Ashley Soukup, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, was back and hosted an online forum.
- She attended Wake Forest and La Salle. For the first time as a therapist, she is finding herself in the same situation as everyone else. Here are some trends Ashley is seeing in her office over the last 11 weeks. The first two weeks, vacation mode, weeks three and four compared it to children going off to college missing old life, a sharp spike in anxiety. Week six sharp increase in body image issues for girls, missing out on school, what will grades look like. Weeks ten and eleven increase in depression/ grieving/sadness over creating new normal. Family system…try to create new normal, have to recognize and become more comfortable with it.
It was on Tuesday, May 26 at 7:00 p.m., via Zoom.
She shared “Challenges of life during social distancing and what families can do.”
- What are the things you are missing and grieving?
The never-ending list of cancellations, things on the horizon but then get an email of the cancelled event, not even postponed but fully canceled. For kids having an end date “June 10th”, now having no end. We need to have constant conversations with our children about how this is not the ending, and what things will look like long term.
- What is one thing each week everyone likes to do?
Put on the schedule to get excited about…now looking forward to small things, no longer big things. Will there be a family vacation? Decide as a family what things you can look forward to.
Anxiety comes from unknown…guessing… talk to your children about what is going on so they don’t get that information from friends, the news, etc.
- How do you handle teens when their friends are not social distancing?
What can we do to be more fun than their peers, what can our family do to have fun? Ask what your children are missing out on, determine how you as parents/family can bring your children joy. Tell your children you are doing what your family needs to do for safety.
- Ideas of small things teens can look forward to…
Netflix parties viewing party, Facetime friends, social distance hangouts (set strict rules, take away if not maintained), social distance picnics, social distancing is on a spectrum, weigh pros and cons of how to social distance, order desserts/dinners that are favorites so feel more normal, driving teens can go to the parking lot and talk from inside cars, virtual escape rooms (see link).
- College students calling in most for telehealth mental health calls. They are missing their independence.
As parents have conversations about boundaries and freedoms. Give them a sense of autonomy. Parents concerned about sleep patterns/cycles are different than family but they might be “normal” at college.
- Guidance on where we draw the line…what is asking too much?
Ashley said as a therapist I say “be flexible but firm” but admitted it’s hard to do as a parent. She suggested determine 3 hot button items that you are not willing to let go of. Be firm on those. If they don’t fall in line with those, maybe give a little flexibility. If parents always stress negative, then children always feel harped on. Children need validation. It takes 7 positives comments to undo 1 negative comment. Ashley encouraged parents to “praise for breathing”, praise the little things of putting dishes away, making bed, cleaning room, getting up early.
Be mindful of your child’s love language. Use this for how to praise them. words of affirmation, physical touch, gift-giving, acts of service, quality time. (This is a reference to a book entitled Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.)
- What if your children are not talking to you at all? Then do you worry?
Boys talk less than girls. If your child is an introvert and quiet it’s probably okay. If you aren’t seeing other signs. If your child is an extravert and quiet, acting differently than normal you may need to be concerned. Get them out of the house. Go for drive. Get them moving or engaged in an activity they enjoy. They may slip into conversation.
- How much time is too much time in their room or on screens?
One hour per day of screentime does not increase anxiety or depression. A lot of screentime is now engaging with peers which is healthy. Physical activity decreases anxiety and depression. Don’t count facetime/house party as screentime as they are ways to interact socially. Playing Fortnite with friends can be socializing. Give a lot of grace because they are bored.
Be consistent, start the day with routine and ritual, eat breakfast, eat lunch, eat dinner, physical activity hour before lunch, an hour before dinner – it’s a great time filler when the structure of the school day is gone. Physical activity lots of options- ride bike, yoga, climb a tree, walk around the neighborhood. Write a schedule down so you have a plan.
In the coming weeks as school ends add in things kids love such as art, blocks, music lessons, crafts, block off time each day. Thirty minutes is an appropriate amount of time to expect to focus on an activity.
Many children are having a hard time sleeping because their brains are not tired. They are not using full capacity as they did at school.
- How much family togetherness should we expect vs. independence?
Find a balance. Younger children will want more family time, and teens will need more autonomy. Mandate family time that is expected, keep it structured, ex. family dinner.
- What happens when school ends?
We have gotten to week 11, and now it changes again. Come up with a new pattern, make a plan as a family for how it will look going forward. Try the new plan for two weeks, evaluate if it’s working. If it’s not, revisit the plan and try again for two weeks. Give everyone some grace, now is the time, you cannot be 100% to everyone and everything.
- How do I help my teenage daughter manage stress about new normal?
Help them have faith it is going to be Okay. Pray a lot. We as parents might not know the answers, but we will get through it. It is ok to say we don’t know and to focus on what we do know. Remind your children we are safe and healthy. You have friends. You will go to school. We don’t know what it will look like when we do.
These are challenging times. Parents don’t know what will happen. Be honest that we don’t know, we are scared, but we are going to be Okay.
- What do I do for my preschool child going back to school in fall who has gotten used to being at home for 6 months?
Try as we get closer to going back to school, to start to pull away parent presence. Leave them incrementally longer each time to build confidence and help with separation anxiety.
As we can open up, give them increasing social situations to practice, talk to them about what they will be able to do when Coronavirus is “over”.
Do not assume teenagers can entertain themselves…give lots of ideas, orchestrate and model ideas, help them figure out how to communicate with friends.