Reflections On A Hard Year, Part 5: A Mother Reflects On Her Own Sorrow

The hardest part of the pandemic for me has been tolerating the deep sorrow that accompanies illness and mortality while simultaneously protecting my children from this very feeling within myself. 

Although I am one of the lucky parents – I did not contract COVID and was vaccinated in early 2020 – there was illness and death all around me.  The first months of the pandemic were hard — my uncle, who I grew up adoring (and feeling adored by) died suddenly from COVID. I remember one day in early April 2020 my mother called to tell me that he was feeling ill.  Three days later he died in a nearby hospital.  Luckily, his doctor was a family friend and allowed my aunt (his wife of fifty-five years) to be by his side as he took his last labored breath. 

My heart felt broken.  

Days later my family gathered on Zoom for his funeral and shiva.  I sat in my own home, on our family couch. I was surrounded by my husband and my two boys, my youngest, sitting on my lap, wrapping his little fingers inside my palm.  And, even though there were familiar faces and voices on my screen – my cousins, aunts, parents, and sibling – I felt very alone in my grief. So many parts of these rituals were missing – hugs with my family, communal vibrations of song that soothe when many voices join together in a single space, and of course, the presence of my family elders ushering us (the younger generation) through loss.  

All of a sudden everything and everyone around me felt fragile and I could no longer take anything for granted.  I stayed awake at night wondering how I would raise our two young boys if my husband (a physician who treated COVID patients) became ill and died? And what would happen to my dear boys if I died?

Without a government that took the pandemic seriously, how would I keep my boys safe even if I did manage to survive? And, in my most terrifying moments, the only thing I could think about was how George Floyd’s last words spoke every boy’s deepest source of security – “mama.”  

It is misleading to say that the pandemic is solely responsible for the slow tear that pervaded my veil of security. In the months prior to the emergence of COVID in the US, my life had already been uprooted by illness. In fact, I spent most of the fall of 2019 caring for important people in my life who were ill.  In October of 2019, I stayed with a close friend and helped with her two daughters as she endured treatment for stage IV lung cancer.  And then, in the final days of 2019, my father was diagnosed with Leukemia and I underwent surgery, donating my bone marrow to him to increase his chances of survival.  

By the time the pandemic hit, I was exhausted and needed time for reflection.  In a normal year I would have used the spring to sort out the feelings that came with the previous fall.  On my hours off from work and while my kids were at school, I would have enjoyed visits with my dad and taken long runs by the river. I would have met friends for tea and shared my experience, emerging from the interaction feeling grounded and full. Now, my whole world shrunk down to the few rooms of my home – with my kids at home for school and my husband working at the hospital I could no longer leave the house to hold my dad’s hand nor to go running by myself.  Suddenly, it was no longer safe to meet friends in person and as a therapist I often did not want to set up one more Zoom session even if it was for the purpose of talking to friends. I found myself crying in the shower so that no one would hear me, especially my children.   

As a daughter of a severely depressed mother, I have worked hard to hide my sorrow from my children.  I don’t mean I never let them see me sad or upset.  Rather, I’ve tried hard to protect them from the deep sorrow many daughters of depressed mothers inherit – the feeling that we are undeserving of goodness and are responsible to make our mothers better so that we may have the goodness we see others enjoy.  Over the years, I’ve buoyed myself with my professional work and beautiful experiences that remind me I am worthy of joy (such as fun family vacations).  And, I’ve healed the broken part of me through many deep relationships – my therapist, mentors, friends, and especially my husband who understand this part of me and support my many endeavors to live fully, with strength and joy. Together, we have been able to give our boys the things that my mother could not give me – a deep sense of hope, agency in the world, and freedom to be children. Now, without my traditional ways of recuperating – usually out of my children’s sight – how would I manage not to slip into my own depression?  How would I protect them from my own fears and sorrow – stirred by so much illness and death (not to mention protect them from very real threat of COVID)?

I wish I could say that over the last 15 months I rallied by establishing a daily practice of yoga, baking bread, and used the extra time at home to “Marie Kondo” my closets (as I witnessed so many others do in the many articles I read online at 3 am).  But, I did not.  My children are still home for remote school and they are unvaccinated. I had to find ways to allow myself to feel what I was feeling.  And I did.  I found a way to stay close to the rhythms of my sorrow and move through them, this time along side my children rather than outside their view.  

Over this pandemic time of sadness, I have come to realize that I do not have to hide my sorrow from my children in order to protect them.  In fact, I have recognized that in order to prepare them for life as it really is, I have to allow them to know about sorrow and sadness. And I have decided that we can now talk, as a family, about how some parts of life are naturally hard and sad and that giving ourselves care and comfort in these hard times is essential.

