Keepin’ Our Kids Busy during COVID

Written by Michelle Molle-Krowiak

As of now, we have been homeschooling our children for a couple of weeks. A couple of weeks longer than we had anticipated. Homeschooling is overwhelming for many parents, like myself. As a mom of 4, with two younger children who need a good amount of support to complete their daily assignments, and as a working mom, this is beyond tough and anxiety-provoking.

If you’re like me, I had grand visions and plans for distance learning. I envisioned myself planning ahead and knowing exactly how to instruct on the different subjects. I’m not sure why I thought this as I don’t have training in education!  What I am finding is that I am in an endless battle with hours of daily screen time, while I try to work and instruct at the same time.

I have found a few great games and activities for you to engage in with your children from @BigLifeJournal (www.biglifejournal.com). I’ve broken down the suggestions into toddlers, early elementary and late elementary-aged children.

At the end of the day, please try to set your guilt aside as we are not trained to teach our children, and we certainly can’t expect to multi-task two very big demands. Be forgiving of yourself, try to avoid holding the expectation that you will be able to give your child the same number of hours of instruction as to when they were physically attending school. Your time is better invested in creating a schedule that builds in time for your child to engage in some screen time activities, downtime and non-screen/electronic activities, games, and crafts.

 

Toddlers

Animal Hide & Seek

  • Either print pictures of animals and have your child color them, or take stuffed animals or figures of animals and hide them in the house.
  • Give your child clues as to where they could be and go seek them out!

 

I Spy Clean Up Game

  • Tell your child that you ‘spy with your little eye’ different categories of toys that may be lying on the floor in your playroom, family room, kitchen, bedrooms, or wherever and ask him to find those items and place in a labeled bucket so that finding that toy and putting it away is easy

 

Early Elementary

The Floor is Lava

  • Declare that the floor is ‘lava’ and designate a few safe spots.
  • Start the count down and once you hit 1, everyone’s feet must be off of the floor and on something else.

 

Balloon Toss

  • Blow up a balloon and have your child or children try to keep the balloon in the air.
  • If it touches the ground, the game is over.
  • Count the number of times the balloon was hit before touching the ground

 

Late Elementary

Make a Fort

  • Gather up pillows from your bed or the couch, or both, sheets, chairs and build a fort
  • Watch a movie together while in the fort

 

Create an All About Me Board

  • Give your child headings such as:
    • My Favorite Food
    • My Favorite Movie
    • My Favorite Vacation
    • My Favorite Book
  • Let your child create a board theme of their choice
  • This project may take a few hours or complete a little bit each day

Social Distancing- Is There a Silver Lining?

Written by Heidi Borst

Most of us are reeling in the midst of a pandemic we were grossly unprepared for. In the last couple of weeks, our whole world has changed. Daycares, schools, and businesses have closed. The always-bustling cities and towns we live in have come to a screeching halt as we follow our leaders’ instructions to stay home. We are desperate to ‘flatten the curve’ and keep our loved ones, and ourselves, healthy. With an economy in crisis, the fortunate amongst us are able to continue working remotely. Our days are drastically different than they were a mere two weeks ago; we’re grappling with how to maintain some semblance of normalcy to our days, if not for ourselves, for our kids.

First, the gyms and restaurants were shut down, a week later came the playgrounds and parks; athletic courts were padlocked and signs reading “Closed Until Further Notice” were demonstrably hung. Playdates, once the foundation of our children’s social lives, have become taboo. As parents, we’ve been left with no choice but to become our children’s teachers as well as playmates, whether or not the demands of our jobs allow it. It all feels like TOO MUCH.

And yet, with all of the restrictions placed upon us, we have so much to be grateful for. How can we shift our focus to the positive when our entire world has been turned upside down? It’s time to call upon our inner strength and will ourselves not to give in, but instead to get through this. It’s time to buckle down and push forward.

Stop and breathe. Instead of becoming paralyzed by what you can’t do, change your perspective. Focus on what you can do, and on what you have. If you’re holed up with your family, find ways to truly connect with each other. Play games, dance, sing songs, hug one another, talk about how you’re feeling. If you’re alone and the isolation is wearing on you, reach out to a loved one for support. There are so many members of our community who are lending their support to those in need, so just ask. If you’re able, offer your services to someone who may need them, of course always being mindful of your safety and theirs.

