How to help your children who are feeling a little anxious about COVID-19

Are you feeling a little anxious about being in home quarantine? I bet your children are, too. Or maybe they are more anxious about being away from their friends and school.

Some children are able to talk about their anxiety. They might describe it as fear, worry, or nervousness.  Many children, however, don’t have the insight or the language to describe their anxiety.  Instead, they experience stomachaches, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, tiredness or other pain. Or they may not be aware of it, but you notice it in their behavior, with crying, bedwetting, difficulty sleeping, fidgeting, pacing or shaking. As anxiety progresses, it may also bring on depressive symptoms which include fatigue, loss of appetite (or increased appetite), weight loss or gain, sadness, or avoiding activities a person normally enjoys.

So what do we do about COVID-19-related anxiety in our children (and ourselves?)

First, limit how much news they and we are taking in. Do we really need to keep the COVID-19 case tally website open on the computer? (Asking for a friend.) Reducing our exposure to worrying news might mean limiting phone/computer access to certain hours or sites/apps. Talk with your teen/tween about why you think this is a good idea. When we take lots of bad news we can’t do anything about, the powerlessness we experience can lead to anxiety or depression. Stick to reliable news sources, and avoid sites that spread rumor and speculation (I’m looking at you, reddit and facebook.) Once you have set some limits, then follow them together.

Second, hear them out. Your children might be experiencing some really big emotions right now. Create space for them to share these with you, whether it’s in the dark at bedtime, in a drawing, or just over a cup of tea together in the kitchen. When we sit down with them and give them our full attention, it sends a message that we are all in this together. You don’t have to have the answers. Some good open-ended questions or prompts, (“Tell me more…” or “How are you feeling?”) go a long way.

Younger kids especially benefit from our giving names to emotions. When they act out, it can help for us to name the emotion we’re seeing. Saying, “I feel angry, too,” or “I wish you could be at school, too,” can help normalize their feeling and make their anger/fear/worry seem less scary to them.

Answer their questions. Think of this like sex ed: your job is to answer their questions, and if you don’t know, then find out. If no one knows the answer, then be honest about that. But you don’t need to add in fifty further details about your own fears, or your own speculation about it, or answer the next question that seems extremely obvious to you, but that hasn’t occurred to them yet.

Look for ways to act. Feeling powerless is really difficult (remember when you went to buy TP and there wasn’t any?) Maybe your faith community has a prayer ministry you can participate in together, or suggestions of other ways you can support your community. Maybe you could run to the store or cook a meal for a neighbor who is at high risk of infection.

Physical activity is an antidote for stress. So is being outside. We can model these behaviors for our kids and invite them to participate with us. Practicing a stress-relieving technique together (yoga, mindfulness, breathing exercises) can benefit us all. If you don’t know how to do this yet, now is a perfect time to learn. I’ve linked to a few below.

It’s important to remember that our goal is not to help our children avoid every stressful situation (and right now, obviously we can’t.)  Our message to them is that we will get through this together. We want to show them we have (or can learn) the skills we need to help us feel better, and that they’re not alone.

If your child’s (or your) anxiety is interfering with their (or your) ability to function, please get help. Your family doctor or pediatrician is a great place to start. Your local children’s hospital will have a phone number you can call to make an appointment. On the back of your insurance card, there should be a phone number to access mental health services. If you are uninsured, your local Community Health Center (you can find it here) will have behavioral health resources for you and your children.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about how you can use the routines you already have at home to optimize learning at home and reduce anxiety.

Seven Quick Takes: May Madness

May Madness: it’s like March Madness, without a bracket.

One: Last year I made mental notes (and paper ones) about how crazy May was, so that we would never do it like that again. And now it’s May, and it’s just like last year, only worse.

May is when my head is full of “finishing well” and what that looks like, and instead of executing what’s in my imagination, I am usually swept away by the avalanche of recitals, school dances/concerts/plays, and award ceremonies.

Blurry photo of Annie, Jr., featuring Phoebe as the diminutive tycoon, Oliver Warbucks
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Piano recital
Spoiler alert: they played beautifully

Two: We haven’t quite recovered from April yet. Between robotics tournaments (including an amazing week with a trip to NASA), illness, swim meets, and piano recitals, we came into May pretty depleted.

I think the trip to Houston was worth it for the trip to NASA alone.