Before it was safe to have a babysitter, I would run around the baseball field, tracking my miles, while my boys played catch and cheered me on to run one more lap. Now, both of my boys look forward to beginning the week when they have “extra movie time,” while I meet with my therapist online.  They know that I often need to cry when I learn that their grandpa was re-admitted to the hospital and they see me moving through the pain by baking him his favorite date-nut bread for when he returns home.  Additionally, they accompany me on visits with my friends in the park, developing their own loving relationships with them.  

I am still tired.  I still look forward to the time when my kids can return to school. I need more time to myself and they need to feel independent and have time with their teachers and friends. In the meantime, I am doing the unthinkable – I am healing myself along side my children.  Without burdening them with my sorrow, I have let them see how I find my resiliency in the face of hardship. I am hopeful we will all emerge stronger and my boys, if they ever lose their own sense of inner strength, will know they can always find their way back.

Reflections On a Hard Year, Part 3: A Mother of Three Describes Her Year

2,085 Father Hugging Son Illustrations & Clip Art

The last year of Covid was scary for our family.  At the beginning of the pandemic my husband worked on the frontline for three months straight without any break. With the tons of patients he was taking care of, I felt sure he would get Covid. I thought, “He’s not in the best of health and what if he dies?”  It felt inevitable that something terrible would happen.  This freaked me out and I went into survival mode. 

Also, I wanted to protect our kids as much as possible – but I couldn’t stop asking myself what I would do if our kids had to grow up without their father. 

And then there were the day to day deprivations: my husband would come home after a 15+ hour day but the kids and I couldn’t even hug him. Before we got to see him every night he had to perform a routine of entering through the garage, disrobing and taking a shower; it was only then that we could get close to him.  My kids and husband did “bubble hugs” (hugging the air) if we happened to see him outside before he got to do his disinfection process. 

And he and I slept in separate bedrooms for months because God forbid if we both got Covid – who would take care of the kids? 

My husband felt like a hero to me and to my children and I felt so guilty that after serving so selflessly each day, he had to be treated like an alien in his own home. But we knew it was necessary.  He even had his own designated sofa in our family room that we coined the “nether couch” that only he was allowed to lie on. I felt so isolated and lonely.  Both of my parents are physicians and yet they were unable to relate to what we were going through; they generally regard us as superhuman and basically thought we would be fine. Those first couple of months were truly the scariest moments because of the large possibility that I could lose my husband. We did not know the contagion risk and the true mortality numbers amongst health care workers at that point. I have gotten through a lot of adversity with him by my side but what would I do without him?  I often cried myself to sleep.  

I tell my husband everything and we have an honest relationship – but with all that he was going through I couldn’t and didn’t want to add to his burden. I thought that telling him about my fears of his getting Covid and dying would just be too much for him.  We stayed up most nights so that he could unload the days’ events. I listened patiently but I think I cried more than he did as he recounted his stories.  I felt his helplessness during those early days when the treatment for Covid was not standardized yet.  

I also worried about the kids and how my anxiety about my husband getting sick was being projected onto them.  Thank goodness we had a trampoline; they spent a lot of time on that trampoline! I’m also glad that the kids had each other.  But during this year not everything was scary – we got closer as a family, lived life a lot more simply, cooked a lot more and celebrated birthdays at home. Surprisingly, each child remarked that this birthday was their best ever.  

We took things a day at a time and we were able to relax a little more when the incidence of Covid slowed over the summer. Thankfully, the prospect of the vaccine was becoming more real through the Fall My husband was able to get vaccinated the first day the vaccine was offered – December 18th – because of his priority designation. As a physician, I was able to be vaccinated about a month later, and fortunately our parents were able to as well. This enabled us to feel more comfortable gathering and being close with one another.  I’m grateful for our good health and the fact that we made it through this scary time safely. Now we are planning our return to “normal” and we have travel plans to look forward to. Thankfully life in the hospital has improved steadily and the strain has lessened considerably on my husband, myself and my children.  

Reflecting On A Hard Year, Part 2: One New Mother’s Experience

The hardest part of this past year for me was fearing how the virus could affect my pregnancy. I was two months pregnant in March 2020 when we went into lockdown.  Limited information began to trickle out of Wuhan, China about the minor negative impacts seen in babies born to Covid positive mothers. But I knew these were all women who had gotten Covid in their third trimesters. Who was to know if Covid wasn’t the next Zika, the latest in a subset of viruses known to cause significant birth defects, especially early in a pregnancy when the baby is still forming its basic parts? 

I did not want to risk catching this virus. 

As a doctor myself I knew the basics of what happened at routine obstetrical appointments. With that knowledge and the consultation of my friends in the field, I concluded that the benefit of being at the routine appointments in person did not outweigh the risk of exposure to Covid-19. This was before the CDC recommended people wear masks. This was months before my OB office required that many of these appointments be virtual. How nice to be ahead of the curve. 

