Prioritizing Parent Mental Health (Webinar) | MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds

Prioritizing Parent Mental Health (Webinar)

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Posted in: Multimedia, Videos

Topics: COVID-19 + Family Mental Health, Healthy Living, Q+A, Stress

As a parent, in order to support your child or teen’s mental well-being, you need to put on your own oxygen mask first. How do you do that in the middle of a pandemic that’s taken a disproportionate toll on parent mental health?

The JED Foundation and the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital are pleased to prioritize parent mental health in this webinar and Q+A, recorded on April 7, 2021. See below for a full transcript of the recording, including video time stamps for individual questions.

Thank you for all you do to support the young people in your life! Let us support you.

Speakers

Gene Beresin, MD, MA (moderator)

Executive Director, Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds

Nance Roy, EdD, MS (panelist)

Chief Clinical Officer, JED Foundation

Khadijah Booth Watkins, MD, MPH (panelist)

Associate Director, Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds

Webinar Transcription

Gene

Well, it’s a little after two o’clock, and we have a number of folks who’ve just come in to attend. I want to welcome everybody. And thank you for joining today. I’m Gene Beresin. I’m the executive director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at the Massachusetts General Hospital, and I’ll be moderating today’s conversation on prioritizing parent mental health. I want to thank the JED Foundation for collaborating on this special webinar. JED and the Clay Center have overlapping missions dedicated to mental health education for the prevention and intervention of mental health challenges among young people. Now joining me today, our panelists are Nance Roy, who’s chief clinical officer at the JED Foundation. Welcome, Nance.

Nance 

Thanks, thanks for having me, Gene.

Gene 

And Khadijah Booth Watkins, who’s associate director at the Clay Center. Welcome to Khadijah.

Khadijah 

Thank you, I’m happy to be here.

Gene 

So, a few housekeeping items before we begin. This webinar is being recorded. And the recording and a full transcript will be of the conversation will be available after the webinar. The webinar is for educational purposes, so it’s not a substitute for medical advice, for diagnosis or for treatment. And as a reminder, always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health professional with any questions you have about a medical concern, including mental health concerns.

So, to ask a question – I mean, what we want to do mostly, if not entirely, is make this a Q and A so that your concerns, your issues, your questions can be addressed. And to do so, please use the Q+A icon that’s at the bottom of your screen. And I’ll be able to take a look at it and we can address those questions.

Please follow along with the chat. We’ll post relevant resources throughout the conversation. Finally, we’re working on a parent support resources list that we’ll share following the webinar, and this will include any resources that we’ve shared today in the chat.

So, let’s get started.

First and foremost, all of us at JED and the Clay Center want to take a moment to just acknowledge the toll or the mental health toll that this pandemic has taken on parents and caregivers. In particular, it’s not a normal lift for any of us to carry such a burden for such an extended period of time. And it’s important for us to acknowledge and say out loud and normalize this as a truth. Humans are not built to be doing what we’re doing over the last year. I mean, we’re pack animals, we need each other we need relationships. And while the screen is a substitute, it’s no substitute for, for being able to give each other a hug or, you know, be with each other in real time. Nor is it for our kids. So, while we all need to continue to get through this, we all want to validate anything you may be feeling emotionally, struggling in the day-to-day process of this and we hope that we can give you some guidance to make it more manageable.

But some things I hope you’ll take away from this conversation, and I’ll be real brief as an intro.

Self-Care is Not Selfish, It’s Necessary 03:19 

Gene

First of all, this is all about self-care for parents and caregivers. And self-care is not selfish. You know, as, as parents and caregivers, we’re struggling with burnout with feeling overwhelmed, anxiety, depression has increased. It’s been, it’s been really difficult to take care of ourselves to take care of our families, help our kids in remote learning to work, whether we’re essential workers and going in and being faced with being exposed to the to the virus, or working remotely, and having to juggle and balance a whole number of things. You know, when this began, many of us, myself included thought, “Hey,” this is last March, “This is going to be like a snow day!” Well, it’s been, it’s been more than just a snow day. But one of the most important principles of parent and caregiver self-care. It’s like what the flight attendant says when you get on an airplane. And that is, “When the pressure drops – if the pressure drops – put the oxygen mask on yourself first, and then help the person next to you.”

So, it’s really important that that we take care of ourselves and to do so there are a number of things that we can do. And we’ll be talking a lot about self-care, such as meditation, yoga, exercise, diet, taking breaks, listening to music, doing whatever, relaxes yourself. And remember that our youngest kids, all of our kids pick up on our anxieties and our stress, and ways of managing it. So, taking time to do something for yourself, and setting your priorities, and separately setting your limitations can be really important. So, it’s a matter of recognizing that mental health is important, and that our mental health is absolutely vital for taking care of our kids and our other family members.

