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SOMSD Coronavirus Mental Health & Wellness Check Newsletter

Mental Health Check & Wellness Check for Families & Staff

We understand that this is a difficult time of transition not only for our students but also for our parents/guardians and our staff. Working with members of the District staff, including the Parenting Center, BOE and nurses, we have put together a list of resources that we hope are helpful to students, staff as well as parents/guardians who are feeling overwhelmed or are dealing with anxiety, job loss, depression or uncertainty.

As we head into Spring Break we want to remind and encourage our families to continue to wash your hands, stay home and practice social distancing. This means playdates and games in the park, including but not limited to soccer, lacrosse or any outdoor games with multiple children, not of the same household are no longer an option. For families of middle school and HS students, we urge you to have them stay home. It is not business as usual, with schools now closed indefinitely and with revised new state orders, students should not be hanging out in friend groups as normal. This will help #flattenthecurve and lessen the opportunity for the virus to spread in our communities.

Our thoughts are with the entire SOMSD community as we all navigate these unprecedented times and we hope that you find these resources helpful. We're in this together.

Be safe and well.

Talking With Your Kids About COVID-19 (US News & World Report Article)

Don’t downplay COVID-19 – or overshare. Be straight and helpful in discussing what your family can do.

By Dr. Natasha Burgert, Contributor March 17, 2020 | US News & World Report

NEWS ABOUT COVID-19 IS relentless. We are talking about coronavirus at dinner, in the car and at sporting events (or we were talking about it at those events, before they got canceled). We are making contingency plans and stocking up on shelf-stable food and purchasing other supplies. And as much as we want to shield our children from the headlines and alarm, the reality is that we are all consumed by this emerging threat.

As a pediatrician, I worry about how this new stress is affecting our kids. In my office, kids are asking “to have my blood tested for the bad virus” and “Is my grandma going to be OK?” Some kids are also asking about their own safety: “If I wash my hands, I won’t get sick?” and “Will this virus kill me?” These questions are an understandable reflection of the strain communities and families are under, and the concerns kids are hearing about. So now, more than ever, we need to check in with our kids to see what they know and how they are doing.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Ask questions to understand what your kids know.
  • Answer their questions, but don’t inundate them with information.
  • Validate your children’s concerns.
  • Show your kids that you’re in the know and monitoring the situation.
  • Let kids know that many smart people are trying to help us. Follow suit by heeding expert advice and encourage your kids to do the same.
  • If you’re now working from home (and you weren’t before), explain why.
  • Point out that taking precautions helps others who are most vulnerable to COVID-19, like older adults and those with chronic diseases like diabetes.
  • Don’t make travel promises.
  • Model positive ways of coping with stress and anxiety.
  • Understand your own emotions.
  • Focus on solutions.

Ask Questions

Talking to our kids about the coronavirus begins like any other important conversation – by asking questions. What do you know about COVID-19? What did you learn about the coronavirus in school (before that, too, was canceled)? What are your friends saying? Have you seen articles or YouTube videos about the coronavirus? What do you remember reading or seeing?

Alternatively, if a child is coming to you with questions or expressing concern, get more background information before you answer. Try: “Tell me more about that” or “Why are you asking?”

Answer Kids’ Questions

Open-ended questions and probing follow-up questions help to reveal how kids are processing information. This helps you build the mental framework you need to offer responses in an age-appropriate way. In addition, it prevents the trap of “over-answering” a child’s question, or inadvertently sharing new information that could make their anxiety worse.

Validate Their Concerns

Acknowledging your child’s feelings during these conversations is critically important. It’s OK to feel sad. It’s OK to be scared. The reality of life is that not every day is going to be an easy, happy day. But, let them know that when big feelings happen, sharing your experience with someone who loves you is one way to feel better.

Show Your Kids That You’re in the Know

Show your kids that you are staying informed and paying attention to recommendations from credible public health leaders, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. This provides reassurance that you’re keeping an eye on the news, so they don’t have to.

This is an unprecedented situation when staying connected is critical to understand the emerging threat. But that vigilance is also a primary source of anxiety. So equally important to learning the most that you can is knowing when to take a break.

Follow Expert Advice, and Encourage Your Kids to Do the Same

Let your children know that we live a world with amazingly smart people whose only job is to help us. These scientists and researchers are heroes and will let us know more answers as soon as they find them.

We should convey to our kids that we can show our thanks by following the instructions these experts have already given us. That includes washing hands, coughing into our elbows, staying home if we are sick, staying away from crowds and getting good rest.

Working Remotely? Explain Why

If you are working from home, explain that this is a way that we keep our communities and our families safe, and that the situation is temporary and your job is secure.

Point Out That Precautions Help Others Who are Vulnerable

If you’re pregnant or live with someone who is pregnant or share a household with a grandparent, let your kids know that by working together to keep our hands clean and our bodies healthy they’re helping keep the whole family safe.

Hold Off on Planning a Family Vacation Soon

Don’t make travel promises. Given how rapidly things are changing, it’s impossible to predict what the immediate future may hold. This includes events, spring break plans and summer trips. Talk with your kids instead about possible alternative plans for fun staycation activities.

Model Positive Ways of Coping With Stress and Anxiety

Show your kids how you are handling the stress. There is nothing better than a child seeing their parent face a challenge and overcome it, and this includes protecting our own mental health.

When words don’t work, encourage your child to draw pictures of feelings or journal their thoughts. Sometimes it takes a while for kids to articulate their thoughts, and offering a bit of space and time is OK.

Consider Your Feelings

Understand your own emotions. Know when you need to step away. Give yourself space to defer a conversation until another time if you know you are not in a helpful mindset. We need to be emotionally available to our kids, but that does not mean we don’t deserve our own quiet space.

Take Stock of What You Can Do as a Family

Be solution-focused. Now is the time to share healthy habits with our kids. Maintain daily rhythms as much as possible. Teach them how to wash hands correctly, get great sleep, eat whole foods, get sweaty every day and shut down the screens to spend time with people they love. These habits can help everyone in the family with physical and mental wellness as we weather this storm.

BrainPOP: How to Teach Kids About COVID-19

Coronavirus: How to Teach Kids About COVID-19 | BrainPOP

Resources for Families

For Parents, Guardians & Staff:

  • Free Weekly Online ZOOM Support Group for Parents hosted by Summit Psychological Services. Held every Wednesday, 2pm - 3pm. Everyone’s lives have had to adjust over the last few weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools in New Jersey are closed and parents are working at home. Caregivers may be trying to look after aging adults and instruct young children simultaneously. This is placing a tremendous amount of stress on many family members who are juggling several responsibilities at once. To help you deal with some of the stress caused by online schooling, Summit Psychological Services is offering a support group for parents. Facilitated by Drs Alison Johnson and Mike Donovan, this free service will be provided for as long as parents need to teach their children at home. For more information:
  • Mental Health & Coping - CDC
  • Self Care in the Time of Coronavirus - The Child Mind Institute

How to Talk to Kids About Coronavirus (please visit the District's COVID-19 website for additional resources):

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