2020. The year that will forever be the strangest in history. While this year has been incredibly hard for everyone across the world, it’s been especially hard for parents.
Last spring we reached out to Arielle Sheinman for advice when Illinois was deep within the stay at home order. Arielle is a clinical social worker who works with children and families through a number challenges through teletherapy. She proved to be so incredibly helpful and comforting that we asked her for an updated interview.
The first interview with you was last spring, and here we are, entering November and not a lot has changed. We’re hearing the term “Pandemic Fatigue” quite often, can you tell us a little about that term and how it may be affecting children and parents? What are your recommendations to move past this fatigue and maintain a healthy mental state?
I have been using one specific metaphor when conducting sessions around this very topic. For a second, let’s pretend an asteroid dropped out of the sky and landed in the middle of the house. Maybe the asteroid dropped directly into the kitchen, the bathroom, or the room with the best toys. The asteroid left a huge hole in the floor that couldn’t be repaired. In a situation like this, we would be effectively forced to move around the house, avoid falling into the hole, and figure out how to survive or “cope” with a huge hole in the floor. I see the pandemic like this. There is a huge hole in all of our lives – our kids are missing their friends, their schools, we are putting off holidays and seeing family.In many ways everything has changed.. yet we have to find ways to move around the hole.. we cant just fall in, we can’t huddle in one corner of the home or avoid cooking This looks different for every family and the details of what “coping” look like are different for each and every one of us. I’d encourage parents and kids to sit together to discuss this idea. Make the idea of active coping a part of the conversation.
I’d also be mindful of the different ways pandemic fatigue impacts you directly. I have noticed everything from zoom fatigue to compassion fatigue to decision making fatigue. Breaks are key in fighting all types of fatigue. Ensure that your children have “zoom” breaks and focus on effort versus outcome in zoom school if you notice exhaustion. Wiring kids for resiliency and to tolerate frustration and disappointment is critical during this time.
Lastly, if you are feeling particularly burnt out then try to limit news intake. With a 24/7 news cycle, we can be constantly “plugged in” but this doesn’t always serve us best so be mindful about how much media impacts you and your children directly.
Children across the world have multiple scenarios with schooling this fall, but one thing is consistent- it’s not the “norm” that they once knew. Shorter days, less peer interaction and more screen time is having an impact on most. What advice do you have for parents trying to find a healthy balance as well as keeping spirits up?
I think like many adults, kids are feeling the impact of the isolation that the pandemic has brought. Tolerating these feelings from our children is the most effective thing we can do for them. When we show them that feelings don’t need “fixing,” they can learn to better accept and tolerate them too.
Validation and reflective listening go a long way and remember they rarely need/want us to solve their problems for them but instead need a holding space for everything they are experiencing. Try out sentences with things like “Wow, that sounds hard” or “I can imagine why you feel X.” This type of reflective listening keeps the conversation about feelings going. The majority of what children are feeling about the pandemic is to be expected! They are having a very normal reaction to an abnormal set of circumstances so it’s helpful to normalize and validate that.
Here are some other more concrete ideas:
Keep a solid routine when you can and prepare children for unexpected changes. Our bodies are wired to perceive unanticipated things as threats; so helping your child anticipate what to expect will go a long way. Be honest about the things we can’t provide 100 percent certainty about; but discuss how the family will cope if the feared outcome occurs. For example, “I don’t know how long we will be able to remain in school if the Covid numbers rise BUT this is our family plan if we go back to online learning…”
Involve kids in decision making when you can. We are all experiencing a loss of control and this is hard for kids. Give choices when possible. For example, a parent decides bedtime, but a child can pick what jammies to wear or what books to read before bed. You can also engage them in choices around Covid precautions – let them pick masks, identity mask break times for themselves etc.
Lastly, attempt to create new family traditions separate from screen time. There is a big push/pull with screen time right now. Kids crave it and parents reject it but it also may be needed to help occupy kids during the long durations at home. This is inevitable. If this causes conflict internally or within the house, think about creating new family traditions that are separate from screens. They may only last 15 minutes and thats OK. The fifteen minutes of quality time is much more important than the quantity.
The same goes for parents! Many of us are not only working on top of home responsibilities, but have children home most of the day for school. It’s literally impossible to give 100 percent to anything right now & it’s taking a toll. What are you hearing from parents and what advice do you have for those who may be struggling to find a healthy mental and physical balance for themselves?
I am hearing this. Parents are tired, spread completely thin and feeling somewhat hopeless about what the future may bring due to all the uncertainty surrounding the virus.
I’m not a big fan of the term “balance”. I think it often sets us up for unrealistic or unattainable expectations- like there is some perfect combination we can achieve to effectively do it “right” or master it all. Instead, I encourage parents to be gentle both with their parenting and themselves. As you mentioned, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to give 100 percent to anything right now. Honoring our own distress and discomfort is critical to being able to tolerate our children’s.
Self-care often implies getting a massage or hitting the gym but in today’s world- those may not be options or they may just add stress and guilt. Instead, consider personal and professional boundaries when saying no to something is necessary. Attemp compassion for yourself when nothing gets accomplished that day or you lose it on the kids.
I recently read a mom forum where one post was titled “My kid’s won’t shut up!” Over 30 moms chimed in saying “me too” or telling the poster “it will be a little bit easier as they get older,” “no advice but I’m in the same boat.” I’m encouraged as I notice the rise of parenting resources and support building on both the community and macro level . Asking for and accepting help is another crucial way to take care of ourselves during this time.
Can you talk a little about your practice and different options for parents looking for support?
My practice supports children, individuals, and families with a big emphasis on parent work. I specialize in working with anxious children and teens and also focus on executive function coaching. In addition to the treatment of anxiety, I have a special interest in working with individuals with specific learning disorders and helping families navigate special education services and the IEP process. I utilize a warm and empathic style coupled with a cognitive behavioral approach to assist clients in processing feelings and exploring thinking patterns. I teach relaxation, mindfulness and emotion regulation techniques too!
Parent coaching has taken on a new life in the pandemic. I am assisting parents in naming, developing and managing the new roles they have been forced to adopt. The majority of parents I speak with never intended to teach their children or have them home for such extended periods of time so there is alot of venting and strategizing! One thing I have found particularly helpful to families during this time is to explore appropriate developmental expectations for their children. We use development as a framework to explore behavior and discuss strategies for listening, understanding, and validation.
Arielle Sheinman is a licensed clinical social worker in both Illinois and New Jersey. She operates a private practice in the Gold Coast neighborhood of Chicago. After graduating from New York University’s Silver School, Arielle began her work with children and families. She developed a passion for working with parents, assisting them in transforming their homes by connecting with them to their core values. Arielle has experience working with children, “tweens,” teenagers and adults struggling with anxiety, depression, and ADHD/executive functioning challenges. Her other interests include working with individuals with specific learning disorders and helping families navigate special education services and the IEP process. She has since completed the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy training program specializing in the treatment of anxiety disorders and was voted a “Top Kids Doc” by New Jersey Family Magazine in 2018 and 2019. In response to Covid-19, Arielle is currently utilizing a HIPPA compliant teletherapy platform to meet the needs of existing and new clients.