Signs of a Mental Health Concern 05:34

Gene

So, some signs that you need to look for…

If you’re feeling anxious, if you’re feeling depressed, if your fuse has shortened, if you find yourself yelling at members of your household, if you can’t sleep, if you are having physical complaints, if you’re feeling on edge – there are a number of signs. If you’re lacking in empathy, there are a lot of signs of burnout, that are evident. So be aware of those signs and others that we’ll learn about today.

And if you notice some warning signs, then there are many ways of managing it. And hopefully we’ll address some of those issues today.

So, let’s get started. And we’ll start with some with some with your questions. I want to start with, for the three of us with questions that we’ve found most common, or relevant in our own clinical practices.

How Can I Help/Support My Partner’s Mental Health? 06:45

Gene

For me, I’ve heard from so many parents. How can I help that my – how can I help my partner’s mental health to you know, it’s not just me. And I think there are many answers to this. But one way of doing it is consider this. Like a tag team. Consider passing the baton, work things out. Talk with your partner about what each of your needs are, about where you’re stressed, have conversations. You know, you can’t just assume that you’re both stressed. And you’re both going to handle things differently.

You may need to set schedules, may need to set priorities, you may need to decide, you know, who’s going to do the homeschooling, if homeschooling is necessary.  You may need to decide who’s going to order the food, if you have it brought to you are who’s going to go out and get it. There are so many things that we have to do that it’s really important, I think, to share the everyday tasks, but it’s also very important to ask your partner about what’s causing the greatest stresses and what would help them the most. So is it going to be social contact, even if it’s over Zoom with a family member or if it’s being in touch with, you know, a primary care physician or a mental health counselor if they need it.

But talk with each other, have frequent conversations. And be sure that you’re keeping your finger on your own pulse, but also on your partner’s pulse. And it’s a whole other separate issue, which we can get into later, if you’re a single parent at home with your kids. So that’s what I’ve been hearing as a major challenge.

So, Nance, anything that rises to the top, in your clinical practice?

How Can I Manage Partner/Family Conflict? 08:48

Nance 

Yeah, so let me first just clarify about the JED Foundation, we are not direct clinical care, to patients, rather, we are a foundation that works to promote the emotional well-being of teens and young adults, toward the end of presenting suicide and significant substance misuse. And in so doing, we work a lot with schools, high schools and colleges, and also focus on parents, and now also the workplace, faculty, staff and employees. So, as we’ve been hearing more and more from parents through our outreach type work, less so direct clinical service, certainly many of the things that you mentioned, in terms of, I guess, I would think about how do you manage conflict, or potential issues that may emerge, whether it’s between partners or caregivers, or what have you? And one of the things that I think all the things you said, certainly ring true.

And one additional thing I would add in that regard is thinking about planning ahead. So rather than waiting until an issue emerges, you know, thinking, having a conversation in advance, you mentioned, you know, who’s going to do what, you know, making having a schedule, all those things. But can you do that [make decisions in advance], so that in the moment you’re not having to make it? Certainly, there will be sometimes where you have to make instant decisions. But is there a way to plan and sort of set rules? And, you know, we also know whether it’s during COVID, or any other point, if you do have two caregivers involved, you’re not always going to agree on the right answer, or how to manage something with a child. And so having that conversation in advance, and then agreeing, that even might not be your particular choice of how to handle that, to support that decision, and have those kinds of conversations in advance. So, they’re not having to occur in a conflictual way, in front of this kids all the time in the moment.

And also, you know, you mentioned having a pulse on each other’s sort of point of view and feeling I would also say to validate each other’s feelings, because I think, you know, I may be feeling angry about something, but the person I’m living with may be feeling sad about the same thing. And so, we will have different emotional reactions to things. And being able to validate each other’s feelings can also go a long way, even if it’s not the same thing that you’re feeling. So, in terms of what you talked about, those were just a couple of things, I would add, we can talk, you know, in a minute, I’d like condition to be able to talk about some things you can do as well, some strategies for self-care, and how to make this a more manageable time. But I’ll stop for now.

Gene 

That’s great. And, you know, in terms of resources, we do have a blog on the positive value of conflict, and some tips on how to deal with conflict, you know, at home in one’s family. Khadijah!

Nance 

Just, I’m just going to interject for one second – I will say that in the chat, we’re also listing resources. So, there’s a fair amount listed already. I don’t think what’s included yet is on the Jed website, there is tips, especially around COVID for parents, for students, for educators. So that’s another resource as well.

Gene 

Great. Khadijah! What risen to the top in your clinical practice?

Give Yourself a Break (You Cannot Do It All) 12:26

Khadijah 

So, in normal times, parenting can be challenging and then you toss in that we’re abruptly thrown together for like a year and complete obliteration of our schedules and routines, the global pandemic, the reckoning on race and the near Civil War. It’s a lot, so what I am observing not so much as a question is parents are feeling incredibly stressed and overwhelmed, and feeling like they need to do it all. And so, what I find myself doing is offering advice or suggestions around, just given yourself a break, you know, try to refrain from judgment, be kind to yourself, take a minute and breathe. So, so not so much a question, but it’s an observation that I have of most parents that come into my office.

