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By Riikka Melartin, Psy.D.
Our clients at Commonwealth Psychology Associates® have been impacted in numerous ways by COVID-19, the efforts to control it, and the domino effects from both. Among the most stressed are parents with young children. Last week’s announcement that schools and daycares would remain closed until the end of June means two more months of the current challenges. Most families’ lives run smoothly only if every single piece is in its place, so an unexpected trip, illness, or other change can lead to frantic rearranging of duties, schedules, and roles. Now with COVID-19, families are struggling with an unprecedented scenario: many parents working full-time while also being responsible for full-time childcare and/or home education, all in the context of economic insecurity, social isolation, and health anxiety.
Given this, I hope you take a deep breath and realize what heroes you are in just getting through the day-to-day. While there are many resources on the internet for support (some of them are on our website,) as well as numerous sites of activities for children, I won’t address those here. What I want to do instead is to reassure you that you are already doing enough. I repeatedly hear guilt, frustration, and worry from clients that they are failing — as employees and as parents. Please remind yourself that these are extraordinary times, and that if you are doing 60 percent in both realms, you are already at 120 percent. Extraordinary times call for compassion towards yourself as well as others.
The second theme I hear is worry about children’s well-being and development during this time at home. I would remind you that developmental psychologists often lament that American children are largely over-scheduled, and that their schooling is overly academic and testing-focused. Thus, despite its stress on parents, you may want to think of this interlude as an unexpected gift for many children (provided that the needs for food, shelter, and physical and emotional safety are met.)
Not being around a large group of peers for much of the day reduces social and academic stress. Not having to rush off to get to school on time allows for more sleep and less hectic transitions to the day. Not having the deadlines of homework, cramming for tests, and practice for MCAS reduces academic anxiety, which is huge problem among our children and youth. Time being “bored” and unstructured fosters self-reliance, self-regulation and imagination. Time for play fosters cognitive and social skills. In many ways, your children can come out of this with positive cognitive and emotional effects, even if they have not learned much math or other academic content.
Finally, when guilt rears its head after you’ve been distractedly answering emails while on child-care duty: remember that throughout human history, children rarely had their parents’ undivided “quality time” attention. They were simply along for the ride when adults were doing farm work, gathering and making food, or doing chores. The quality time you wish you could have with them, may now be replaced by quantity. Believe it or not, harried, distracted, often irritable time with you in the house is still important and precious to your children. In the pandemic, the constancy of your presence, day in, day out, week after week, provides security and resiliency for your children that you cannot underestimate. Give yourself credit for everything you are doing and know that the nature of childhood is to learn and grow, whether in school or not.
Riikka Melartin, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who provides individual therapy, counseling, and consultation for clients who are diverse in age, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Until recently, she also worked as a school psychologist. Look for her monthly blog post about child & adolescent therapy on www.commpsych.com.
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