speak to the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that led to the world shutting down and closing for so long. This has been a two-year process of managing a virus that has created immediate, short-term, and long-term effects that we could have never anticipated. As the mandates are lessening and our “world” is “opening up,” our children are more confused, anxious, and depressed than ever.

I’m Not Raising a Wilting Flower

I’m Not Raising a Wilting Flower: How to Build Children’s Resilience in the Midst of a Pandemic

written by Dr. Liz Matheis, published on psychology today

This pandemic has challenged every single one of us. Children, teens, adults: we all have had to balance an extra set of life demands that have been outside the scope of any other life experience we have had thus far. I often pose a question to help us realize that we don’t have a former life experience to reference right now: “How many pandemics have we lived through? Just one and, hopefully, only one!”

As a mom and a psychologist, I have watched my own children and others collectively struggle with isolation, loneliness, anxiety, academics, and reintegrating into a world that is slowly opening back up. We know that adolescents are very self-focused and believe they are on display on their imaginary stage where everyone is watching (aka the imaginary audience). Add the computer camera, masks, and social distancing, and we have a lot of confusion, stagnation in the development of skills, anxiety, and depression.

Adolescence is already a period of intense growth, identity building, and emotional chaos as it is. Add a pandemic into the mix, and that is a lot of intense emotion to process on top of the usual “stuff.” It’s a lot more to unravel and work through alongside the “regular” milestones to develop.

So how do we, as parents, build children who can use this experience to develop a sense of self and strength? How do we raise children who are not going to fall apart when presented with a challenge? How are we going to grow children who can face stress and use it to find their inner strength? Resilience isn’t born; it’s bred. As parents, we can play a role in building resilient children who aren’t going to break down each time they are faced with a life stressor, big or small.

The Great Unmasking

The Great Unmasking

by Dr. Liz Matheis

As a mother and psychologist, I have actively been a part of the incredibly damaging impact of masks and virtual learning. The number of our children, teens and young adults who have been and continue to suffer is immense and heartbreaking. Our children have been living in an upside-down world with significant change for a prolonged period of time and the negative effects are  loud and clear right now.

In speaking with and working with many teens during this pandemic, I have heard the following about their experience with school:

  • Everyday feels the same
  • It’s horrible
  • It’s boring
  • I have headaches from staring at my computer all day
  • I didn’t even change my clothes. I was in pajamas all day
  • I am distracted
  • I’m not listening to any lesson or discussion
  • It’s really easy to tune out and nobody will know
  • In the classroom, if I lose focus, my teacher will notice
  • There is no accountability when I’m home
  • I’m not seeing friends
  • I’m not talking to friends
  • I’m sad because I can’t see my friends
  • There’s no spontaneity
  • I miss spontaneous gatherings and plans
  • I missed my graduation
  • I missed my prom
  • I missed my field trips
  • I missed having my birthday party

These are some big thoughts from our children who are begging for the return of our pre-pandemic life. Our children are feeling anxious, depressed, socially anxious and awkward more so than ever. Their attention and focus are poor, and their study skills are almost non-existent. We have had to start from the beginning as of September 2021. One and a half years of lost instruction, lost skills, lost interactions and lost spontaneity of life.

Keep Schools Open

Please, keep the doors open to our schools. As much as is humanly possible, avoid virtual learning. It’s creating flashbacks, sadness and anxiety that started in 2020 and continues to haunt us now.  Keep kids in school so they can sit in the classroom, receive instruction face to face, walk through the school halls, and scurry when the bell rings. 

Keep the Masks Off!

I’m speaking from a focus on mental health. Masks don’t allow us to see each other’s gentle eye expressions and squints that match a scrunchy nose and smiling mouth. We can’t see each other’s pout, anger, contentment, sadness, or whatever may come. Our kids can’t see their teacher’s facial expressions either which is a huge part of academic instruction. When a teacher is excited about a topic, the body language and matching facial expressions are remembered strongly and make an impact on learning.  

Within the classroom, teachers can’t always tell who is speaking or what is being said because they can’t see each other’s mouths while we speak. There is a disconnect between our eyes and ears in that a great deal of conversation is matching the words that are coming out of another person’s mouth with the sound of them. We are missing big chunks of information that is a natural part of our give and take interactions between humans.

Our children also need to sit next to each other, whisper secrets, sit in huddles, walk side by side. Our kids need that closeness and sensory feedback to maintain their emotional well-being. So much of that has been taken away and it’s starting to show.

Put Away the Computers 

Please, no more learning through computers. Turn them off as much as possible. Revert back to pencil and paper. Write on the board or the smartboard. Work on projects in groups. Create posterboard or PowerPoint presentations.  But, please, shut it down and allow the interactions to be more human based. More conversation, discussion, sharing ideas and experiences. Close the laptop and look at each other.  

Virtual learning doesn’t work. I know this firsthand. My 9-year-old (now in 3rd grade) could, in theory, return to first grade because this hasn’t worked. Google forms and uploading documents isn’t education. It’s unnatural. My 13-year-old doesn’t know how to study for a test. My 15-year-old is finally learning how to manage the multiple moving parts of being in high school.  

The other thing that has happened is our children have forgotten how to take notes, study for tests, and keep track of their assignments. Their executive functioning skills haven’t been developed.

To no fault of anyone anywhere, pandemic learning hasn’t been effective. Our children will benefit academically, emotionally, socially and behaviorally if they can be in school, without masks and without computers.

Rebuilding Children’s Social Skills During COVID

Rebuilding Children’s Social Skills During COVID

written by Dr. Liz Matheis, posted on Psychology Today

Since the beginning of our pandemic, we have become more socially isolated.