But I missed the face-to-face interaction and the physical touch from people trained to help me navigate my first pregnancy. I missed childbirth classes. There were only so many zoom interactions I could have in a week. I was so fortunate to be able to move my psychiatric practice online. But it meant spending the entire day interacting with people virtually. Very few of us had done anything like that before Covid.

Breathing heavily behind an N-95, I went to my twenty-week anatomy scan ultrasound. At the end of the appointment, the doctor handed me a napkin and said to use it to turn the doorknob on my way out.  Everyone was scared. That was early May 2020, well before we had clarification on surface transmission not being a great risk.

The birth itself was too big an experience to have been significantly influenced by Covid related precautions. Wearing a mask throughout the labor and the delivery was the least of my discomforts. And thankfully, my husband was allowed to be in the room.

The threat of Covid affected me more in terms of the difficulties of introducing my newborn daughter to my family. My seventy something year old parents were willing to quarantine heavily before meeting the baby, but what if we had gotten infected in the hospital, were asymptomatic and then gave it to them? This was not what we wanted to worry about while getting to know our newborn. 

And then there were my husband’s parents living in a foreign country, also in their seventies. It seemed too risky to have them fly over. So, everyone had to wait until they were vaccinated, about seven months after our baby was born – and that felt like a long time. 

I’m so grateful that the threat of Covid is diminishing now and that I’m able to experience having a young child with less day-to-day fear and more opportunities for healthy social interaction. 

Reflecting On A Hard Year, Part 1

The reflection in the water shows the biggest challenge you will have to  overcome. - Africa Revealed

Dr. Corinne Masur

Now that things are opening up again and many children will be back in school until June and then off to camp or other activities, parents have a moment to reflect on this past year.

Never, ever, in any of our imaginations, could we have imagined a year like the one that we just had.  

EVERYONE suffered so much loss.

Some of us lost loved ones, some of us were ill ourselves, and ALL of us lost smaller things: our peace of mind, our feeling of safety, our freedom of movement, our ability to see those we loved when and how we wanted.

Have any of us even acknowledged all the losses?

I think it is important to name them and to mourn them.  I think it is important to give ourselves time to think about the past year and all we went through – and to grieve who and what we lost.  

Mourning requires stability and internal resources and it may not be until life returns to a more normal state that many of us will actually be able to have the stability to reflect and grieve our losses from this past year.  It is important to recognize this and give ourselves space and time for our grieving processes.

And we also need to go over this with our children – whether they are young ones or teenagers.  We can say it over and over again: we ALL had a hard year last year.  We need time to think about what we went through and to talk about it and to recover from it.

Whatever our children are experiencing now – elation over going out into the world again, anxiety about doing things they have not done for a year, or some of each, it will be important to remind them of what they have been through and how it has affected them AND us – and how different life will surely be going forward.

Is There Light at the End of the Tunnel?

Supporting our children through the next wave

Guest poster Karen Libber Fishbein, MSW, LCSW is a Philadelphia-based clinical social worker and mother of two girls.

Here we are in December of 2020, ending a year with large-scale health, racial and political crises. Our children sense the daily tension and they feel the growing tedium.  Life in the present is difficult to tolerate: COVID rates are spiking, school is opening and shutting and opening again, the days are getting shorter, the weather is getting colder, warm weather activities are no longer possible, and indoor gatherings are increasingly risky. The holidays this year will be very different than in previous years. 

But now we have news of the vaccine!  Health care workers and people in long term care facilities will be vaccinated as early as this month!

There IS light at the end of the tunnel!

But can we feel ourselves lightening up yet?

Can our children feel the hope that the vaccine implies?

As far as education is concerned, learning is radically different for many children regardless of how or where they go to school. Children attending school must adhere to social distancing guidelines and pay close attention to their activities and behavior. Children learning from home need to find the emotional and physical space to focus on their virtual instruction and navigate the novel world of remote learning.  Teachers are working on overdrive to deliver their lessons in the smoothest way possible as they adjust to policies and procedures that may not fully account for the complexity of their students’ individual needs – or their own.

Children’s family members and caregivers are also struggling as they navigate these unprecedented times.  Many caregivers are spread too thin as they take on numerous roles throughout the day without natural transitions and boundaries. Normal coping strategies (e.g. going to the gym, dining at a restaurant, attending a yoga class, asking friends and family to come over and help with the kids) are no longer feasible solutions. 

A family member of mine is an experienced pediatrician, and he noted that families have been sharing with him that some of their children are starting to reach breaking points.

So, no.  Perhaps our children cannot yet feel the hope that the vaccine implies.  Children live in the present and the present is still hard.

Some children are not turning in work.  Some are logging out in the middle of class. Most children, except perhaps those with the most energetic, exceptional teachers, are bored.

The personal interaction children had with teachers is absent.  The desire to work for the teacher, to please him or her is more remote with remote learning.  The motivation to pay attention is in short supply as a result.

