Coping with Coronavirus
When Tulsa’s Safer at Home order hit, Tulsa mom Nichole Duck sprung into action. Working at home for Family & Children’s Services (F&CS) while trying to help her 8-year-old daughter and 9-year-old nephew with schoolwork, Duck immediately decided she needed to create a routine.
“We talked about the pandemic and what was (and is) happening to help keep us safe,” Duck, clinical program director at F&CS, says. “I invited them into developing their school schedule.”
Duck managed her work time by scheduling calls and video meetings for her high-energy times, while working around the kids’ needs. For them, she built in blocks of time for lunch, play and physical activity.
“Each morning, I help them prepare to get their water bottle, snacks and fidget toy on their work station,” Duck says. “They set up their work areas and choose a couple of quiet activities they can do when they get bored or need a brain break. I do the same with my work area.”
Nichole Duck created a work-at-home and teach-at-home schedule with input from her third-grade daughter and nephew
Duck uses a dry erase board to keep communication going with the kids when she is on a video meeting, and a timer to remind her to transition them from one activity to the next.
“I want to avoid idle time, but not overwhelm me, or them, with a lot of different things to do or transitions,” she says. “When all else fails, they pick from an activity jar and do that activity. I also schedule time for connection, especially during brain breaks. It is hard to be present but not necessarily available.”
Duck enhances learning by using documentaries, tours of faraway places, YouTube and educational shows.
“For Science one day, we watched Wild Kratts, and they took notes while they watched and presented the information,” she says. “It gave me a break for about 25 minutes, and they felt like big kids when taking notes.”
She also enlists her grandparents and other family members to video chat and share stories about their lives when they were her daughter’s age.
“The rules were led by me and co-created with them,” Duck says. “One that is most important – they earn electronic/screen time. No electronics when they are in ‘class’ doing work that is assigned.”
Acknowledge the Loss
Family & Children’s Services colleague, Ann Jenkins, admits that stresses on families may be high at this time, and she applauds Duck’s proactive approach. Jenkins is chief of clinical services for F&CS.
“This is the first time that any of us have had to deal with anything like this,” Jenkins says. “It’s a really stressful time.”
She suggests that people acknowledge the difficulty of the situation and not put pressure or unrealistic expectations on themselves.
“Grief, anxiety and fear cloud our thinking,” Jenkins says. “We must allow ourselves to feel grief and fear and acknowledge it, so we can deal with it.”
Because the current situation is so unusual, each day may be different. Talking through anxieties and sharing concerns with a friend can help ease the strain.
While adults may be experiencing job changes, job loss and loss of social connections, children and teens are suffering similar losses.
“Everything has changed in my life,” Jenkins says. “We’ve all lost our identities. I have two girls who are students, athletes, musicians…They can’t do the things that they were doing. They’re shifting and changing. Our edges are a little frayed. Acknowledge it.”
She says you can help children by allowing them to feel the feelings they need to experience. Let them talk about it. Listen. Ask questions. How you talk about the quarantine and COVID-19 depends on your family style.
“I’ll check in with them while we’re getting dinner ready,” Jenkins says. “I’ll ask them if they have concerns.”
Jenkins finds that her daughters are more worried about what they’re missing than illness, but she suggests that parents might ask if their children have concerns.
“Bring up some things in a low-key way,” she says. “If you have little kids, you might ask if anything is making them feel sad or worried. Color with them.”
F&CS has coloring books on the website that give parents a way to discuss Coronavirus with their children.
Have a Plan
While it’s important to listen to children’s concerns, Jenkins cautions against over-sharing. Ask if they have questions for you. Watch for behaviors that are outside their normal response to you and see if something else is bothering them.
“Come back with a calm response,” Jenkins says. “Emotions are contagious. Perceived negative emotions are more contagious than positive emotions. Put more effort into politeness and being aware of anxiety. We can stop that chain, and even one adult can catch that and turn it around.”
Planning for blow-ups or altercations can help keep them from escalating. Understanding the developmental age of your child can help you maintain calm and realistic expectations.
“A 5-year-old is going to react differently than an adult because their brains are not fully developed, and they don’t have the skills or abilities that an adult would have,” Jenkins explains. “The smaller the kid, the more likely they are to express themselves.”
The friction of caring for young children while working from home can be a potential tinderbox. Jenkins suggests asking your supervisor if you can have flexible work hours rather than working the usual nine to five. Negotiating and sharing tasks with a partner can also ease tensions.
“Work later or earlier,” Jenkins says. “If you have a partner helping you who is also working from home, the other person can cover for you.”
Duck’s proactive plan for her family is a good example of creating a work, learning and play schedule that can work for everyone. But even the best-laid plans can go awry.
Times like these can frazzle the nerves of any parent, so Jenkins suggests that parents identify their triggers and hot buttons. If it drives you mad to have toys scattered everywhere, make a plan with your children to pick them up before they move on to the next activity.
“I don’t like to see dishes piled up,” Jenkins says. “Each morning, I’ll unload my dishwasher. If my daughters get up, I’ll ask them to help me. Talk to your kids about what you need help with. If you don’t tell them what bothers you, they can’t help you.”
If things do begin to get heated, take a break. “Walk outside,” Jenkins says. “If you have a kid that’s wearing you out, put the child in a safe place and take a break. Put the baby in a playpen where you can see him and maybe put on some headphones.”
Ask for Help
If you do reach the end of your rope, have someone to call, whether that’s a friend, relative or a professional. “There are a lot of ways to cope,” Jenkins says. “You can call F&CS or you can go to the website.”
Apps also can be really helpful to get “a little escape for 10 or 15 minutes. F&CS has the myStrength app on the website,” Jenkins says.
Try to experience something positive if you’re feeling stressed.
Going outside, focusing on the green grass and beauty in the environment can help you feel more present.
And, give yourself grace.
“Just because you’re doing OK today, doesn’t mean you’re going to do OK tomorrow,” Jenkins says. “It’s OK to reach out for help. You don’t have to do everything on your own. Set up a group call, a zoom meeting. Talk to other moms and get ideas. We’re all so vulnerable. Being able to talk and share like you used to do at kids’ sporting events – that may be something that you may need to replicate in your life now. And, maybe your kids need to do the same. Set up a virtual play date. You don’t have to go through this alone.”
Resources if you feel you need support or help:
Family & Children’s Services: www.fcsok.org: website provides link to COVID Resources Hub and myStrength app and Corona Stories & Activities for Children;
COPES/Crisis Hotline/Help line (and Covid-19 support): 918.744.4800
F&CS’s parentiing classes are currently online.
Dial 211 or visit http://211OklahomaHelpLine.org for a variety of services and resources.