Three: So we’re focusing on good nutrition (read: Easter candy from the clearance aisle) and exercise.

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These are the disgusting jelly beans left over after my children picked out all the good ones. They weren’t quite as bad as Berty Botts Every Flavour Beans… but they were close. (Not that that stopped me from eating them.)

Four: Okay, we could do better on the nutrition. But exercise, yes.

I’ve been running and doing yoga. I bribed the children to ride bikes for ice cream. We’ve been playing Kinect Sports in the basement. (I’m filing virtual bowling under the heading of Something Is Better Than Nothing.)

Best part of bowling at home: bowling in bathrobes.

Five: Now we’re just trying to focus on finishing well. This year (as opposed to last year), that includes embracing the art and music and time outside that I so easily leave behind in the push to finish all.the.things.

Denver Art Museum (yet again) for the win: the printmaking studio open right now is so cool. (The DAM is kind of like Duke or UConn: almost always makes the Final Four.)

Six: Finishing well (for us) means saying Yes to Giant Jenga and ice cream.

Seven: Finishing well means leaving time for reflection in the midst of all the doing.

What does finishing well mean for you?

Be sure to check out This Ain’t the Lyceum for more Quick Takes.

One down, three to go

I can hardly believe it, but he graduated.

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Of course, I believe it, but…

Wasn’t he just a baby?

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I expected to be really emotional about it all, but there was so much going I didn’t have time.  Nor do I have anything deep to say about it other than I am so, so grateful for the opportunity to spend 18 years with this amazing person that is my son.

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Daybook: late October

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Outside my window: Still dark. But once the sun comes up, there will be leaves to rake and a crisp morning. I’m hoping to make it out for a run today.

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This autumn has felt especially colorful and precious to me, and I think it’s because I missed much of autumn last year because of my injury. I couldn’t run, or even really walk around the neighborhood, because my foot hurt so badly. Now I am so grateful to be outside.

In the kitchen: my mental energy is elsewhere right now, so it’s going to be easy staples this week: simple soups (butternut squash, potato-dill, Jerusalem lentil) and eggs of various kinds. And maybe some pumpkin ribbon bread.

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In the school room: Phoebe had a breakthrough last week, seeing some progress in areas that have been challenging for her. I think it’s very hard to be the youngest- she spends a lot of time thinking she’s behind, when really, she’s just younger.

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Meanwhile, Jonah is working hard on college and scholarship applications. This process has shown me where lie some gaping holes in my educational plans. It’s hard to be the oldest- he’s the guinea pig for all my theories.

Today is the end of our first quarter. We need to get to the library for new books (and return all ones that are overdue…)  I think it’s time to schedule a reading day.

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We collected a bunch of leaves two weeks ago before the snow, and last week I got around to ironing them in waxed paper.  The kids couldn’t remember the word for ironing board and were very puzzled as to why I had it out. We certainly never use it for ironing clothes.

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Grateful for: second (and third and fourth) chances. The medical miracle I witnessed last week. Friends.

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While Jonah and I look at colleges this weekend, Owen’s going to visit his godparents. I am so grateful for our children’s godparents and their investment in our kids.

Sam and I had a chance to get away this weekend. It was a trip we’d scheduled and then had to cancel last year. We slept in, read books, ran long, and ate delicious meals we didn’t have to prepare or clean up afterwards. So many gifts.

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Praying for: New life, both literal and metaphorical. Mandy. Luke. Upcoming college visits. Discipline. Our group of four young confirmands at church as they prepare for confirmation.

 

First week of school: a summary

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I am very grateful for our neighbors’ sweet dog, who likes walks as much as Moriah does.

We went into our first week of school tired. I was definitely not at my best, but we managed to have a good, quirky, imperfect first week.  Here are a few snapshots:

Favorite moment: reading The Penderwicks on Gardam Street at our picnic

Most inspirational resource: Spare Parts, the movie

Biggest honor: playing piano at my friend’s mother’s memorial service

Biggest fail: tomato bisque (inspired by this clip, which my children inexplicably love)

Number of games played on the new coffee table: 18

Number of times the children asked “What’s for dinner?”: 835 (each)

Biggest milestone:  teaching Jonah to drive.  (Where is the parents’ manual for driver’s ed?!!)

Most untrue thing said: “I’m terrible at math!!”