Nance 

I totally like in fact, Khadijah, I mean, not only giving yourself a break, but giving, letting yourself know your enough – you know, what you’re doing is enough. You know, just like we talk so much about young people comparing themselves to one another, especially on social media and like to try and avoid doing that, as parents or caregivers, you know, so and so seems like they’re doing so much better, you know, managing parenting than I am. I mean, the likelihood is they’re probably not. So also, to try and avoid comparison.

Khadijah 

Yeah, that’s tough.

Can you share a short and effective breathing exercise? 13:53

Gene 

Well, none of this is easy. So, we have some questions. And the first is, can you share a short and effective breathing exercise for preventative care? If you guys can’t, I can.

Nance 

There’s so many Gene, why don’t you go for it?

Gene 

Oh, well, no, I mean, look, you know,. What I would suggest to folks, and this can, this will appear on the resource list. In mindful, you know, breathing exercises are part of in large part of all mindful meditation. And we actually had a podcast at the Clay Center with Darshan Mehta, who is the medical director of the Benson Henry Mind Body Institute. And during that podcast, he actually gave a five-minute example of a breathing exercise. But, um, the whole notion of meditation, whether it’s mindful meditation, or transcendental meditation, or yoga, or what biofeedback it’s all a combination of focus concentration, like when you’re breathing, and body relaxation. And when you combine focus with relaxation, your brain emits alpha waves, and you become, you really create structural changes in the brain. So the examples still are some apps that are very popular, some. The most common ones that folks use are headspace, calm, breathe, if you go online, you’ll find one. And you can use apps. Or you can use a technique that Dr. Mehta did for the Clay Center.

But the trick is to practice every day. And even if you take, even if you take a minute in between appointments, or at a time when you have a moment, it’s not the amount of time that you use to actually practice. It’s the regularity and getting, you know, in in that state of mind. So, any other comments about that? Nance, Khadijah?

What Are Coping Skills for Yelling? 16:20

Gene

Okay. Next question. Oh, this has to do with conflict? What are coping skills for yelling? How do you handle difficult situations? And how do you heal mentally and emotionally?

Nance 

Well, I mean, typically yelling is a sort of instantaneous response for when you’re triggered, right. And so, I think some of the things we just talked about in terms of strategies for managing that is to pause for a moment and take a breath. And, you know, do your own sort of internal speaking, you know, is this something that I really need to react to right now? Is this something that that’s important to me, you know, how can I just take a minute to calm myself down, because typically, when we yell, we don’t think first – we’re just sort of blurting out something that has come to us impulsively and quickly. So, taking a moment to just pause and breathe, usually can help to de-escalate something that turns into yelling, because we all know when we yell. The person that we’re yelling at is usually just hearing, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah. So, if we really want to get our message across, take a minute, and then you’ll be able to hopefully say in a calmer way that people can hear.

Gene 

It’s great. Khadijah, you’re muted.

Khadijah 

Thank you. The other thing I think that happens is, we’re frustrated and then we’re also moving way too fast. And I think one of the techniques that we talk about often is really this calm technique where you really stop what you’re doing – which is the slow down – and you really just take a minute and connect with your child and give them your undivided attention. You identify how they’re feeling so, “It looks like you’re feeling sad or angry.” And then you listen, you actively listen to hear what they’re what they’re talking about, what they’re telling you about, how they’re feeling, what maybe has happened. And then you sit with them and you, you, you allow them to have whatever feeling emotion they’re having. And you sit with them and you tolerate, and you don’t try to problem solve, you just allow them to be. And so, I think when we first slow down, we can kind of engage in that process, which will minimize that the yelling by a lot.

How Do You Heal Mentally and Emotionally? 18:42

Gene 

You know, the second part of the question had to do with how to heal mentally and emotionally. And I might add to what, what you two have said, is to have frequent conversations. If there’s conflict, not to assume that you know, what, what another person is feeling or reacting to that has to do with your notion of validation. It’s, you know, we humans, as I mentioned, before, you know, need each other, we’re pack animals. So, if you’re feeling disconnected, even using digital media, to stay in contact with people who you love and care about whether they’re family members, or siblings or spiritual leaders, clergy, teachers, folks that you can connect with, to help you get through the hard times. I think those are other elements that can help, you know, hold, hold you and calm you down. And if and there are plenty of other ways of lengthening the fuse, you know, when they say, when you said Nance pause, you know, county tech county that is, you know, or were the kid giving them a timeout is not a not a punishment, but just time to sit and reflect on what’s upsetting me. And taking the time to do that is often very helpful.

Nance 

You know, I think, you know, what you were talking about in terms of listening to your child, and what you just said, Gene, about giving them time, you know, the way we do that with, with our children, obviously, will be different if you’re working with a two-year-old or a 10-year-old or 18-year-old, right, or 20-year-old who’s now home, or who may have been away at school. But I think the principles remain, it’s sort of how you do it in the way in which you have those conversations. That will be different. But the underlying premise I think, holds true across the age span.