Reflect on the small things for which you feel gratitude. Maybe it’s a hot shower, or cupboards stocked with food. Maybe it’s the fact that your family unit is together, healthy and safe. Do everything you can during this crazy time to cultivate moments that nurture your soul- read a book, watch a movie (or binge a whole series), bake some cookies, go for a walk outside, cuddle with your fur baby, play with your kids, Facetime a friend.

More than anything now is the time to ease up on the stress of the expectations we make of ourselves. Instead, make room for self-acceptance and self-love. With so many uncertainties about the upcoming days, weeks, (months?), we have to let go. If we can re-direct the stress we’re feeling, instead of concentrating on a mindset of gratitude, our positivity and resilience will see us through. We’ve got this.

How To Talk To Your Kids About COVID-19

Written by: Marisa Brahney

Let’s admit it—being a parent during this global pandemic has a lot of unforeseen challenges. From trying to work from home while wrangling little ones to homeschooling our bigger kids to keeping our families healthy and safe, it’s all uncharted territory. And while we’re figuring this all out on the fly, our kids are asking questions. My four-year-old is as curious as they come, and I’ve been grappling with how to best explain this on his level. How can we put aside our own fears about this uncertain, scary time and be the calm, steady presence our children need right now? What’s appropriate to tell a four-year-old about the coronavirus pandemic? An eight-year-old? A teenager? We sat down with Dr. Liz Matheis, a child psychologist (who’s also one of our NJMOMprenuers) to give us mamas the professional guidance we need to help our kids understand what’s happening.

Dr. Liz advises that in circumstances like this, less is often more. Over-explaining or giving details that are too complex for children to understand can often add to anxiety. So, it’s important to keep things simple and age-appropriate. “Let children guide the conversation with their own questions,” says Dr. Liz. “Turn off the news when the kids are around and try to keep adult coronavirus conversations with your spouse or someone else mostly to yourself.” That means limiting talk about the newest death toll numbers, hospital overcrowding or other scary topics in earshot of the little ones. Another thing to think about is that to them, the biggest thing about this is how it affects them directly.
“For many kids, no matter the age, the hardest part of this to understand is the socialization. They want to know when they’ll get to see their friends,”  says Dr. Liz. “You need to think about how to explain why they’re not seeing friends right now. I would say that we’re staying home so we’re safe and don’t get the virus, and so nobody else gets the virus.”

 

How to Manage Your Kid’s Anxiety Over Coronavirus

As fears about coronavirus weigh on our minds, our kids are anxious and full of questions. Even though so much is uncertain, it’s our job as parents to be a source of calm for our children. Reassuring them that they are safe and that medical professionals are working hard to take care of people who need it is a good place to start. It’s also important to remind them that we can do a lot to keep ourselves healthy—everything from washing our hands to not sharing food and drinks to covering a cough or sneeze with a tissue or the inside of our elbow.

If you haven’t already, check the Centers for Disease Control website for important information on how to protect yourself and your family. It has specific guidance on everything from the proper handwashing technique to the most effective way to disinfect household surfaces every day. It’s also crucial to reinforce everyday healthy habits, like making sure the kids get enough sleep and eat healthfully. Doing everything you can to keep the routine inside your house—things maintaining a regular dinner time and bedtime—as normal as possible is also really important.

You may not want to start a conversation about coronavirus because you don’t want to add to your kids’ worries, but it’s important to be proactive by asking them what they’ve heard. This is your opportunity to dispel any rumors. To help guide conversations with your kids, we asked Dr. Liz Matheis, a child psychologist in Livingston and a mom of three kids, ages 13, 11 and 7, for advice on how to manage your children’s stress in the age of coronavirus.

Image by Istockphoto

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by Dina El Nabli, NJ Family

Talking to Children About Grief

Discussing death with a child can be extremely difficult, and in a lot of cases parents tend to avoid this important topic altogether. More likely than not, an individual will be exposed to death in some capacity during the early years of their life. A trusted adult can serve as an anchor for a child during the wave of emotions that typically accompany a loss. The more that we process these emotions with our children when they are younger, the better they will be able to cope in adulthood. Here are a few strategies to help facilitate this tricky discussion and assist our children in adapting healthy coping skills.

Be Specific with Your Language

It’s important to use clear and specific language when we are talking to our children about death. Using words such as death and dead are crucial as to not confuse the child. Using vague terminology may create confusion and lead to the development of fears. For example, if you tell a child that the deceased individual went away or went to sleep, he or she may think that the next time mommy or daddy goes to sleep they will never come back or may even start to worry about falling asleep themselves.

