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By Holly Branam, LCSW – May 26, 2020 –

We are living in a unique time in history. Schools have been closed, events are cancelled and businesses are just now beginning to reopen their doors. We have experienced the loss of so many familiar things. Routines have changed and aspects of our lives are delayed indefinitely.

Although we are going through this pandemic together, our individual experiences are vastly different. Some of us are working outside the home, some are working inside the home and some have lost their jobs.

We may be overwhelmed juggling work and educating/entertaining our children or isolated, living alone, and desperate for human contact. There are some individuals who have directly experienced the loss of a loved one or reside in areas where the virus has spread quickly, while others are living in areas that have barely been affected.

As we begin the process of returning to a new normal, each person is going to have an opinion on the right way to move forward. There will be varying levels of comfort based on our individual experiences and location. My sister lives in a large city that has been greatly affected and plans to shelter in place for months, possibly. However, I live in a small town with less than a handful of cases and feel more comfortable venturing out.

As we begin to make plans for the future, my sister and I have started talking about what we are individually comfortable doing and have agreed to respect each other’s opinions no matter how different they may be. We love each other and value our relationship. That connection and support is more important than our individual opinions.

As humans, we were created to be in community with each other, and supportive relationships help us cope. Social media and a variety of other online options have made connecting possible during this difficult situation, and I feel blessed that we live in a time where this is possible.

Unfortunately, as I scroll through social media I am saddened and discouraged by the unkind posts I see. We need each other, and unkind words only work to separate us.  Our energy is wasted on panic, blame, regret or anger. So instead, let’s focus our energy on kindness, caring, giving, and sharing.

These feelings of uncertainty won’t last forever, but the words we speak to others can have a lasting impact. As we move forward there is so much to be done. People are in need and we can put our compassion into action. We can spread kindness, listen to others, offer support, provide comfort and encourage one another.

We need to come out on the other side of this mentally healthy as well as physically healthy. We can’t control the choices others make, and trying to do so only creates frustration and distance.  So let’s let go of what we can’t control and give each other a little more grace.

I was playing a game with my daughter the other day. She wasn’t sure if the number she was looking at was a 6 or a 9, and I realized that perspective is everything. Frequently we see things differently depending on how we are oriented to the world around us. Beyond our current situation, we have a lifetime of experiences and beliefs that have shaped us.

We will all have different ways to process and handle stress and change. Let’s begin to be aware of how our words and actions affect others and try to understand their perspective. We can find peace by reminding ourselves that people are imperfect and are doing the best they can with what they know.

Someday we may look back on this time and have all the answers, but right now we are just trying to make our way through. We are in uncharted waters, so let’s be kind. Together we can make a difference.

By Mary Ruth Branstetter – April 7, 2020 –

Many years ago a friend gave me a beautifully framed quote that reads, “Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace within the storm.” 

Over the last couple of weeks we have all found ourselves within the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is especially true for children and parents of school-aged children.

Our children have had to switch gears from going to school to being at home 24 hours a day/7 days per week. Parents have had to shift gears also, possibly working from home and adding the title of “teacher” to their parental resume. 

This shift creates additional work and stress for both parents and children. However, children often do not know how to put words to their feelings. Because children may not have words such as worry, fear, sadness, anxiety, anger, and even depression to describe their stressful feelings, they act out. 

Acting out may look like excessive clinginess, tearfulness, emotional meltdowns, aggressiveness, or regression in other behaviors. Children may also suffer from more physical complaints such as headaches, stomach aches, a racing heart, dizziness, interruption in sleep patterns, etc.

As a parent, grandparent or caregiver, you have the challenge of helping your child learn to express and deal with their complicated feelings in a healthy, appropriate manner. This is no easy task, as you may be experiencing many of the same feelings yourself. However, you have to remember that you are your child’s “safe place” in what may seem like an unsafe world at present. 

Children are usually at their best when they feel safe, connected to others and have structure and organization in their lives; in other words, a sense of predictability and normalcy. You can be this fortress of safety and normalcy by trying some of the following strategies.

Learn/teach how to properly practice deep, relaxing breathing. You can do this in innovative, fun ways such as lying on the floor with your child while each of you puts a stuffed animal on your stomach. As you breathe in through your nose for a count of 3 or 4 and out through your mouth for a count of 3 or 4, you should see the animal sink and rise on your belly. This means you are doing deep, relaxing diaphragm breathing.

Deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system. In simple language, it helps decrease sensations of fear or distress and increases a sense of calm. This would be an excellent way to start your at-home school days along with a discussion of what the day’s routine is going to be, which again conveys a sense of safety to children.

Try to take a break every 20-30 minutes, depending on age and attention span of your child. During these breaks, dance, sing, hum, and encourage movement, as these types of activities help to naturally promote a sense of calmness and/or positive mood. 

If you notice your child is starting to become frustrated or upset during an assignment, try to interrupt the frustration before it becomes a full-blown meltdown.  Suggest they splash cold water on their face, put a cool rag to the back of their neck, or give them a piece of sugar-free candy or gum to chew. 

You could also try a 5-minute “blanket break.” Wrap the upset child in a blanket for 5 minutes, have them close their eyes if they’re comfortable doing so, take 3-4 deep breaths and think about a family vacation, memory or activity that makes them happy.

End your home school/homework time with a discussion of what the next day’s tentative schedule is going to be and one thing they have learned or are grateful for from their day.  Again, this promotes predictability and a positive attitude. Also, in ending your school/homework time with your children, give them time to ask questions or talk about something that is on their mind or important to them. 

Even if you only have 5 or 10 minutes to do this, try to really listen, empathize if needed, answer questions truthfully with age-appropriate facts…and try not to be judgmental. Just like you, children are trying to understand and come to terms with the current chaos and unknown of the “new normal” – in what is not their normal world.

Please check out the Youth First website at youthfirstinc.org/selmaterial for additional suggestions, activities, and exercises to help strengthen families and youth through this stressful time in our lives.