Khadijah 

You can – I’m sorry, I was just saying I agree.

Gene 

Yeah, you know, there’s another thing that that we tend to do when we’re yelling, and that is, is to point the finger cast blame. Be aware that, you know, everybody’s stressed, and screaming, yelling, blaming another is really not going to be helpful. It’s like Wah, wah, wah, wah, like we use, it’s, no one’s going to be listening to that. So, it’s really a mistake to blame others. And think about what you know, pushing your button. So just another point of view. Excuse me.

What Are Ways to Motivate a Parent/Caregiver to Seek Professional Help?  21:39

Gene

Now, another question that came in? What are some ways to motivate a parent caregiver to get professional help? When it’s needed? Though, I assume this means when one is not likely, or interested or willing, let’s add that into make it even a bigger challenge. How do we motivate if we notice that a parent? Or if anybody in the family notices that a parent needs professional help? How do we motivate them to get it?

Khadijah 

You know, the stigma is great. And sometimes I think, having someone because like you’ve said several times, we’re pack animals, we’re meant to be together with people. Often if you are warm and, and compassionate, and maybe offer to go with them. That can mean a whole lot. Because the other thing is, people are scared, so they don’t know what to expect, again, because of the stigma back that can go a long way in motivating someone to get help if they’re resistant.

Nance 

I would also say that there’s, I think there’s a difference between needing to get professional help and needing support. And there’s many ways you know, maybe, maybe, maybe the question is perhaps putting the cart before the horse, you know, are there ways in which we can be we can get support. You know, I’ll go back to something I read almost every day when we talk about support. adolescence or, or college age students during the pandemic, and we keep focusing on how important connections are, especially in that developmental period. Well, as you mentioned earlier, connections are important throughout our lives, right? So, we always say, oh, make sure your kids are still connecting with their friends and their peers, you know, do they have chaplains? Do they have opportunities to get together on zoom? Well, are you doing that for yourself as parents or caregivers? Are you gathering with friends or family members virtually or, you know, usually virtually, to get sort of the support that you might normally have gotten if you saw, you know, a coworker in the break room, and you’re saying, Oh, my God, last night, my child blah, blah, blah, and you have a little bit of exchange, it’s a connection and a support. I think starting with some of those things makes perhaps getting professional help, if you needed a little bit less intimidating, it’s sort of a step. You know, and also acknowledging that these things are normal, we’re all experiencing these things. And when they get to a point that our, our normal ways of coping can’t deal with anymore. So, you need a little bit of extra help. I mean, you’re not alone, I guess, is the point that I’m trying to make. Back to your point about stigma, that we’re all struggling, and sometimes the stars just aligned in a way that our normal support structures don’t do the trick anymore. We try those. And then if we need more

Khadijah 

That validation is so helpful.

Gene 

Yeah. And, you know, for the audience, there’s, for high school and for some college students is the students against destructive decisions, which is a peer support based group. And these are kids helping kids and they’re all under supervision. And in colleges, Active Minds, is an organization that uses peer support. So, you know, their models, peer support that in the referring to Nance that that that are out there. And they can be very helpful. And I want to get back to what Khadijah was saying about stigma is that, you know, I think one of the things that we all need to kind of work on is diminishing the barriers, preceding the consultation in mental health. I mean, you know, folks don’t often realize it, but, you know, one in four individuals during the course of their life will have a mental health problem, or Crisis and problem, a psychiatric disorder. And that’s incredibly high. I mean, it’s more common, for example, among adults than strep throat. And, and yet, there’s a strong reluctance to seek that. So, what I would say is, if you’re talking to somebody about, about getting some professional help, you know, it doesn’t mean that, you know, that they’re that they’re doomed or it’s a black mark when they’re oftentimes stigma. And it’s different with different cultural groups to which we could talk about, but folks often feel that getting mental health help means that there’s something wrong with them as a person, that they won’t get better, that that there’s that they wouldn’t be playing a week problem for life. And the data, research shows actually, that getting professional help mental health is about as effective as most medical conditions. But we don’t realize that oftentimes, and there’s such shame associated with it. And that’s where I think Nance’s comment about peer support is really important. And Khadijah, your, your notion of validation. And listening is really important as well.

Khadijah 

I just want to say you talk about the stigma around seeking mental health treatment, there’s so much stigma around just talking about it, between friends or between, you know, amongst ourselves. So, I think that’s the other area that we really need to focus because we’re not alone. And we’re all struggling. And it’s okay to talk about it.