Include Your Child in the Memorial Process 

Children like to be doers. Including them in the memorialization planning will help them feel as though they are a part of the process. Allow them to organize and look through photos and share positive memories with you as you view them. Including them in the planning process also provides them with a sense of control.

Validate Their Feelings and Share Your Own

With death comes a wave of emotions. When your child experiences an emotion, it’s important to validate that emotion and let them know that this is a part of the grieving process. Try to avoid the “fixing” pattern and let them experience whatever emotion is visiting them at the time. Don’t be afraid to share your own feelings with your child as  this will help to reinforce that feelings are normal and we all experience them. The more that we validate and normalize the feeling, the less overwhelming they will be for the child.

Don’t Put a Timeline on the Grieving Process

Children are naturally curious and ask a lot of questions. Death is a difficult topic to process, even for an adult, so children may have many questions in the months to come as they try to process through this complex concept. Try to approach each question with patience and acceptance and don’t be afraid to let your child know if you are not certain of a particular answer. As children reach different levels of development, their understanding of the finality of death may change and you may observe different emotions surface. Understanding how your child processes death based on their developmental level will help you to better support their grieving process.

Utilize Children’s Books and Get Crafty 

There are a number of wonderful children’s books that explain the concept of death in a developmentally appropriate manner such as Something Very Sad Happened by Bonnie Zucker, The Invisible String by Patrice Karst, and The Memory Box by Joanne Rowland just to name a few. There are also endless possibilities when it comes to creating crafts in conjunction with these books as well. Creating a memory box is a great way to help children process through their emotions while honoring their loved one with you. The holidays can be difficult following the loss of a loved one. Using a clear plastic snow globe to create memory ornaments can be a wonderful way to honor the deceased while processing wonderful memories. If your family isn’t very crafty, utilizing passions and interests such as music, nature, and sports can help families to create traditions while honoring and mourning their loved one as a family.

by Rachael Berringer, MA, LAC

How to Best Support Your Child with a Learning Disability

As a parent, we’re often troubleshooting challenges as they happen. So when you suspect your child may have a learning disability, it can be overwhelming to know where to start and how to obtain the resources to best support your child.

​To help streamline your next steps, we spoke with Dr. Liz Matheis, a licensed Clinical Psychologist and certified School Psychologist who specializes in assisting children and their families with Autism, ADHD, Anxiety and learning/behavioral disorders.

Click Here for the Full Interview

by Sarah Sanchez, NDTR, Shield Healthcare

Experiencing the Unimaginable

Part II: Pregnancy loss.
[Trigger Warning: Miscarriage is addressed directly below.]

Is miscarriage a useful term?
I experienced a miscarriage in between my first and second child. Reading the phrase is respectful but doesn’t embody the emotion that goes along with a miscarriage. I suffered a miscarriage because I was devastated by the loss of an 11-week pregnancy, a child I never met but lost. I was tormented internally for a year but didn’t feel that I could share the experience. I was embarrassed and I hid that I was hurting badly and for a long time. The experience of the loss was pretty intense for me. I grieved every day. I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that I lost my baby. I would fall asleep at 9 p.m. out of sheer exhaustion each night and then wake up at 3 a.m. and was not able to fall back asleep. I stayed up and thought about everything I did, ate, wore, and how that could have contributed to the miscarriage. I was paralyzingly scared that my body would not be able to hold another child. I felt extremely out of control. I couldn’t focus at work; I was tired and irritable all of the time. My son was 1.5 years old, and I was afraid I was going to lose him, too.

​I finally became pregnant four months later (the longest four months I have ever experienced in my life). During my entire pregnancy, I suffered from severe anxiety because I was so afraid to lose this baby too. That anxiety didn’t subside until the moment my daughter was born, and I could see, with my very own eyes, that she was healthy and alive. I know I am not alone when I say that it is a life-changing event to lose a child, even if the child was still so small.

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by By Margaret M. Quinlan, Ph.D., Bethany Johnson MPhil, M.A., Psychology Today

3 Ways to Connect With Our Children

Connecting With Our Children

If you are a parent of a child or children with special needs, I know how tired you are at the end of each day. If you are also working, part-time or full-time, for yourself or for someone else, finding time to connect with your kids each day is tough. Our children need to and want to connect with us as we want to connect with them.

