As many families across the United States remain under stay-at-home orders due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, both children and parents have had to adjust to life under a pandemic. Kids homeschooling and parents working remotely can impact the mental health of both parties, and therapists say it’s important to adjust accordingly.
Farah Harris, a licensed therapist in Chicago, Illinois, and mother of three, said what each child needs during the COVID-19 pandemic is different based on personality, but families should work together create a dynamic that works for them.
“I believe this pandemic and crisis has highlighted what has and hasn’t worked well in your family,” Harris told InsideEdition.com “It gives the opportunity to address the family unit and to work on our family’s collective mental health. If one person’s mental health is off, it changes the family’s whole dynamic."
First, Harris said parents need to make sure they’re OK, because “our kids are watching us.” And even when a parent isn’t fine, they can express that to their children.
“Your kids watching you handle this will give them safety and security that things are going to be OK,” Harris added. “If you are stressed out and lash out on your kids, apologize. Kids are extremely forgiving to a fault. As parents, setting the tone is important. I think we try to shield our kids, but they are also experiencing this pandemic with us, so emphasizing that we’re a team and we all have to do our part is important.”
For many kids, homeschooling is a big change, leaving them missing out on their regular routines. Zachary McLean, a 5th-grade student at Mount Pleasant Elementary in Livingston, New Jersey, said he was a bit nervous about the transition. He has been home since mid-March when his school closed.
“I didn’t know what to expect," McLean told InsideEdition.com of the change. "Now I know what’s happening and what I have a do. I get downstairs to my desk and my mother prints out the agenda from my teachers.”
McLean said he’s usually doing schoolwork from around 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and while it didn’t take him long to adjust to his new schedule, he misses his old one.
“I miss school because I feel like homeschool is annoying and I don’t want to be sitting in front of a computer all day,” McLean said. “I like being with my friends at school.”
The 10-year-old has been keeping up with his friends through group chats and text messages, he said. McLean also said he enjoys going on walks with his mom, hanging out in the backyard, and playing games.
Harris emphasized that creating a schedule for kids is essential.
“They’re all adjusting,” she said. “They do thrive in routine so if parents can make some type of routine with some flexibility and opportunities for fun, that will really help a child. Go outside and find family activities that you can do.”
Jordan Best, a 17-year-old Junior at Union County Vocational High School in New Jersey, has been out of school for 7 weeks. He is primarily doing school through Google classroom now and said he’s getting used to it.
“It’s very emotionally tiring. I am kind of stuck doing the same thing every day and don’t have options to do anything,” Best said.
He also said he’s been communicating with friends through text messages, but “it’s not the same.”
His school is set to go back May 8 as of now, but that’s not guaranteed. He thinks it may be best to extend homeschooling through the rest of the year, although that’s not really what he wants.
“Obviously I want to see my friends again, but I think it’s the best decision that we err on the side of caution in this situation," Best said.
He also acknowledged kids in transitioning grades, such as high school seniors, are losing out the most.
“They have to sacrifice their prom and graduation,” Best added.
Harris said for some transitioning students — like kindergarten, 5th-grade students, and seniors — it can feel like something is being “stolen from them.”
“They aren’t going to get a ceremony and parties,” Harris said. “Your kids are grieving. Give them space to articulate how they are feeling. Ask them if they would like to celebrate, or not.”
But most of all, Harris said it’s important to take this time day by day.
“We want this time to not be a time of stress for kids,” Harris said. “We are probably not going back to school before the school year ends so you want to make sure there is some discipline with some academics, but try to break up the day with activities. Those things can help create a new norm that they are able to adjust to without feeling that this is the worst thing that ever happened.”