As the school year is upon us, it’s more than just a new academic year. The pandemic has dramatically changed our everyday lives and those things we take for granted – like school, work and home life. As such, our kids may need extra love and care so they can communicate what is happening and how to adjust to the new schedules and rules around learning and socializing. We asked Cate Bereznay, ND, MS, MPH a pediatric naturopathic doctor about how to help children open up during this not-so-normal school year.
Institute for Natural Medicine: It’s no secret that we are all
learning how to live different lives during the pandemic. As this lingers
longer than anyone hoped and children’s lives are disrupted, what are the best
ways to open up the dialogue with children?
Cate Bereznay, ND: Children are almost always inquisitive all on their own. Parents
can certainly ask their child if they have any questions about what is going
on, but I generally tend to recommend parents follow the lead of their child.
If their child has questions and asks, answer them using simple, age
appropriate language. I always encourage parents to resist the urge to over
explain or expand too much beyond just what the child has asked.
INM: Every parent wants to protect their child from unpleasant and
frightening thoughts or situations around COVID-19, but there is also a need to
be truthful. How can both of these be satisfied when talking to children about
Dr. Bereznay: I’d suggest that parents listen to what it is their child is
asking and answer just that as truthfully and completely as they feel is
appropriate and possible given their child’s age, disposition, etc. I think we
adults have a tendency to project our worries and fears on to the children in
our lives. The reality is that children are often far more adaptable and far braver
than we adults are! I always recommend parents seek out other adults to process
their worries and fears with before having any sort of conversation with their
child. Once they’ve had the opportunity to work through their own anxieties,
they will be able to approach their child’s questions from a more grounded
INM: What should parents look for in behavior, especially as this new
school year begins with all of its new rules and regulations?
Dr. Bereznay: I’m not sure there is any one behavior or category of behaviors
to look out for. Parents are the experts in their children and will know when
something isn’t quite right. With any concern – behavioral or otherwise, know
your child’s pediatrician is only a phone call away and will be happy to
discuss what you are noting. And of course, it goes without saying now is not
the time to skip checkups! There are so many important things that happen at
wellness exams – growth monitoring, developmental and other screeners, and
vaccines. All of these things, especially vaccines, are more important than
ever before in the context of a pandemic.
INM: What coping tools would you recommend to share with
Dr. Bereznay: With most all of school being online, children won’t have access
to the already limited outdoor play time they might have originally had built
in to their more traditional school day. As much as is possible, I recommend
good chunks of unstructured play time every day, ideally outside. At a minimum
our goal is one hour of movement each day where the child’s cheeks are rosy and
their heart rate is up. Most younger children, given the opportunity, will do
this organically on their own through play – tag, bicycle riding, hide and
seek, swimming, the list goes on and on. Tweens and adolescents will likely
require more encouragement to get up and off their screens, but it is no less
important for them to get outside, play, and move their bodies.
Resources We Love to Help Open Doors of Communication
Parents and kids love this series because it uses charming and humorous metaphors to help children learn how to cope with worry. “Did you know that worries are like tomatoes? No, you can’t eat them, but you can make them grow, simply by paying attention to them. If your worries have grown so big that they bother you almost every day, this book is for you.”
is a mindful book that offers exercises that teaches kids techniques in
mind-body wellness, healthy breathing and emotions. Work with your children on
30 simple, short breathing practices and movements can be performed anytime and
anywhere — in the car, during the day, in online school or even at a child’s
desk at school.
Mindful Games Activity Cards: 55 Fun Ways to Share Mindfulness with Kids and Teens, by Susan Kaiser Greenland
Playing games is a low-stress way to helps kids and teens find focus, be more attentive and mindful. This card game, Mindful Games Activity Cards is ideal for helping parents, caregivers and teachers engage with and identify emotions that school-age children and teens may be experiencing.
Cate Bereznay, ND, MS, MPH is a naturopathic physician specializing in pediatrics. She has additional training in public health and research and is passionate about exploring the interplay of individual clinical medicine and population health and wellness. Dr. Cate strives to practice medicine that builds a foundation on which individual physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing can be addressed and also hopes her care serves as an instigator, empowering her patients and their families, to join her in advocating for the improvement of the broader social determinants of health (conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play) as well. She is proud to work at HealthPoint, a Federally Qualified Health Center serving King County, Washington.
The post How to Connect with Your Kids in a Not-So-Normal School Year appeared first on Institute for Natural Medicine.