Just when parents thought it couldn’t get any worse, it got worse.
Ending a school year with remote learning is one thing. Starting an entire new year with the kids either still at home — or on staggered schedules that wreak havoc with family routines — is a whole new anxiety engine.
As the reality of this situation sinks in, and with little time to plan, families are looking for ways to deal with the changes.
To help ease this transition, we spoke with Jaren Doby, a therapist at Novant Health Psychiatric Associates in Huntersville. With his signature upbeat perspective, he touched on the challenges families are facing and offered some helpful suggestions.
As a parent himself, Doby understands how difficult it is to face the hard decisions some families have to make.
Parents of younger children may have it the toughest — especially in single-parent and lower-income households. They’ll be forced to balance financial, emotional and other household responsibilities, and explore what child care options are available to them.
Because older kids are usually more adept at managing day-to-day needs, you might expect they’d be better able to manage sudden upheaval and changes in their routines. But it’s essential not to generalize, Doby said.
“Some teens and adults have issues with adjustment, and some don’t,” he added. “Younger kids also fall across a similar spectrum. In the end, it really does come down to the individual.”
When anyone — adult, teen or child — struggles with change, it’s important to ensure everyone has outlets and support to express feelings. Leaving a downward spiral unchecked is not a good plan.
“To say, ‘This is how it is, so you just need to deal with it’ can be dangerous,” Doby explained. “These are sensitive times, so we all need to be sensitive to each other. We absolutely must not lose our common touch in the fray.”
6 actions you can take now
To help you and your family survive and thrive in the midst of upheaval, Doby suggested focusing on the following actions.
1. Keep communications open
Using good listening skills and being open to conversation are more important than ever.
“In communicating, we bring each other to a place of ease, or can explore where our ‘dis-ease’ is coming from,” Doby said. “Processing our thoughts and emotions that way helps us cope better with challenges.”
2. Practice empathy
“Look at the person to the left, to the right, to the front or behind you: We’re all experiencing this situation differently,” he explained. “If someone is struggling, in any way, without effective assistance, it’s important to fill those gaps. We just can’t afford to leave anyone by the wayside.”
3. Advocate for yourself
Talk with your employer about possibilities for working from home or moving to a more flexible schedule. Also, consider your community, friends and family. Who’s in your corner? Knowing whom you can trust, and how to ask for help when needed, can bring a welcome sense of relief.
4. Harness the power of community
Through Zoom meetings, social media and online parenting groups, you can brainstorm with others and come up with new ideas and ways to assist each other. For example, Doby knows parents who look after each other's children and help with remote learning.
“They iron out all the details beforehand and keep their tablets or cell phones handy for midday check-ins,” he added. “That way, everyone’s comfortable and confident that the kids are getting their work done.”
5. Seek (or offer!) help
If you’re struggling financially, emotionally or any other way, reach out for help. Whether you talk with a therapist, mentor, pastor or friend, getting support brings relief. And, if you know someone who needs help, try to lend a hand or gently suggest he or she ask for help. Be sure to share your ideas with others.
“What seems trivial to you might encourage someone else, lift their spirits or spur them on to find additional assistance,” Doby said. “Your ideas could literally save someone else’s life, so please share them!”