Weirdest thing I said: “Solo puede haber uno!!” I haven’t actually let my children watch Highlander (even in Spanish)…  and not just because it’s the weirdest movie I like.  (Fargo being the other movie I have an odd affection for.)  But I feel it’s coming.

What is the weirdest thing you said this week?

9th Grade Literature & Composition Course: 1st Semester

I wrote this English curriculum for my 9th grader this year.  You are welcome to use and adapt it to suit your own home school.  Please suggest any books you would add in the comments!  I’ll have the Spring Semester in a later post.

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Fall Semester: What Makes a Hero?

Choose any books from this list to read at a pace appropriate to your student. I would recommend reading at least one book from ach time period.

Ancient

  • The Illiad or The Odyssey (Homer- I like the translations by Robert Fagles)
  • Antigone (Sophocles)
  • Daniel
  • Plutarch’s Lives (these volumes are full of entertaining character studies of ancient Greeks and Romans- they would be good for those who need shorter works)

Middle Ages

  • Beowulf (I like Seamus Heaney’s translation)
  • Pilgrim’s Progress (John Bunyan)
  • Robinson Crusoe (Defoe)

17th-19th Centuries

  • Kidnapped (Stevenson)
  • Jane Eyre (Bronte)
  • The Merchant of Venice (Shakespeare)
  • Amazing Grace (Metaxas)- this is a biography of William Wilberforce, who lived from 1759-1833)
  • Amos Fortune, Free Man (Yates)- again, a biography of an amazing man who lived from c. 1710-1801

20th Century-present

Questions for discussion or papers:

  • Who is the Hero of this story?  What makes him or her heroic?
  • James Geary wrote, “Heroism often results as a response to extreme events.”  Does this mean any person can be a hero in a time of extreme events, or does becoming a hero require life preparation in advance of a person’s becoming a hero?
  • How were the actions of the hero extraordinary?  Does heroism require extraordinary times, or can a person be a hero in ordinary life?
  • Robert Green Ingersoll wrote, “When the will defies fear, when duty throws the gauntlet down to fate, when honor scorns to compromise with death- that is heroism.”  Was this true in the book you just read?
  • What is the price of heroism in this character’s life?
  • We looked at each grouping of books by time period to examine how the qualities of a hero differed by time.  How did historical events and understanding influence the portrayal of a hero over time?  For example, the ancient heroes were often physically beautiful or powerful and relied on the gods for their success, while later heroes relied on their own wits and were not necessarily favored by birth.
  • Our final paper answered this question through the lens of our readings: How did the characteristics of a hero change over time?

We All Make Choices

This is a cholesterol molecule.  At some point in my medical school biochemistry class, we were assigned to memorize the four-stage process by which cholesterol is synthesized in the cells.

I had already memorized the Krebs cycle, mitochondrial ATP synthesis, the 206 bones in the adult body (and the 270 bones in the newborn that fuse down to the 206 in the adult), and the fascinating [ahem] pathway that sodium travels in the kidney.  I had two days before the exam, and it wasn’t going to happen.  I decided not to memorize the cholesterol production pathway and prepared to take my hit on the exam. I still got an A on the test.

But guess what my first pediatric rotation was?  Pediatric Endocrinology.  And guess what all our hormones are made out of? You got it: cholesterol.  We students rotated with a different professor each day, and every single one of them quizzed us on the cholesterol pathway.  The pathway showed up on my board exam.  Twice.  However, I have never used the four steps of cholesterol synthesis in my eighteen years of clinical practice, and I stand by my decision not to memorize it.

Educating my children, I find the what-to-learn decisions fraught with peril.  This or that?  Every Yes is a No to something else. We can’t possibly learn it all.  There is just no way.  And I believe in the adage that we learn what we use. My littles all have to learn their addition facts and how to read.  We all have to be able to write a good paragraph.  But as time goes on, our interests develop and change.  I can see what the boys are excited about by what they reserve at the library, and the girls show me with what they build, crochet and draw. I am trying to make space in their assignments to dig deeper into those ideas and interests.

Most of what they chose to learn isn’t going to show up on any standardized test, but it’s going to shape their future.  So I say Yes to Norse mythology and Java and knitting and bears. (And I say No to cholesterol synthesis.)

What are you saying Yes to these days?