North Merrick Everyday Health

Parent University: A Night of Virtual Wellness, 11/16/2020

Parent University - Fall 2020

North Merrick Schools, in partnership with the North Merrick Mental Health and Wellness Coalition, hosted the Fall Parent University virtually on November 16 as "A Night of Virtual Wellness," coordinated and moderated by teachers Maria Castle and Lisa Drewes. As Ms. Drewes stated in her opening remarks, we are living in a new reality in which children are spending more time online than ever before for schooling and socializing. This Parent University highlighted this increased screen time with presentations by experts Dr. Devorah Heitner on digital safety and citizenship and Dr. Vera Feurer on relieving stress and anxiety, as well as a family yoga session led by North Merrick teacher Christine Paras. To watch the full Zoom video, which is available for a limited time, click on the link below.

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Fostering Digital Safety and Good Citizenship

Dr. Devorah Heitner, the founder and director of Raising Digital Natives and author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive in their Digital World, encouraged parents to mentor more than monitor their children and teach them to set their own boundaries. She said parents can help children learn empathy, responsibility and confidence as digital citizens to use technology effectively to connect, create and learn.

Some of her suggestions include:

  • Assisting children to use technology to communicate with friends and family in meaningful ways and to help others remotely;
  • Monitoring children’s texting and gaming, and advising them on proper technology etiquette;
  • Watching online interactions and content, and identifying channels and sites that are acceptable;
  • Taking breaks from technology and creating screen-time routines, including when to put devices away for the day;
  • Being aware that even young children pick up on the news online so give simple and age-appropriate updates as well as an understanding that this information is evolving;
  • Spending quality time together as a family while also finding time for self-care and being alone;
  • Getting creative off line through cooking or writing. Create a reading nook and change out toys and art supplies;
  • Keeping kids moving through sports and walking so they can sit down and focus at the computer screen; and
  • Mentoring good time-management skills so that children learn people run the devices, not the other way around.
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Supporting Children to Relieve Stress and Anxiety

Dr. Vera Feurer, a child psychiatrist at Cohen’s Children’s Medical Center, focused her presentation on helping parents identify and relieve stress and anxiety in children, particularly due to the pandemic. She explained that anxiety in children is common and normal but when it becomes overwhelming, it is critical to intervene and treat so it does not become a lifelong challenge.

Dr. Feurer also detailed TIPP skills to diffuse anxiety and panic:

  1. Temperature change (splashing cold water to decrease the heart rate);
  2. Intense exercise (running, dancing, jumping to use up nervous energy);
  3. Paced muscle relaxation (tightening and releasing various muscles to relax); and
  4. Paced breathing (controlling the breath to reduce the fight-or-flight response). She said there are many helpful YouTube videos illustrating these methods.

Dr. Feurer's entire PowerPoint presentation is provided below. Some of her suggestions for parents include:

  • Spending one-on-one time with each child with your undivided attention in an activity they enjoy;
  • Staying calm, reassuring, using praise, and providing positive reinforcement;
  • Being open, closely listening, staying honest, and gently correcting misperceptions;
  • Being realistic about expectations and setting children up for success;
  • Creating structures and routines, involving them with scheduling, but being as flexible as possible;
  • Managing your own anxiety and practicing mindfulness;
  • Being aware of physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomach distress, which are often a manifestation of anxiety;
  • Setting a specific time for worrying and differentiating between real-problem worrying and hypothetical worrying; and
  • Getting artsy by crafting a mindfulness glitter jar, coloring or painting, and making time to move with exercise, dance or yoga.
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Zoom to Om: Family Yoga Time

Parent University concluded with North Merrick families participating in a soothing sequence of yoga poses guided by teacher Christine Paras. Ms. Paras says yoga can benefit everyone physically, mentally and emotionally. It provides stress relief, increases flexibility, improves mood, energy and vitality, and energizes the metabolism.

Her suggestions for making time for family yoga:

  • A daily practice can be as short as five minutes. Find a quiet space, listen to relaxing music, roll out your mat, and begin your practice.
  • Some poses that can be incorporated in a daily practice include downward dog (strengthens leg muscles, triceps and biceps and can lower blood pressure), tree pose (for balance and concentration), sun salutations (to build strength and flexibility), and seated and supine spinal twists (to aid digestion).
  • Box breathing is a helpful technique that can be used anytime whether you are seated, lying down, or standing. For example, if you are waiting in line at Trader Joe's and feeling stressed, you can practice some box breaths! Simply inhale to the count of four, hold the breath to the count of four, exhale to the count of four, and remain empty for the count of four. Repeat for a few rounds. You can increase or decrease the count based on your needs.
  • Insight Timer is an excellent app with thousands of recorded guided meditations, as well as live meditations, talks and yoga classes.
  • A good book to refer to for a deeper understanding of yoga postures is Yoga: The Iyengar Way by Silva Mehta and Mira Mehta.
  • Besides a mat, some props to invest in include two yoga blocks, two or three yoga blankets, and a yoga belt.

At the end of the Parent University session, Ms. Paras asked families to bring their hands to heart center, stating this mantra: “May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be peaceful. Namaste.”