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Q&A: Parenting Concerns During COVID-19, Part 2
By Riikka Melartin, Psy.D.
My school-aged kids are refusing to go outside. How do I encourage them without making it antagonistic?
First, try to determine what is behind this reluctance. Most likely, the children have fears about the virus. They may have misunderstandings or misinformation and may worry that just going outside may expose them or their loved ones to potential death. If this is the case, some simple education and reassurance may help (most likely you will need to do this repeatedly.)
You can also ask them to think about what might help them go outside. Sometimes children know what they need, without knowing how to put it into words until prompted. Also, as creatures of habit, we humans can develop inertia and anxiety about any change. Thus, if you spent a lot of time indoors and avoided stores and parks in the first weeks or months of the pandemic, it may just not feel “right” to change that behavior.
Even if your children don’t have actual fears about coronavirus, they may still feel reluctant to leave their familiar comfort zone. In order to overcome this, give plenty of lead time for your outing, and tell the children concretely both what will make it safe as well as what will be fun about it.
Try to make the first outings very short and have them involve something the children find rewarding (seeing the ducks in the duck pond, getting an ice cream). Give a lot of positive reinforcement during their outing and after, verbal as well as affectionate touches and smiles. It may be that your child is only willing to walk to the end of the driveway at first, or only be outside for five minutes — whatever it is, you can build on it with encouragement and checking in.
I am concerned about “screen time” for my children during the pandemic, especially since I have been trying hard to limit or restrict use.
This is a toughie, and I feel for parents who are trying to do this. It may be easier now that virtual school is out, but if/when education is online in the fall, it will be once again be more of an issue. Parents may have a number of concerns, including concrete practical ones.
First, you may worry about what all this blue light and staring at the screen is doing to your children’s physical health. Is it ok for their eyes? Might it trigger headaches? Affect sleep? To begin with, you can try glasses that block out blue light. Some computers have setting for minimizing blue light as well. You can shift the computer closer and further away, higher and lower, as well and changing the size of the screen window, to allow for focusing at different distances. You can check with your pediatrician for other possible suggestions, especially if you have a child with specific needs such as vision issues or low tone.
Second, you may wonder how sitting in front of the screen for hours every day may affect your child’s posture and fitness. To help with this, you may want to borrow ideas from adults who work on computers for a living: change up the arrangements every few hours or days. Switch chairs and pillows frequently, rig up a standing desk (ironing boards work, as do boxes or books on tables,) invest in a balance ball for sitting. Also, set timers so that your child gets up every twenty or thirty minutes to move. And of course, the more hours your child sits in front of the screen, the more you will want to encourage physical activities, from chores to sports.
Third, as children sometimes have told me, their parents have explained to them that too much screen time “will rot my brain.” You may worry that passive screen time will stultify their imaginations, not give them practice reading, reduce opportunities for problem solving, and not build social skills. During the pandemic, however, with fewer opportunities for physically shared activities, some screen time for pleasure can be a useful part the day that reduces parental workload as well as providing children with stimulation. You will want to make sure that the programs they watch or games they do are varied, and at least some are educational or challenging (animal and science shows, language learning, exercise classes, historical movies, interactive games.) Put on subtitles or closed captioning when watching programs to help strengthen reading skills. And finally, regarding socializing, as noted in my last column, Facetime or Zoom can help your child have interactions with others and maintain social relationships and social learning even when physical get-togethers are not possible.
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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