I remember having visions of parenthood while my firstborn was a baby. I imagined these peaceful evenings of us cuddling and playing together. I never imagined the rush-rush that I now live with 3 children and a full-time private practice. I run in through the door, pick up, drop off, make dinner, prepare lunches, take out the garbage. By 8 p.m. I feel like I’ve run a marathon…and I still haven’t made 10,000 steps!

I can see what happens when I don’t connect with my kids. They become angry with me, they use that tone and we go downhill from there. I have to remember that they are frustrated that I am not reading their cues and my body language is one of tension, a rushed nature, and a whole bunch of disorganized energy. There are days that I don’t want to be near me! For my child with special needs, on my days of feeling disorganized, I trigger her and we have more meltdowns than usual. But, when I self-calm and organize my thoughts and my actions, we have a better flow.

Image by Shield Healthcare

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by Dr. Liz Matheis, Shield Healthcare
"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!"
- Julie C.
"Dr. Matheis has a remarkable ability to understand the unique needs of her patients and address them constructively. She builds strong, meaningful relationships with patients and their families, encouraging trust and collaboration. When working with my son who struggles with autism-related anxiety, she created an environment in which he was able to calm down and open up to her in ways I had not seen before. She was able to reach him and helped him work through his crisis/problem. Most importantly, she empowered him to move forward."
- N.L.
"Dr. Matheis is amazing. She has tremendous resources and loads of energy. She is not willing to accept anything less than the most effective results for her clients. She made me feel as if my son was her top priority throughout the entire process. I would, without reservation, give her my highest recommendations.  Thank you, Dr. Matheis!"
- Anonymous
"Dr. Matheis has an amazing ability to read kids and connect with them. She has been an invaluable resource for our family over the past several years and has helped us with everything from educational consulting, to uncovering diagnoses as well as family therapy. Working with Dr. Matheis never feels clinical and most importantly, our children love and trust her. We can not thank you enough Dr. Liz!"
- Anonymous
"My teenage son had been seeing Dr. Matheis through his senior year of high school, as he was only diagnosed with ADHD at 16 years old.  Dr. Matheis came highly recommended from our pediatrician and she has done wonders for our son as well as our family, navigating new ways for him to deal with his diagnosis without the use of medication.  She taught him ways to organize himself and even when something did not work for him, she patiently continued teaching him new ways to keep himself on track.  She has also helped us as parents to understand how his mind works so that we did not continue to blame his lack of focus on him, rather on his unique way of thinking.  Thank you Dr. Matheis!!!!"
- LG
"Dr. Liz is the best! Our family was directed to her by our Pediatrician to assist with figuring out severe mood changes, severe anxiety, strange new fears and food aversion that had come onto one of our children literally overnight. After just a couple of visits, she suggested that the issues may actually be rooted in a physical issue and suggested we immediately take our child to be swabbed for strep, because Dr. Liz suspected PANDAS (a pediatric autoimmune disorder brought on by strep). The same Pediatrician that suggested Dr. Liz would not do the swab (they do not believe in PANDAS and we no longer go there) but I took my child to my doctor who did the swab and it was positive for strep. When our child went on antibiotics, within 24 hours all symptoms went away and our child was back :-) Dr. Liz then recommended a PANDAS specialist who helped us and our child is in complete remission and is happy and healthy. We are incredibly grateful to Dr. Liz for her knowledge of all things, even the most remote and unusual and for helping us so much! Thank you!"
- Anonymous
"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!"
- Anonymous
"Thank you, Dr. Liz. Although we have told you countless times, it will never feel enough. You have listened when J could barely speak and continued to listen when he was sad, angry and confused. You've challenged him and directed us in our roles as parents. You've helped J face his fears while the list evolved and changed, and yet you've stayed committed to 'the course.' We pray that your children realize that time away from them is spent helping children learn and that vulnerability is a sign of strength and bravery."
- June I
"My son was admitted to an Ivy League school when only 2 years ago, you assessed him and saw his struggles, his Dyslexia. We are grateful that he no longer has to carry that deep feeling of inadequacy or shame that must have kept him so self conscious and from reaching his potential. He has the PERFECT program for him. He has A's in high math and economics. He became a Merit Scholar, a Boys State legislature, the HEAD captain of the football team and help a job ALL while studying and managing his classes and disability. I am PROUD of you, a young doctor, who knows and sees the vulnerability of children and helps them recognize "it's NO big deal" God bless."
- Anonymous

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