At first, there was an immense relief for children with social anxietybecause they were not allowed to get together in groups, and staying away from others became the norm.

However, as social creatures, social isolation has resulted in a backward slide on social skills. Children have been instructed to stay away from their peers and to maintain physical distance.

They wear masks to school, which takes away facial expressions inherent to daily interactions. Sarcasm or humor is often lost, especially when they can’t see a person’s lips move while speaking. People sound like they’re mumbling most of the time and a joke can be lost when it has to be repeated.

The idea of having to re-build children’s social skills became abundantly evident when I was having a conversation with my 15-year-old son who shared that he and his friends are re-learning how to interact with groups. He is re-learning how to interact at a birthday party, how to make small talk, start a conversation, end a conversation, initiate plans, and incorporate different groups.

Why Kids’ Anxiety Is at an All-Time High

Why Kids’ Anxiety Is at an All-Time High

written by Dr. Liz Matheis, published on Psychology Today

Here we are, one year and 8 months after the start of the pandemic, still battling its effects, and we are exhausted and overwhelmed. Our children, teens, and young adults continue to hear about new variants of the virus, which makes us believe that this is not over yet.

Adults, parents, and children everywhere are struggling with heightened levels of anxiety and as mental health professionals, there is more need than there is supply. We are seeing the anxiety across the lifespan. Isolation has led to feelings of anxiety and ultimately sadness as there seems to be a little end in sight.

What about the COVID-19 pandemic has created such heightened levels of anxiety for so many of our children?

An Open Letter to Administrators on the Upcoming School Year

An Open Letter to Administrators on the Upcoming School Year

written by Dr. Liz Matheis, published on Psychology Today

Dear school administrators,

I want to start by saying this is not a letter to place blame or fault. It is a letter to give you perspective about my children and many other children who returned to school in September 2021.

From March 2020 to June 2021, many of these children were on an educational hiatus. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that you didn’t try, or that you didn’t struggle to make difficult decisions every day to keep school doors open and children safe. I thank you because I know you didn’t sleep, felt incredibly distressed, and worried a great deal—and yet you showed up every day.

How many pandemics have we lived through before this? For the vast majority of us, the answer is none. We all did the best that we could to balance the demands of our children, our jobs, and our mental health. Many of you also have children of your own. The demand was unbearable and again, I thank you.

Kudos to all of us that have made it this far. But I want to give you a little insight and feedback about why so many children are struggling so much this school year. Some are failing, some are falling behind, some don’t care, and many care, but don’t understand why they are failing or why school is so difficult this year.

How to Protect Yourself as an Empath

3 Ways to Protect Yourself as an Anxious Empath

by Dr. Liz Matheis, published on www.themighty.com

Anxiety is an incredibly pervasive feeling that impacts every part of our functioning. It impacts our decisions, our thoughts, our feelings, our assessments and, most importantly, our perception of ourselves. Anxious people are some of the most caring and thoughtful people who just want to do right by others. Anxious thoughts are mean. They lie. They tell us things about ourselves that just aren’t true, even when we make decisions that are based on the well-being of others before ourselves.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety has peaked and has become overwhelmingly debilitating for people of all ages — small children, pre-teens, teens, young adults, adults and parents. Because most people who are anxious are also empaths — people who feel more empathy than the average person. In fact, empaths are aware of the feelings that are held by the people around you, whether they are friends, family or even strangers.

Your Post Pandemic Recovery

Your Post Pandemic Recovery

by Dr. Liz Matheis posted on Psychology Today

With the beginning of the 2020 pandemic world shut down almost 16 months behind us, it’s time to reflect on how much our lives have changed in what felt like an eternal and laborious year. Our mental health has suffered, whether you are a parent, a teen, a young adult, an adult, or a child. Pat yourself on making it this far. It’s time to recover from the upheaval we have lived through.

So. Much. Change

As human beings whose primary task is to adapt and survive, we have made many changes to the way we think and perceive safety and danger very quickly. Yes, we can adapt, but that was quick – too quick – and our anxiety adapted in an upward fashion too.

Within one year, we have had to adapt to working from home, school from home, entertainment from home, extra-curricular activities from home, shopping from home, and everything from home.

Why We May Feel Burnout Instead of Relief Post-COVID-19

Why We May Feel Burnout Instead of Relief Post-COVID-19

by Dr. Liz Matheis, published in themighty.com

Here we are, post-COVID-19, and although many of us think that our anxiety should begin to subside, what if it isn’t? What if you’re not as relieved as you thought you would be? What if you are not doing the metaphorical happy dance as we begin to gain hope of returning to “normal,” whatever that really means?

It’s been a long 15 months. We have been trying to protect ourselves, our children, our parents and our grandparents from a virus that has an effect that ranges from a cold to not being able to breathe. It’s a frightening virus that has created a level of panic that has permeated and impacted our daily life and mental health immensely. And just like that, we are supposed to let go of all of these safety precautions? I’m not ready. It’s OK. Acknowledge what parts you are not comfortable with and understand that you don’t need to make sudden changes to your routines if you are not ready.

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"The various psycho-educational testing Dr. Liz conducted on our son gave us critical clues about where his learning strengths and weaknesses lie so that his needs could be better addressed at home and school. Moreover, because of their warm, kindhearted personalities, both Dr. Liz and her associate, Stephanie, formed an immediate bond with my son. He eagerly looks forward to his weekly therapy sessions. We are so lucky Dr. Liz came into our family's lives when she did! For stressed-out families trying to help their children as best they can, she is a calming voice of reason!"
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