Lynne Okun, Mental Health Specialist
KEEPING THE CONNECTION GOING DURING COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS
As a mental health specialist, my priority is to understand the unique needs, thoughts and feelings of our families, especially during a crisis. With the COVID-19 restrictions, my daily face-to-face connections, and the preschool routine with our children and families, were all suddenly cut off. This brought up many feelings for our families including fear and uncertainty, familiar feelings from their past trauma of homelessness.
What we’re doing:
Since the “Stay at Home” orders were issued, I make weekly phone calls to find out how each family is managing. Without a therapeutic pre-school program available, parents are now juggling responsibilities and caring for their children in new and highly challenging ways. Each week, my calls identify the specific needs of our families and we work on meeting the parents’ requests as much as possible.
What we’ve done:
The basic needs of food, diapers, toiletries and toilet paper were our first point of focus and deliveries made to families. A book delivery one week thrilled parents and children, giving them an enjoyable way to spend time together. Families received art supplies one week. Drawing pictures and shapes with color is a good way for young children to express their feelings without using words. Art therapy zoom sessions also help children release unspoken fears and frustrations.
Many parents reported being challenged by having to keep their children busy for so many hours every day. We discussed how to create structure with routines and a daily schedule. Every week I email parents suggestions for parent-child, easy-to-do home activities that promote educational and emotional development.
Without a well-equipped playground or yard, getting enough physical activity is hard for many of our families in their limited situations. Even so, some families are making it a priority to get outside and take walks. I offered families a simple scavenger hunt that parents can do with their children during walks in their neighborhoods. Some parents are enjoying seeing the wonders of nature through the eyes of their young children.
When a child revealed he was missing Grandma, we set up a nightly “good night” zoom time with his grandmother. These connections have become a reassuring ritual. I’ve encouraged parents to include reading as part of the bed-time routine, helping their children calm down, snuggle in and share their feelings, all things that strengthen the parent-child relationship.
What we’re learning:
My observation is that families are re-discovering what it is to BE together. One parent reported enjoying having three meals in a row with her child, something that previously hadn’t been happening in their busy lives.
Step Up Ventura is a source of support and parenting suggestions, making things more manageable for our families. Even with the daily difficulties, we see our families building resilience—becoming stronger together is one of the silver linings of these times.