Post-Pandemic Separation Anxiety

Dr. Corinne Masur

More people are getting vaccinated, spring is coming, and little by little we may be able to get out more than we have been.

This is a good thing, right?

Well, it IS a good thing, as long as we continue to use precautions like mask wearing and social distancing and hand washing. This spring more children may actually get to go to school and daycare and this summer children may get to go to camp and families may actually be able to go on vacation.

BUT we need to be prepared for some increased separation anxiety for some children – and even for some adults.

We have gotten used to hunkering down at home and spending more time there than ever before.  And as hard as it has been, as claustrophobic as it might have felt at times, as much as we all yearned for the freedom to be able to go where we wanted, it is possible that some of us will find it difficult to go back out into the world to do the things we think we want to do.

Even now, trips which used to be mundane can feel like a big deal.  For those of you who have worked at home, have you tried visiting the office yet?  Have you tried driving to places you used to go routinely which you haven’t been to in months?  It can feel strange to do these things; it can be anxiety provoking.

So, assume that your children will feel some of these feelings of strangeness when they try to do things they haven’t done in months.  They may be excited – but they may also have trepidations; they may be hesitant; they may ask questions like, “is it safe?” or “will my friends recognize me?”

The best advice we can give, given that none of us have been through anything like this before, is the following:

      – Prepare your children for what is coming.  If they are going back to daycare or school in person – or back to church or synagogue or music lessons or play dates, start talking about it a few days in advance.  Tell them what it will be like.  Tell them that they might have worries or questions and that they are welcome to talk with you about it. Tell them how you expect them to behave and remind them of what is required in these situations.

     – Take it slowly.  Do not assume that everyone will be on board right away with doing things they have not done for a year.

     – Expect some last minute demonstrations of anxiety.  Before doing something that they have not done before or something they have not done in a long time, it is not unusual for a child to develop a stomachache or a headache or to feel ill in some other way. This is their body talking and saying what they cannot say with words, “I’m afraid to do this!”  Remember, children do not develop these symptoms on purpose.

And adults, take it easy on yourselves as well. You may feel anxious when your children start back to school full time or go for sleepovers at relatives’ or friends’ houses.  You are used to having them close by. And again, as difficult as it may have been at times, it may have become so familiar that it feels strange to have them away from you. You may feel relief…and you may also feel nervous.  Give yourself time to get used to your children doing more on their own away from the house – and reassure yourself that ALL of you need to learn how to be more independent again.

A Quick and Easy Valentine

Wendy Lias, LSW

My attempts to do anything for Valentine’s Day this year are basically the harried parent equivalent of the scene from a movie where someone is running to catch a train that is already leaving the station. When my son mentioned this morning that he wanted to make something for my mother (if you’re reading this, Mom, please act surprised), I knew that I needed a project that would be quick, easy, and use only the materials that we have at home.

To recreate this Valentine, you need paper and something that makes marks on paper. Position your child’s hands on the paper so that thumbs and pointers are touching and the space between roughly resembles a heart shape. Trace and decorate. You can leave the paper flat or fold and turn into a greeting card.

The energy expenditure here is low and by the time my kids were finished, they were quite pleased with the final effect.

Weaning from Electronic Entertainment

Dr. Corinne Masur

The vaccine is here, our new President is compiling guidelines for school re-openings, spring is coming and parents are thinking: “How are we going to get our children off their devices???”
Yes, it is true.  Life outside the house is going to resume.  We don’t know when exactly and we don’t know how exactly, but we can all see that it is going to start happening over the next several months and into the summer.
But children have also been using their devices more than ever.  Parents have found it life saving to allow more movie and video game and YouTube time.  Especially parents who work.
Kids have found that they can amuse themselves during the long periods of enforced home time if they have a device at the ready and they can also socialize with friends via these same devices.
Parents who always said they would not give their child a smartphone before age (fill in your number) did so earlier than expected.  Parents who had strict rules about screen time relaxed them.  Some parents (read: most parents) even encouraged children to watch while they worked, cleaned the house, made meals, talked to a partner or a friend or took a minute for themselves.
So HOW do parents get kids away from these devices once we can go out more, do more, see more people (even if still utilizing some safety protocols)?
I have one main suggestion.  It will not be easy.  You may say you don’t have the energy or the time or the mental strength.  But I truly think it is the best way:
Do NOT lecture, threaten or cajole.  Instead, plan things that do not require a screen.  Do not say that is why you are planning these activities or you will get heavy pushback, I guarantee you.  But plan a hike, a walk by the river, a race, a bike ride, a baking contest, a bread making session, an art project then an art show (at home).  If you didn’t do Zoom sessions before, do them now – schedule a family Zoom with relatives you haven’t been able to see.
Tell your kids that to get ready to go back to school it’s time to get used to doing more things, to get in shape physically, to go outside the house more.  
Going back into spaces outside the home may actually cause some initial anxiety – among children AND adults.  Seeing more than one or two people at a time may feel overwhelming at first.
So prepare by renewing your efforts to set up some Zoom play dates and some Zoom dinners with family friends.  Set a time limit that your children must participate depending on their age.  For small children 2 – 4, five to fifteen minutes may be all they can manage.  For 5 – 10 year olds, tell them they must stay on for 10 – 20 minutes, depending on their ability. And for teens, at least 15 – 20 minutes can be the minimum.
We ALL need to start getting used to seeing people and going out and we ALL need to get off our devices.  Set a good example for your children.  When you spend time with them taking a walk or a hike or a bike ride or playing a game, turn OFF your phone and do not check it. We adults need to wean ourselves from constant device use as well!!!!