So what can we do, in these dark days of winter, to help our children with their feelings of  sadness, anger, boredom and loneliness, in other words, to survive in the present?

My two daughters, ages 5 and 7, continue to express frustrations about their radically different daily routines. My older daughter has been a champ with her 100% remote instruction. She signs into her classroom on time every day and seems to be keeping up with her responsibilities. While I am beyond grateful for her success, we run into difficulties after school. When I try to encourage non-screen related activities, there is usually backlash. “Mom, I don’t want to go to the playground, I don’t want to go outside and ride my scooter.” Last week as she was making these assertions, she burst into tears and said, “I really miss my friends, I want COVID to be over.” In that moment, I stopped pushing my agenda and then validated her and held her close as she cried. 

My younger daughter is faring better during COVID than she was previously.  The extra time with family and the slower pace of life has resulted in reduced anxiety for her. While this sounds all well and good, my husband and I are beginning to explore in person pre-k for her because she is not cooperative in our home schooling attempts and we don’t want her to fall behind.  As we have broached this subject with her, her expression immediately shifts, and she becomes visibly sad and anxious about the prospect of returning to school. 

I realize that my girls’ experiences may or may not be in line with the experiences of other children, but I’m going to offer some ideas that have worked with my kids and may be helpful for others during this next wave of darkness.

  1. Validate your children’s feelings and let them know that they have every right to feel the way they feel. It also may be helpful to let them know that you are struggling in your own way as well.
  2. Understand that your children’s exaggerated emotions regarding day-to-day challenges are likely reflective of deeper tensions they are holding.
  3. Praise your children when they adopt healthy coping skills on their own, for example if they engage in an activity on their own terms (e.g. arts and crafts, reading, playing with their toys.)
  4. Take a day trip somewhere new where you and your kids can spend time outside, i.e. hiking, visiting a farm, or exploring a new town. 
  5. Encourage meaningful use of screen time such as FaceTiming with friends and family members or watching learning-oriented programming on television.  My girls are loving shows on TLC right now. They also love calling their grandparents and friends to say hi! This feels much healthier than getting sucked into endless YouTube clips.
  6. Consider letting your kids have a special treat when days are tough.  Wendy’s is our go-to—we load the kids in the car and then allow them to order a meal at the drive-through. This activity is especially appreciated on a rainy day.
  7. Engage in a charitable activity and enlist the help of your kids. We have collected canned goods a couple times and, as a family, have delivered them to a local food bank. We then use this as an opportunity to focus on gratitude for the privileges we do have.
  8. Get creative with babysitting. Depending on your COVID risk tolerance, consider having a babysitter or young teenager come over. We have been in touch with families in our community and have invited a few select babysitters over to help.  The kids really love having the younger babysitters (i.e. middle school or high school age) over because they are often more interested in playing. We  evaluate COVID risk by checking in with their parents to assess how much exposure the potential young babysitters  have had and vice versa. Right now, we have a 13-year-old coming over who is in virtual school 100% of the time and has had minimal contact with people.  The kids have spent hours playing together and it feels somewhat normal.  It is fun for the younger kids and provides meaning for the older kids. 

I hope you find these strategies helpful as you navigate this next wave of darkness. With any luck, as spring emerges, and the  vaccine is delivered, we will return to some level of normalcy. Then, at that time, our children may need different guidance and support since “normal life” will not be normal, it will be new to them!

Holidays: 2020

Dr. Corinne Masur

This is Bear and Piggy, two Native American carved fetishes.  A creative woman I know sent them as a gift to a friend.  And as she packed them up in their box and thought about the trip they were about to make, she decided to write a story about this for the children in her family.  Because she could not actually be with the children this year due to Covid, she printed up a little board book with the story accompanied by photographs of Bear and Piggy emerging from their box.
This year we are all going to need to think outside of the box when it comes to the holidays.  Many of us are used to doing the same things each year – getting together with the same relatives at the same place, in the same way.  And these rituals are so comforting and so familiar that many of us are trying to figure out how we can continue them this year.
But, really, does this make any sense?
In many places Covid numbers are way up. They are higher than they were at the beginning of the pandemic; they are higher than they were during the summer.
This year calls for creativity.  And flexibility.
One mom I know has made her garage into a playroom for her children and the occasional friend who comes over and she is thinking of setting up a dining room table there for Thanksgiving dinner – with the garage door open!
Another parent I’ve talked to is going to forego eating Thanksgiving dinner with the extended family and is going to have a brief Thanksgiving get together with masks and social distancing – just long enough to give each family member a to-go turkey dinner in take out containers!
So this year, whether you decide to write a children’s book and send it to the kids in your family, or eat in the garage, try not to let the old traditions tempt you into taking risks you really don’t want to take. 
Be flexible, be creative, and get out of YOUR box!