Nance 

Yeah, and I think you know, back to not comparing yourself to others, and we assume that others aren’t struggling. But when you do open up the conversation, it’s quite astonishing to learn just how many of us are struggling. You know, I also often think of, you know, when we talk about college students needing to take a break. away from school because they’re struggling with an emotional health issue. Oftentimes, they feel like they’ve failed, somehow, they have to take time away, or they have to go get treatment. And I think the same feeling is probably true for many people who, who are apprehensive about getting treatment. And we try to encourage students and schools to applaud those people who are wise enough to know that they need to get some help, it doesn’t mean even that you have a psychiatric diagnosis or a mental health disorder, you might, you know, we all have garden variety issues that we could benefit from, sometimes from professional help. So, we got to turn that message around and really applaud the wisdom of people for knowing when they need to reach out and get some help, as opposed to feeling that they’ve somehow failed.

Gene 

Well, what’s interesting is we as parents, and grandparents, and caregivers, should really, you know, look to the younger people. Well, and this is really interesting. Well, again, you know, while the millennials and Gen Z are having more depression, anxiety, stress, and loneliness than any other generation, which is the bad news, the good news is, is that they’re more open to talking about it, than almost any other generation. And maybe that’s why the numbers are so high, because it may be an artifact of their being open to talk about depression, anxiety, stress, suicidal thinking, loneliness. But they’re open to talking about it. And that’s really positive. So, I think we can learn something from them in terms of their willingness to kind of be open about the forces in their life that are that are causing stress and anxiety.

Nance 

Yeah, every study shows, and all of the schools we’ve worked with that stigma is clearly on the decline among young people. It’s people in my generation, and you know, maybe a couple below me, that are still holding on to the stigma. So, and that’s unfortunate, because as the adult role models, we are reinforcing something that really, our younger folks in our world are recognizing, in a much more positive way. So, we need to wake up.

Are There Support Groups for Fathers (in Massachusetts)?  30:58

Gene 

So, the next question is, um, are there support groups for fathers in Massachusetts? I’m assuming parenting emotional support groups, like there are four moms. And we will provide a resource list, but Khadijah, do you know, of any?

Khadijah 

I don’t know of any in particular, no.

Gene 

Well, we’ll look around. I know that I’m at the MGH. One resource that will list is Ray Levy, has the Fatherhood Project. And I’m sure if anybody knows about support groups, for fathers in Massachusetts, we can do that. And if anybody in the audience knows of support groups, send it in, because I know that this is not limited to Massachusetts or New York, but all over the country. But it’s an important, it’s important. Support groups are really very important.

What Are Ways to Manage the Impact of COVID-19 on Students With Disabilities? 32:03

Gene

Okay, send in your questions, everybody. I have a couple more. The impact of COVID-19 on students with disabilities has been enormous. And the parents to manage the, you know, the unmanageable, with school. So, what, what is the impact of, of COVID-19 on students with disabilities?

Khadijah 

So one of the one of the big, big impacts is really being out of the school building, and not being able to get your services, whether they’re speech services, whether you’re getting counseling, export, occupational therapy, physical therapy, you’re not they’re getting those services because your home and depending on, you know, your, what your resources are, you may not even have, you know, internet to be able to connect to be able to maybe get those remotely if they can be delivered remotely. So, I think being out of the school building, not being connected to resources, one of the biggest challenges.

Nance 

Yeah, I was actually reading a bit about this the other day, in terms of, you know, what schools are doing to provide whatever services they can virtually it’s clearly not the same, and especially things like physical therapy, it’s just not going to happen. Some speech things, some things you can do virtually. But in terms, and, you know, looking at the IEP, and taking a look at what are the things that we can transition to virtually, it doesn’t mean that everything goes out the window, because you’re no longer in the school building. Right? So, what from the IEP can we be doing virtually to keep going? And then to your point about, you don’t have internet, I was reading, I’m not sure if it’s law, so don’t quote me on this: But that’s for schools who have students who require a device of some sort, whether it’s a computer or a voice activated, that the school at least is expected—I’m not sure if they’re required to provide that device. It certainly doesn’t take away from the enormous challenge that you mentioned, which is just, you know, blatant. But it doesn’t mean to say that everything goes out the window, either. There has to be something that can stay in place, and school does continue to have to provide within reason.

Khadijah 

And also having the IEP—I encourage a lot of parents to have their IEP modified for remote learning. So, you know, the other thing some kids had, one-on-one support to help them stay on task and to help them get worked done. And if parent is working at home, that’s almost impossible for them to do. So how do they adjust the accommodations to match what it is they’re actually doing?

Gene 

I think it’s especially difficult for parents that don’t have English as a first language. For families that are essential workers, it can’t be home to help homeschool families like 16% of Boston does not have the internet. And imagine a kid with a developmental disability, they can’t use the internet. And, and remote learning is distracting. So, we’ve got to be creative. I think what I would, what I recommended to a number of the parents that I’ve had is that if your kids are in public school, they’re required to provide accommodations, if there’s an IEP, or special accommodations, and the school really does need to provide that. Now there is an incredible burden on teachers. So, you know, I mean, I feel bad about saying this, but having some folks at school providing extra time for the kids to give them a little bit of extra help. But especially for the parents that can do that is super important. And parents need to either be advocates or get somebody at school to be an advocate for them. To get these, these needs met.

