School is out for the foreseeable future. Which means the kids are home. But so are Mom and Dad, either working at home or laid off due to the coronavirus crisis.
It’s no longer enough to be just parents. They’re the teachers that make sure homework is still being done. And since friends can no longer come over, Mom and Dad are also serving as playmates.
Add the anxiety both adults and kids are feeling about the virus, and it’s the perfect recipe for a stressed-out household.
"I think parents are overwhelmed," said Rebecca Dirks Garcia, the president of the Nevada PTA who also is an admin for the CCSD Parents Facebook page. "There is just so much going on right now, people are having to completely switch up their lives from their jobs as well as school. So it is kind of trying to find a new normal for as long as this is going to last."
Dirks Garcia said her home is feeling much smaller than it used to now that she, her three kids and her husband are all home. She noted that modern families rarely spend this much time together.
She admits there are good days and bad days.
"We've had some great days where the siblings have played together and then other days where the entire day you can tell they don't even want to breathe each other's space," she said.
The Clark County School District, and private and charter schools around Southern Nevada, are offering online learning opportunities, but those present their own challenges, she said.
Dirks Garcia said about a third of CCSD students do not have access to WI-FI or an internet-connected device. The district is offering paper packets with educational material through its food distribution sites.
Another challenge is the number of devices in a home. Dirks Garcia has enough for her kids to connect but if there are several children and one computer, dividing up the time will not be easy.
Even in the best of times siblings fight, and being confined to home can make it worse.
Dirks Garcia said getting her kids outside and moving has helped.
"I have found that sending them out to go get some fresh air has helped," she said, "Send them out to the backyard or a quick scoot around the neighborhood."
She also said that her older son, in particular, is very active, and if he starts to get bored, she notices he starts to entertain himself by picking at his siblings.
Dirks Garcia said some at-home physical education courses can help get that pent up energy redirected.
Dr. Lisa Durette has heard a spectrum of reactions from parents as the program director for the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship Program at UNLV.
She said that everyone is trying to adapt right now. "It is extraordinarily normal in an adjustment phase to feel anxious," she said.
Most children have a very structured life during school and that can bring them a feeling of safety. But Dr. Durette said parents do not need to feel like they have to a perfectly structured day for their children during unprecedented and difficult times like these.
"I think one of our best ways to manage this is to have some global targets for the day," she said. "We're going to have some educational time. We're going to have some recreational time... We're going to have some alone time. We're going to have some family time."
She said instead of specifics, using categories could help families adapt to the new normal.
Besides setting up a skeleton of a daily structure, Dr. Durette said parents should prioritize "recognizing that feelings of stress, anxiety, uncertainty are normal, and communicating very openly and honestly and transparently to our children at their developmental level."
For instance, you may not want to tell your 5-year old that people are dying, but you could tell him or her that people are getting very sick from germs and staying home means not spreading any more of them around.
Dr. Durette said there are some silver linings. Parents are getting more time to interact with their children, and more people are using telehealth to connect with mental health professionals, which is something doctors have been trying to get established for several years.
There are lots of websites to help parents entertain their children right now, but Richard Biegel created a website that he hopes parents can use to better educate their younger children.
The site is called mindedu.com, a collection of videos and courses explaining how young children absorb knowledge.
"Parents have been given a gift now," he said, "It might not feel like it... you have the opportunity to be at home with your children."
Biegel said one of the fundamental things he can point parents to right now is taking care of their emotional needs first and then helping their children. He compared it to the safety speech at the beginning of a flight when a flight attendant instructs parents to put their mask on first before helping their child.
Dr. Durette noted that if you are seeing significant changes in your child's behavior or moods, or if they are ruminating -- that is, thinking too much about the pandemic -- get help.
1-800-622-HELP to connect with mental health professionals.
Rebecca Dirks Garcia, president, Nevada PTA; Dr. Lisa Durette, program director, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship Program, UNLV School of Medicine; Richard Biegel, founder, mindedu.com.
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