Why 2020 Is Warping Your Perception of Time

Source: Andrey Grushnikov

Have you been wondering why time sometimes drags and sometimes flies by during COVID? Cindy Baum-Baicker, a clinical psychologist based out of Philadelphia, explains why this is in her piece that was originally published in Psychology Today:

Have you noticed that since March, our conversations no longer begin with the weather but rather how weird time feels? Every day can feel like Groundhog Day, as tedious as the one that preceded it. Or, perhaps it feels that life is spinning so fast. Maybe you’re finding the moments ticking by all too slowly as you await the upcoming presidential election. You know it’s now the fall and that seasons have passed, but do you really feel it?  

Our sense of time is off. It may seem dissolved even though the structure of minutes-hours-days has remained the same. Suspended as it moves, why does the present seem isolated from the continuity of time? The reasons go beyond the changes to our daily routines and structures that COVID-19 has wrought.

The invisible threat of COVID-19 and the upcoming presidential election are a one-two punch to our felt sense of security. We no longer have our illusory assumptions that the future is knowable and predictable. Who will get sick? What will happen to our democracy? Will there be a peaceful transition of power? Researchers have found that without illusions of a knowable future, we tend to live more in the present moment. And our present moment—the very thing that is filling the gap of the unknown future—is riddled with stress.  

Altered time perception has been termed, “temporal disintegration” or “temporal discontinuity,” and has been shown to be related to mood state. People who are depressed are temporally desynchronized and often experience life at half its standard speed. A felt sense of slowed time is also experienced in everyday life; when we feel bored, time feels slow as molasses. The opposite is also true, as when we are in a creative flow, time seems to fly.

Have you ever been really frightened, and it felt like time stretched on and on, when in fact it was just a couple of minutes? This is because when exposed to threatening stimuli, people increase their time estimates. Daily, we are bombarded by news of rising COVID-19 deaths while at the same time subjected to unrelenting political advertisements alerting us to the disasters that may lie ahead if the other candidate wins. Is it any wonder then that time seems to move so slowly?

There is a downward spiral during stressful waiting periods. Distress makes time seem to slow down, which in turn exacerbates distress. It is a spiral of distress and time perception, making us feel ever the more like we are living in a time warp.

Time is a unique sense, and this may contribute to time distortion’s powerful effect. Unlike hearing, seeing, or tasting, the sense of time is not mediated by a specific sense organ but rather is “embodied” in a more all-encompassing way. It has been shown to be encoded in body signals governed by the insula, a fragment of the cerebral cortex folded deep within each lobe of the brain. Time sense fully embraces us because it lives throughout our brain.article continues after advertisement

Unconscious psychological defenses, too, can contribute to our altered sense of time. In a state of overwhelm, the psychological defense of dissociation often unconsciously kicks in. Dissociation is a feeling of being here and not being here simultaneously. This unreal feeling of time is analogous to an electrical system that gets overheated when overloaded. In a functioning system, the overheating trips the circuit breaker before it gets too hot. Dissociation helps us in times of powerful stress—overload—to remain as functional as possible.  

Given that we are living a collective trauma, is it any wonder so many of us are experiencing temporal discontinuity? As noted previously, when the future is unknown and the stakes so very high, we tend to abandon a sense of the future and live more in the present. And this present moment? This is a moment infused with the stress of COVID-19 and the election of a lifetime. It is no wonder, then, that many of us feel as if we’re living in a time warp. We check out because it’s too overwhelming to check in.

References

Dawson, J. and Sleek, S. (2018) The fluidity of time: Scientists uncover how emotions alter time perception. Association for Psychological Science September 28, 2018.

Holman, E.A., Grisham, E.L. (2020). When time falls apart: The public health implications of distorted time perception in the age of COVID-19. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. 12 (51), 563-565.

Rankin, K., Sweeny, K., Xu. S. (2019). Associations between subjective time perception and well-being during stressful waiting periods. Stress and Health 35 (4).

COVID and the School Decision: One Mother’s Struggle

Dr. Corinne Masur


In late August and early September when schools finally decided about how they were going to open, many of them then passed the decision making on to parents: in school, out of school, or hybrid?

How were parents supposed to decide?

There were so many factors: what is possible for our family given our work and child care situations? What is safest for our family? What do our children want? What do we want for our children?

Parents had to weigh one important aspect of their children’s wellbeing against another.  These were impossible choices. What was more important, caution in the face of COVID, the children’s social needs, or the financial needs of the family?  In some cases, parents had to choose between their own jobs and becoming distance learning aids. In other cases, parents had no choice: they had to work so their children just had to go back to school.

One mother called me for advice. She had two sons, one in first grade and one in fourth.  She was very worried about the children being exposed to COVID for two reasons. One son had a respiratory vulnerability and secondly, the children’s grandfather had recently had cancer and was immunocompromised following a transplant. What if they went to school, were exposed to COVID and then exposed him either directly or indirectly?