Khadijah 

And not to be no go. And not to be afraid to reach out to the teachers and say, you know, this is not working, this is what we’re doing. And it’s not working. And I need some more guidance. You know, it looks great on paper, but sometimes it doesn’t work in real life. And just to, to speak to how to you can manage your emotions when you’re frustrated. I think it just goes back to some of the things we talked about earlier, around giving yourself a break, and celebrating the wins that happened in the day. So maybe you didn’t get through math, English, and science, but you were able to get through social studies and celebrate the wins.

Nance 

Yeah. And I think we need to be realistic about that the fact that certainly for students with that need accommodations, but all students, there’s going to be a period of remediation. I mean, we have to be realistic that students, many students are not going to learn in the same way, or develop the same skills and knowledge base virtually as they would have within classroom instruction, whether that’s students with disabilities or any but especially for students with disabilities, like where’s the remediation? What how are we planning for remediation and catch up when students return to in person instruction? And I think that’s something that maybe folks are just beginning to think about now as we’re thinking about returning to in person instruction, but, but there’s, we can’t expect that the students are going to get back into the classroom and pick up where they left off because that’s likely an unrealistic expectation.

Gene 

So, um, thanks. Um, you know, one of the things that a lot of parents have worried about is will they ever be able to catch up will they lose out on their development, especially social emotional learning, for kids that have social issues? And the answer is, is that there’s always the opportunity to catch up. As long as you know, as what you were saying is, is that we’re monitoring where the gaps are with the social, emotional, behavioral cognitive gaps are. And we keep track of them. And we help with the teachers keeping track of them. Catch up.

Should You Prioritize Sleep Over Self-Care Activities? 38:40 

Gene

So, another question: In terms of prioritizing time for yourself – working out, reading, whatever makes you feel good – if you have to get up earlier and stay up later to work, do you recommend that? Or is sleep a better use of our time?

Khadijah 

That’s a tough one.

Nance 

Well, from someone who goes to bed at 8:30, I’d say sleep the top priority for me. I mean, sleep is self-care in many, many ways, I think. And if you’re having to get up at six and go to bed at two, because your workplace is not being flexible, or accommodating to the fact that you may have time during the day where you need to spend helping your remote learning children or you have an aging parent or a sick family member, then it strikes me that that is a conversation to have with your workplace because those hours are untenable, and certainly would lead to burnout.

Khadijah 

Yeah. And self-care can be varying times. So, you know, in terms of what you want to do, I do think it’s super important to schedule it, because it can be one of these things that we get into the trap of, there’s no time for this. But it doesn’t have to be an hour, it depends on you know, if you could squeeze it in, carving out 10 minutes to do meditation could be helpful. It could be self-care.

Gene 

And in terms of sleep for parents, I mean, one of the things that we haven’t talked about is, is the is kids need and parent current Parents need for structure. So, what I recommend to my patients is that take seven days a week, and structured as if you would, a school day. So, when is wakeup time? When is breakfast time? When is school time? When is homework time? When is a break time? When is, you know, running around outside if you have a yard, in the yard or so? Structure, structure. And frankly, you know if going to bed, if getting sleep, which is super important, is built into the schedule, maybe you all go to sleep earlier. I mean, what I’ve done is I’ve gone to sleep earlier, but I’ve also gotten up earlier an hour too early. Because if I get up an hour too early, earlier than I can get some stuff, some stuff done. In the very early morning hours. Now I was always late. I was always a night owl. But during COVID, I’ve gone to bed at eight or nine o’clock as opposed to 11 or 12 o’clock, and I’ve gotten up at 435 may sound crazy. But it’s part of a structure that works.

Nance 

I think one of the challenges is when you have younger children that need you during that school day because they’re normally in school while you’re working. But now you’re having to be with them, especially the younger ones that have maybe four or so hours a day of schooling. And then they need childcare if they’re three, four, or five or six. So, so then when do you do your work? If you’re employed, right, you start it when they go to bed, I mean, that that’s what I’m talking about their needs, I think we need to sort of reevaluate whether you’re working for a college or high school or you know, a business or whatever, you know, what are our expectations of employees? And how do we need to modify that a bit to accommodate the anomaly we’re facing?

Could College Students Provide Remedial Assistance? 42:23

Gene 

Yeah. So, another question here, um, advocate for local college students to volunteer to provide remedial assistance. I tell you, I’ve, I’ve recommended that, and I see a number of college students. And you know, it does a couple of things. I think, first of all, doing COVID you know, a number of the college students actually have the time to do that. They’re capable of doing that. And contributing and giving, you know, providing help. Now, I would recommend that the college student, I’ve recommended to my college students that I say that they talk with the teacher because they’re not special ed teachers. But this is not a matter of necessarily being a special ed teacher made Providing the same kind of assistance that a parent might provide. And it may just help the kid, you know, get over a hump.

Nance 

It also helps the college student to feel like they’re contributing, right? They’re making a contribution. They’re productive. They’re helping someone. I mean, I think that’s a win-win. It’s a win for both the person who’s providing the support and the person who’s receiving the support.

