Unprecedented times in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic can be stressful for everyone, especially for families with children, who now have to navigate homeschooling and being home together 24/7. The Era reached out to community professionals for some guidance and tips for dealing with this newfound territory.
Jenn Douglass, program administrator of McKean County Family Centers, said the current situation with social isolation can lead to families experiencing additional stress and anxiety and emphasized the importance of self-care.
“It is normal for us to feel an abundance of emotions during this time, so it is crucial for us to take care of ourselves so we are able to take care of our families,” she said. “It is normal for people to feel sad, stressed or scared during this crisis.”
Daniel Wertz, administrator of the McKean County Department of Human Services, agreed with Douglass, stating that everyone may experience a range of feelings. He also said it’s important to note that no feelings are wrong.
“We may be confused, angry, sad or scared, but through it all, we are in it together,” he explained. “We can help manage those feelings by talking about them with one another, performing a chore together, assisting with picking and making a meal, going for a walk, playing a game, etc.”
Douglass said children will need their parents’ attention and support even more throughout the pandemic, as they may become more clingy, anxious or worried.
“It is crucial to listen to our children and give them reassurance,” she explained. “Children thrive best in environments that provide structure and routine.”
Douglas also said routines are the “repeated, predictable events that provide a foundation for the daily tasks in your life.”
Implementing routines can help children learn to trust that their parents are providing for their needs and offering them consistent structure. Implementing a routine made prior to the COVID-19 pandemic can also make an easier transition for children.
Adding activities such as going outside, going on hikes, riding bikes or going on a drive can help alleviate the stress of staying inside during the pandemic, noted Wertz. For parents struggling to implement a new routine, he added that “it’s important to acknowledge the new situation” and “ask the children to help develop the household daily schedule (i.e., bedtime, wake time, school work, recess, meals, technology time, chores, alone time, etc.)”
“Remember things can wait and everything does not need to be done at once,” Wertz explained. He also recommends parents with multiple school-aged children stagger education time as well as establish specific zones/spaces inside their home for education, recreation and other scheduled activities to help maintain boundaries that children would normally experience while outside of the home.
“These spaces don’t need to be large, just clear,” Wertz said. “Establishing these spaces clarifies expectations and reduces opportunities for conflict or added stress.”
Douglas added that McKean County Family Centers are a good resource for parents to connect to for support, as they provide two evidence-based programs that can currently be delivered virtually.
“The Parents as Teachers Program services families with children, prenatal through kindergarten entry,” she said.
Some topics included in the program are proper nutrition safety, sleep routines, attachment and transitions.
In addition, the Nurturing Parenting Program — which services families with children ages five to 17 — covers topics such as appropriate discipline, school/homework, managing stress, coping with sibling rivalry and expanding problem solving skills.
Both programs are free to residents of McKean County and connect families to community resources. For referrals, contact Jenn Douglass at the Bradford Family Center at 814-362-1834 or email BFC@guidancecenter.net.
Wertz also recommended reaching out to school districts for guidance with homeschooling.
“I know our local school districts have been working hard to provide educational content and guide families on how to structure the delivery of that content,” he said. “They are willing and available to help.”