On the other hand, she wanted her children to be able to build relationships with their new teachers and classmates.

As a person who likes to make her decisions carefully and in an informed way, she felt overwhelmed both by too much information and too little.

By late summer, we knew a great deal more about the transmission of COVID than we had in March at the beginning of the pandemic.  This mother understood how COVID is transmitted and as a result, what the school would need to do to keep children and staff safe. They would have to provide good ventilation and air exchange inside the building and they would also need to provide the possibility for having as many classes outdoors as possible.  But her particular school was not giving parents information about their HVAC system and they did not have a plan in place for outdoor learning.  When this mom went over to look at the school, they only had one small tent standing – which of course would be totally insufficient for the hundreds of children attending school in the fall.

What were they planning for outdoor learning, anyway?  And what would they do on rainy days? She could not get answers.  And through a friend she heard that the school had told one parent that if they had so many questions, they should just do the at home option – as if these questions were not the school’s responsibility to answer!

This mother had enjoyed a feeling of connectedness with her children’s school and now she felt isolated and alone.  As the deadline loomed for making her decision, she learned that very few parents in either of her son’s grades had chosen the at-home schooling option.  Why did so many parents feel it was safe to send their children to school when she did not? She wished she could ask them.

This is what went through this mother’s mind: if her children got COVID, she would be the one to take care of them as her husband simply would not be able to take time off from work; she would have to quit her job or take a leave.  If she got COVID, she had no idea who would take care of the children.  If the virus was transmitted to her mother either through her (this mom’s) infection or her children’s, she would be the one who would have to take care of her ill father – thus necessitating her quitting or taking a leave from her work. If her younger son got COVID he might be at risk for the more severe complications of the illness given his respiratory vulnerability.

She thought about the decision a great deal. She stayed up nights wondering what she should choose. She discussed this with her husband, with her friends, with her family.  She received all sorts of input – both conflicting and agreeing with her own thoughts. And in the end, she felt that her family was just too vulnerable.

The risks of illness were too great for this mother.  She decided on doing school from home.  She altered her work schedule and began being her children’s distance learning aid.  Her older son was okay some of the time but at other moments, he hated the arrangement. He screamed and cried and melted down. Her younger son was fine with online school.  And this mother? Well, she felt stressed, wondering every single day of the new school year if she had made the right decision.

Will the Pandemic Ruin my Child?

Part 2: Intellectual Development

Dr. Corinne Masur

Parents are SO worried that this pandemic year will interfere with their children’s intellectual development and academic progress. So let’s talk about that according to your child’s age and stage of development:

0 – 2

Infants and toddlers will in no way suffer due to increased time at home: IF you talk to them all the time, if you read to them at least once a day and if you provide reasonable amounts of play time (with you, your partner and their siblings).

And at this age, babies and toddlers will NOT suffer from missing the programming provided at daycare or pre-school. PLEASE, do not feel the need to fill in for the curriculum that might be in place were they attending a program. What babies and toddlers need to learn, they learn in the course of normal interactions with family members, during play and during story time. Whether your two year old knows his or her shapes is actually irrelevant – no matter what you hear. At this age what is needed is basic human interaction, hearing lots of words and being able to do lots of play, both alone and with others. At this age structured classroom time is neither necessary nor optimal. And screens of any kind are not needed either – but a little bit of screen time (an hour or less a day) may not hurt.

3 – 11

Older children of all ages are having their school routines and their learning processes disrupted. This is hard for children and parents. Everything is different. Online school is extremely hard to manage – especially for parents! There is nothing optimal about the compromises that have been made in setting up virtual school, hybrid models, shortened school days, etc.

Some children in this age group will be excited about online or in person school and they will be cooperative. But if they are attending school online they still will need help choosing a place to be each day for school, getting online, having supplies and worksheets ready and staying organized – and this is very hard for parents, especially working parents. You will find that your child misses some things due to technology problems, confusion about schedules, forgetfulness, etc. TRY not to stress over these. They are inevitable. Everyone is experiencing them.

And if your child is going to in-person school – even some of the time, he or she will need help remembering to wear their mask, to socially distance and to go by all the safety guidelines in place at school. Your child may also need help understanding why it is safe to go to school now when it wasn’t a month ago. And of course this is a difficult question. But remember, at this point in the pandemic we have learned that what we need to do is minimize risk. We can not eliminate risk altogether but we know more now about how to lessen the risk of contracting COVID than we did at the beginning. You can explain this concept to your child, no matter what their age, and you can encourage them to think of ways to minimize their own risk.