Khadijah 

Yes, and a sense of purpose, they have a sense of purpose.

Gene 

Yes, it’s interesting and important to note that giving is better than receiving. And when we give and contribute, it releases oxytocin in the brain, which is the chemical in the brain that makes us feel closer to people. So, you know, while we all like to get gifts, and well, you know, and receive things, what you said Nance is that it’s so true is that contributing is really important.

What Does Self-Care Look Like for Single Parents? 44:09

Gene

So, a couple other questions. I’m wondering what recommendations regarding self-care looks like for single parents who hold multiple jobs, and competing priorities between caring for multiple family members? … A tough one.

Nance

That’s a big challenge. I mean, first of all, just validating how difficult it would it is to navigate all of what was described in the question single handedly, right? And so, likely that that’s almost an impossible task. And so, we’re, who do you have in your network, that you might be able to turn to, for some support, whether it’s a friend or a family member, or a neighbor, or, you know, I’m thinking about when, when the pandemic first started and a lot of students were home, but parents were still working outside of the home. And so how were they going to manage their kids at home when they couldn’t be there? And, you know, many folks I know, reached out to other parents, so that they each took a day if they could, and so my day might be Monday, where I had all the kids, and you’re not supposed to really do that, because but you keep them kind of in separate rooms, or as far apart as you can. But it’s just one example of how can you use neighbors, neighborhoods, family members, you know, get support from the school, you know, however you clergy, where in your neighborhood, can you go or in your circle or your network, to get whatever support you can for even a short period of time, because it’s, it’s really probably going to take a village to do this, especially if you’re trying to do it on your own.

Khadijah 

And I think what is also important, and – I think it’s similar to what you said, is just the acceptance that this is going to be tough, and you can’t do everything. So, kind of giving yourself a break, figuring out what things are going to have to go what things will you do a little bit less of, and really kind of finding that balance. Because without that you’re trying to do too much, and the burnout will be super fast. The other thing I think and what you also mentioned earlier, is the planning in advance the planning in advance will be helpful in terms of getting in front of like tantrums. Be helpful in terms of allowing you to organize your day in allowing the kids to have their day organized as well. And I think it would, it would help a lot in for a lot of different reasons and a lot of different areas.

Gene 

One other group that we shouldn’t forget our grandparents. Many, many of us, including myself, are home have been home. And can be you know, great assistance. I mean, so Nance what you suggested in terms of using anybody that you possibly can in the community, and then your network is awesome. But let’s not forget that grandparents are around and really want to both connected to one another when they connect with their grandchildren. They connect with their children, and they’re doing something that can be super helpful if they’re capable of that.

What Are Activities to Do Together With Kids to Promote Well-Being? 47:40

Gene

Another question, generally speaking, parents don’t prioritize their health or well-being above their children’s, their children generally come first. What are some things parents and children can do together to improve their own and each other’s health and well-being? I appreciate the tip on structuring and scheduling.

Khadijah 

There are tons of things you can do together, you know, meditate together, deep breathe together, work out together, that the list is endless. And anytime, I think, that you can combine the two, which is awesome, because you’re spending time – quality time – you’re modeling and teaching, you know, self-care. And both of you, or having many kids there, everyone’s getting the benefit.

Nance 

And fun things like, you know, playing board games, you know, watching a movie, cooking a meal, you know, sort of the normal day to day things that you do anyway, you know, thinking – well, maybe not board games every day. But, you know, cooking a meal or you know, things that that are your daily things, doing them together. You know, many skills can be learned in, in having your children or your young people in, in your home, doing things with you. They may not care for doing the laundry, but then they learn how to fold sheets.

Khadijah

It’s necessary.

Gene

One of the things that I’ve done with a no—I’m just thinking of all of us, because I see a lot of kids and parents creative things, like learning an instrument together, like journaling, like writing poetry, like – Well, my family, for example, when the COVID when COVID began, when we were in lockdown, a couple months later, we created a quarantine, a Spotify quarantine playlist, and everybody including the young children, and I mean, you know, the three and four year olds contributed a song, so that we amassed a song of, you know, that we would all contribute, but doing things together. Learning, you know, that are creative, I think are really are really valuable. So, there’s so many things that we can do together.

Nance 

Gene, I hope your Spotify playlist did not include Baby Shark.

Gene 

That was actually forbidden. But actually, I have I have kids who are in who are in the good children’s music. But you know, turns out that my three-and-a-half-year-old contributed the banana boat song. And actually, her favorite song back then was Georgia and the only version she would listen to was Ray Charles. So, I was thrilled because, you know, I didn’t want to hear Baby Shark. But I can listen to Ray Charles all day long. So.

What If Everyone at Home Enjoys Different Activities (no overlap)? 50:54

Gene

Okay, so we’ve got another one. What if there were four people in a household – two adults, two children – and you all like doing different activities on your own time? I do not like watching Netflix, but my spouse and children do.

