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.

Building Resilience in Teens

Building Resilience in Teens

written by Ken Ginsburg, posted on parent and teen

Building Resilience

Our parental instincts drive us to protect our children. Given a choice we’d bubble wrap them. But we can’t. We can, however, prepare them to navigate the world. We can support them to develop the character strengths and human connections that allow them to thrive in good times and rebound (maybe even grow) in challenging times. In other words, we can build their resilience.

No Bubble Wrap Needed

Resilience is better than bubble wrap because it is about developing internal strength rather than relying on an external shield. Think of resilience as a process of bouncing back — of rising above adversity. And to do so ideally, with lessons that enable you to better handle the next bump in the road.

It is a mistake, however, to only think of resilience as something that enables us to respond to adversity. The very same characteristics that allow someone to rebound from difficult times will position them to get the most out of life. We want our children to become their best selves, to experience healthy relationships, to make their unique contributions to our communities — to succeed.

Spring Activities for Kids

100+ Spring Outdoor Activities for Kids

posted on runwildmychild.com

As the weather warms up and the days are longer, getting outside with the kids should be a top priority. Our family always makes a springtime bucket list, which includes tons of fun ways to get outside and active together as a family. We put together this giant list of over 100 fun things to do outside with your kids this spring! We’ve got all the traditional activities and we’re throwing in dozens more than you may not expect! So we hope this list will help you plan fun outdoor adventures for your family this season.

 

Accommodating Your Anxious Child in School and Home

Accommodating Your Anxious Child in School and Home

written by Dr. Liz Matheis, published on Psychology Today

Anxiety can be a debilitating emotional experience. It has the ability to take a pleasant moment and turn it into a disaster with all of the “what ifs” that could happen. Anxiety lies, and it creates a sense of danger or incredible discomfort in daily life that is exhausting and can be debilitating and limiting.

Since March 2020, anxiety for our children, teens, and young adults has reached disturbingly high levels. Masks, social distancing, vaccinations, etc. have been a part of our daily language, thoughts, and conversation. We fear for the academic skills that our children have lost as well as the social and emotional experiences that our children have missed due to isolation, quarantine, and shutdowns.

Since September 2020, many of our children, teens, and young adults have needed extra support in school due to the high levels of anxiety that have resulted in school phobia, avoidance, and emotional shutdown. Children who were once high achievers stopped logging into classes, turning in assignments, completing homework, participating in class lessons, and studying for exams. Our children and teens did not wish to turn their cameras on or participate in class discussions because of the perceived direct focus on each child and the attention that was created. Our kids struggled to keep up with the list of assignments listed on different online portals such as Google Classroom. How many children, including my own, have had difficulty in uploading a document and hitting “submit”? Many. Too many.

Understanding Your Picky Eater

Understanding Your Picky Eater

written by Dr. Liz Matheis, published on Psychology Today

As mothers, we can bear multiple children from the same womb, yet each is so different. Let’s take eating, for example.

I have three children with three very different preferences and aversions right from the start; just because one child enjoys certain foods, another one may find the smells, appearance, and textures of that very same food offensive, “gross,” or even vomit-inducing.

For our children with sensory issues, anxiety, or autistic spectrum disorder, the main concern is a very narrow menu with an emphasis on carbohydrates. For example, the top contenders tend to be macaroni and cheese, pizza, chicken nuggets, pasta with sauce or butter, goldfish, etc. The aspects of food that can turn a child away from certain foods or food categories can be taste, color, smell, and texture.

Many parents become highly concerned that their child is not gaining the proper nutrition needed for brain and body development. It also creates a high level of tension when the food of choice is not available. Families are restricted in where they can eat out of their home, which creates stress and resentment by other siblings. It also creates stressful mealtimes, fighting, and difficulty eating a meal together as a family unit.

Dana Blumberg, an occupational therapist in Livingston, NJ, starts by asking the parent to create a list of all the foods that a child will eat. Most parents share that their child will eat the same food repeatedly and then stop. They become bored and switch to another food they consume repeatedly, and the cycle repeats.

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.

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"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."
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- Anonymous

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