No matter how much we try to prepare them, however, some children in this age group will have trouble getting used to online school or a hybrid model, When they are online, they may have trouble paying attention, they may intentionally “forget” to log back in after a break or they may do other things while class is in session. This too is hard for parents because we cannot be there at every moment to check up on what our children are doing. Especially for working parents, this is a dilemma. Again, try not to stress too much when these things happen. Young children have naturally shorter attention spans. Having to look at a screen for learning purposes for more than a couple of hours a day is very very difficult for them. Getting anxious about your child’s school participation is natural and getting angry with your child is, at times, inevitable – BUT –

Remember, all children are going through this right now. It is not just your children. Everyone’s learning process has been compromised. AND a year of this will not ruin any child’s chances at getting a good education. Children will catch up, they will make up for what they did not learn this year. They will learn again how to be in a classroom. This is important to keep in perspective. This situation is NOT forever.

11 – 22

Children of this age are hungry for learning and for the social interaction that takes place at school. Online school, hybrid models and in person school with masks and social distancing will be very very hard for many of them.

Parents, however, are not teachers and we cannot expect ourselves to make up for all that children of this age are not getting at school.

This is extremely hard. Parents are worried about standardized testing, SATs and college admissions. But again, remember, everyone is going through this. Colleges will understand this when it is time to apply. And intellectual development proceeds – school, no school, or limited school. Remember, intellectual development and academic progress are two entirely different things.

What parents can do:

Parents are overwhelmed right now. I actually think that the effects of the pandemic may be worse for parents than for many other segments of the population.

But if you CAN, supplementing your children’s school time learning to promote their intellectual development can be helpful at this time. If you do not have the time or the band width, that is totally understandable and feel free to ignore what’s below.

BUT IF you CAN:

  • Encourage your children to read more.
  • Make frequent trips to the library if your library has good Covid safety.
  • For kids under 14, start reading to your children for a half hour to 45 minutes a day on weekends. Reading aloud does not just have to be for bedtime. Pick chapter books with engrossing stories – or books of interest to your particular children. Iceland, which has a long winter with very few hours of daylight was, for many years, the country with the highest literacy rates – because reading is what children and adults did during those long dark hours.
  • Encourage teens to read fiction AND non-fiction.
  • Have discussions at dinner time – current events should provide plenty of material! There is a civics lesson in every day’s news. Talk about the electoral process, the constitution, the Supreme Court, the way Democracy should work, etc. Ask your children their opinions.
  • Encourage teens to also have some social down time (ie something other than playing video games or looking at social media by themselves), for example, encourage them to set up game nights with friends online or to do group chats.
  • Encourage younger children to play games online with friends – and actually support their doing so rather than nagging them to get off the computer!
  • And parents, use the time that your children are online with friends to do what you need to do. One of the hardest things about enforced togetherness is the lack of privacy and downtime for PARENTS.
  • Encourage your children to start or continue playing a musical instrument. Lessons can be online.
  • If your children are interested, take some virtual tours of museums – science, art, whatever they like. And don’t ask them if they want to – because they will often say “no” especially if they are busy playing video games! Perhaps there can be one dinner a week when the family take a virtual tour during the meal.
  • And try throwing a documentary or Broadway play into family movie night.Many of these things can be streamed for free. Sweeten the deal with snacks: popcorn, pizza, brownies, anyone?
  • If you enjoy games such as Chess or Go, teach your children to play if they are interested. For younger children, intellectually stimulating games which involve matching, making pairs, memory skills and using numbers are also a possibility.

Good luck, stay safe, and please, do not despair.

Will the Pandemic Ruin My Child?

A Three Part Series

Dr. Corinne Masur

Part 1

Parents are all worried about what effect this pandemic year will have on their children’s development.

And of course, it’s complicated.  There’s the concern about how children will be affected by all the health worries.  And then there’s the worry about how they’ll be affected by not being able to see friends easily.  And THEN there’s the worry about how disruptions in their educations will affect their academic and intellectual progress.

So, let’s break it down:

The effect that the social limitations and the school interruption will have on your children will depend on their age and stage of development. So, we are going to talk about this by age group – and in this part of the series we will talk about:

Socialization

0 – 2

Babies do not require social interactions outside the home. 

You will often hear people say that they are sending their babies and toddlers to daycare because they need the socialization.  Well…this is not exactly true.  Older babies and toddlers often enjoy seeing other babies and toddlers.  They will be interested in them, laugh at their antics, cry when they cry, etc. but actually, they do not NEED to be with other babies and toddlers to develop well. What you provide for them as loving parents is what they need.  Babies and toddlers require their parents’ love and attention and social feedback. What you provide at home for them is what babies and toddlers need the most.  Talking to your baby, reacting to your baby’s facial expressions and verbalizations, playing with your baby, reading to your toddler, setting normal limits and teaching basic rules is what children of this age need.  They are FINE at home.  In fact, some parents have noticed that they are getting to know their babies and young children better than they did before when daycare or babysitters were involved – and they have found this to be a good thing – for themselves and for their children.