Nance 

Well, obviously, there’s room for negotiation, right? You need to, you know, everyone back to the planning? Who’s going to get to do what, when? Right? We’re not, you know, unless you each have your own device, which is probably I’m likely in a household of four, although for some that might be viable, then you each have your own device, you can do what you want. But if not, and you’re sharing, then obviously planning and negotiating. Who’s going to get what at what time?

How to Manage Relationships With Young Adults Who Move Back Home? 51:40

Nance

Gene, I was just noticing in the chat, the last question that they wanted us to address about how to parents manage relationships with young adults and college students need to move back home?

Khadijah 

Can I answer? Can I answer?

Nance

Yeah, you go!

Gene 

Well, yeah ’cause you have a real-life experience with that.

Khadijah 

He was so miserable in March when he came home, it was it was unbelievable. But you know, it is approaching it with warmth and empathy is really big. Remembering that they were once living on their own and somewhat independently without you without your kind of super, super keen oversight. And that it’s hard for them to they don’t want to be here. They lost their social connections; they’ve lost what they had dreamed of at their college campus experience. I think when you start in that way, your interactions can be much more productive and positive. But I think the biggest thing that you can do is include them as collaborators or problem solve or solvers with you in terms of thinking about renegotiating the house rules, what house rules have to stay, which ones will you be a little bit more lenient on. But I think doing those things together, you know, recognizing again, they were on their own once and now they’re home, and how that might feel is a great way and a great place to start.

Nance 

That’s so true. I mean, they’ve been living independently, right? So, you can’t take that completely away when they come home. At the same time. It’s helpful for them to understand what your boundaries are. And so, what do you need? What do I need? And how can we come to a place together but we can mutually agree upon would work for now? And I also can’t stress enough your point about really empathizing with all of the losses that they have loss of college experience, loss of friends, loss of the independence. I have heard, you know, some parents say, Oh, this will be over soon, or Oh, it’s not so bad. That’s not going to fly. I mean, really accepting and acknowledging that this is a difficult time for them. And so, to your point, as well, you know, how much leeway can we give them within boundaries that we can also accept?

Gene 

There’s also the issue with, with college students about what’s called anticipatory grief. So not only are they lost all of these, these milestones that you’ve mentioned, and but they’re anticipating further losses in the future, you’re getting a job getting an internship, you know,

Khadijah 

Taking a year off?

Gene

Right, so, what do I do for this gap here? There is a question about that, which I’ll just come to in a second. But you know, but also the interest group, but what if I’m not vaccinated, and I and I get somebody sick who, you know, who’s older and who’s, you know, in terms of… So, there’s lots of worries that, that they have. And we need to reassure them that, that we can help them and listen to them and validate them and help them, you know, make these decisions. The other question, yep, sorry, go ahead.

Nance 

And as I just about to say, also living with uncertainty. I mean, am I going back to class? Am I not going back to class? Am I going for a week? Am I going to be there for a month? You know, that uncertainty – and, and we can’t? We can’t tell them? What’s going to be because we don’t know ourselves. So, acknowledging that living with uncertainty breeds, you know, some level of anxiety.

How Do I Help My College Student Decide What to Do Next? 55:20

Gene 

Well, and the last question I have right here, and then we have to wind down is, you know, related, and it’s how do I how do I help my college student decide what to do next, to take a year off to take a gap year? You know, how can they what will help them in making these difficult decisions?

Khadijah 

I mean, I go back to the old-fashioned pros and cons list by fours. So, the pros of taking a gap year, the cons of taking a gap year, the pros of continuing the cons of continuing, I mean, that that’s a good place to start. And then you can then that gives you a place to, to expand the conversation.

What New Social Support Structures Should Continue After the Pandemic? 56:07

Gene 

And there’s one, I guess, one new question. They keep coming in, have you seen some social support structures that have started to grow during the pandemic, that should become more permanent support structures? What positive solutions have already been started, that could be grown and continued?

Nance 

I guess I think more of things in the workplace that I’ve seen, in terms of supporting staff and faculty in a school system around flexibility around the beginning to acknowledge staff as whole people, and not just worker bees, and some of the policy change and flexibility in routines and work times that have emerged that I hope will continue. You know, I think that there’s much that we’ve learned from the pandemic and the challenge the changes we’ve had to make that we could sustain. And I hope we do. And I think a lot of those focus around how we can change the culture of the workplace.

Gene 

Well, I think we have to wrap up, I want to thank you all for taking time to join us today. And thank you, for all you do for the young people in our life. Remember to take care of yourself too. And, as we say at the Clay Center at the end of all of our podcasts. We hope that our conversation will help you have yours. Thanks, everybody. Thanks, Nance.

Nance 

Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Thanks for visiting the Clay Center. We are entirely funded by visitors like you. We receive no financial support from Massachusetts General Hospital or Harvard Medical School. Your support of our work helps us to continue to produce content on mental health topics that support the emotional well-being of young people everywhere.

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