2 – 4

You will be surprised to know that what was said above is also true of older toddlers and young children.  

At this age, interaction with family members, play with family members and learning basic rules of socialization (what hurts another person, what’s fair, etc.) is what your child needs.  Is it fun to see other young children?  Does it give Mom or Dad a much-needed break to get together with families of other young children? Yes, of course.  But remember, for millennia there was no school at all and up until recently, very few children went to daycare, and many children did not even go to preschool or nursery school – and they did fine. 

At this age, children want their parents’ approval.  And if they say “NO!”, it’s the parent they are saying it to.  At this age toddlers and young children are just beginning to develop a sense of themselves as separate and independent human beings – and they do this best in the context of the family!

So, in essence, if you are not feeling safe about sending your children to daycare or preschool or setting up playdates, this is FINE.  You may have to spend extra time on the floor or outside playing – but you are NOT damaging your child in any way.

4 – 7

Children of this age love to play and socialize.  

Starting around age 4, most children love to have friends.  In fact, they start to create their own small worlds with their friends – and this is the beginning of being able to operate as people separate and apart from their parents.  As children get to be 5 and 6, they often develop best friends and are pleased to play with these friends without the intervention of their parents. Socializing at this age is an important part of their development.

As a result, even during a pandemic, it is helpful to allow 4 to 7 year olds some time with other children if you can do so safely and comfortably.  Playing outdoors, going to a local park, riding bikes and scooters, playing running games with masks can all be possibilities. And if you can find one or two children whose parents’ views on COVID safety are in line with your own and regular play get togethers and be managed, even better. HOWEVER, again, what you can comfortably provide for your children is what is most important. Children of this age are hungry to learn about the world – and if you are not comfortable organizing play dates or pods, if you can take them on outings, read to them, play together for an hour or two a day and teach them the rules of interaction with others, they will be getting most of what they need socially.  You may not believe that this is true – but again, in many societies, children do not even start school until age 6 or 7.

7 – 11

At this age the peer group is what kids really care about. By this time children are keen observers of other children and their behavior.  They know who they like and who they do not like.  Their relationships are complex and alliances can be strong…until they shift. Children of this age generally love to be with other children they know.  Games with rules are of great interest and playing games can take up hours.

Given this, allowing your children, if they are at home for school, some time to play with other kids each day is important.  If you are not comfortable allowing them to get together with other children this often, then allowing them to play video games with other kids can fill the bill during this unusual time.  Zoom conversations and virtual play dates are also an option if your child likes them. And if you can manage to allow your children to get together with friends outside once in a while, even better. It may not feel like enough to them or to you – but a year spent this way will not ruin their social development.  Learning social skills is a lifelong process – and again, do not underestimate what you provide at home. When you say things like, “No, we cannot play that game AGAIN” or “No, you cannot have the last donut” or “Figure out what to do when you’re bored” you are providing your child with necessary social feedback. These are basically the same things they learn from their peers when they play together. At this age children are learning what is fair and how often they can expect to get their own way.  They are taught by their peers what they can and cannot do if they want people to like them, what is right and wrong, what rules are and how often they have to stick to them.  When you interact with your children at home you are also teaching these things just in the normal course of everyday life.

11 – 20

Kids of this age often seem to care more about interacting with each other than they do with you. 

Social contact with others their age is important. This time of limited social contact is especially hard for this age group. 

Parents will need to work on their own flexibility and patience with children and teens during this quarantine/pandemic time because kids of this age will feel deprived and angry if they do not get to see their friends.  

 If you feel comfortable allowing this, perhaps you can let your child get together with certain friends at your house – or you might allow them meet up outside at a park.  But if you do not feel comfortable with this amount of contact then in this case, technology is your friend. Perhaps some loosening of limits on phone/pad/computer use will be necessary. Kids need to be able to text and Instagram and Facetime and IM for at least a few hours every day. Most will want to have their phones with them all the time.

Summing it Up

So – in summary, from a social standpoint, the pandemic and the quarantining required is NOT ruining your child or his/her social skills.  It IS hard; it IS limiting and frustrating. It DOES require us as parents to do more than we ever thought we could.  But a year of limited social contact will not stunt the development of your children.

*****

What can parents do?

– When you are not working, play on the floor and outside with your babies, toddlers and young children as much as you can manage.  

– If you have reached your limit with meeting your children’s needs and feel you just cannot do it all, bringing in an older teen or a babysitter or nanny (whose COVID safety you trust) to help at home may be necessary and may ease your burden.

– If you are working either from home or from your work place then day care or a sitter may be the only way your family can realistically manage AND allow your children some socialization time. Parents who are trying to help their children with virtual school while working are finding that this is just not possible.

– Set reasonable limits on device use for older children.  These can include no phones during school or homework and a set bedtime after which no phone use is allowed – but otherwise?  Let them go for it!