Combating “The Forces of Blah” with Music

Wendy Lias, LSW

I’m a piano lesson quitter.  Actually, I’m a piano lesson quitter two times over.  Since I’m fairly certain that nobody who taught me a) reads the blog or b) even remembers me—it was decades ago and it didn’t take very long for me to quit—I’m just going being candid and say that those lessons were a dry and joyless experience.  I felt no love for music lessons.  When my son was two years old, he started asking for someone to teach him to play the bass guitar.  Because he was two, it was really easy to put him off.  When he was three and dressing up like John Lennon for Halloween, he was still begging for music lessons.  Nobody was teaching three year olds so, again, I just took the “someday. When you’re older” approach.  The year he was four, he was still very insistent that he wanted to take music lessons, and so I started looking for instructors who would work with an early learner.  His love for music seemed so intrinsic to who he is as a person, that my biggest concern in finding a music program for him was to not replicate my experience with joyless music lessons.  I absolutely did not want formal lessons to drum the passion out of him.  It was while I was trying to find this unicorn of a learning experience that I found Meridee Winters.  Meridee was gracious enough to chat with me about what makes her approach to music education unique.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

I’m an author, educator, school director, lifelong musician and dedicated champion against the “Forces of Blah”! (In both comic books and in real life – more on that in just a bit.)

I’ve always had a passion for creativity and teaching. I began my career by leading a double life of sorts: teaching elementary school by day and performing in bands at night. Sadly, in both areas I saw a lack of creativity. I left the school system and became a music producer, where my specialty was working with professional artists to turn song ideas into completed albums. I was shocked by how many pro musicians couldn’t accompany themselves or construct a song. I developed a crash course in songwriting, theory and chords and consistently got the same feedback: each of them wished they had learned these skills when they were young. I realized that I could empower kids to be creative after all, by teaching them music with this same approach.

And now there’s a school?

My creative approach to learning resonated with people, and the school grew. Over several decades, the Meridee Winters School of Music has trained over 300 teachers and instructed over 10,000 students while earning a reputation for its joyful students, real results and convenience for busy families. (Our lessons are in-home and online. It doesn’t get much more convenient than that!)

My dream is to make the world a more creative place and to empower students to create, explore and find joy in music… and in life. At times, there’s a lot working against that – like the fear of making mistakes, books and lessons that just teach at the “rote and recall” level, and the view that arts are less valuable than other subjects. At one point, I started referring to these as the “Forces of Blah.” I’ve even created a villain in my Chord Quest series called “Dr. Blah.” I’m excited to combat these forces though learning, music and play.


You could say the forces of blah were strong in 2020, but I’m so inspired by how people everywhere got creative and adapted. Prior to the pandemic, we already had advanced students taking lessons online. We were fortunate to be ahead of the curve this spring and were able to convert the entire school to online lessons seamlessly. There were many challenges, but also some unexpectedly beautiful moments – for example, our Year End Recitals moved to an online film festival format and we had over 300 student-made music videos. They were incredible – so many kids were thrilled to work on a creative project and see what their peers had made. We had students who had never met collaborating on duets remotely. Students became film directors. Actors. Pop stars. We’ve begun returning to in-home lessons for some families, but we’re still teaching online students from around the country.

We also started to receive emails from parents, teachers and students from all over about how my music books – especially my Chord Quest and Chord Crash Course series – were helping them learn an instrument at home, or helping them bring energy to online lessons.

Another blow against “the Forces of Blah” was the launching of our Starbright Scholarship Project. We started planning it last fall and launched it in April after deciding that the pandemic wasn’t going to slow us down. As a result, students from Philadelphia are receiving free music lessons and inspiring me every day with their passion and creativity. My current commitment is to provide pro-bono lessons to a minimum of 2% of our school enrollment.

What thoughts can you share with our readers about inspiring a love of music in children of all ages?

One of the first things I tell our teachers in training is that music is a language art, but it’s rarely taught like one. For any age, I recommend you let a child explore that language. Improvise. Listen. Create. We certainly don’t expect young children to be able to read before they can talk – so why do we expect students to read music before they can play or write something?

Very early in lessons, you can learn the simple shapes and patterns that make chords, and then learn the chords to your favorite songs. For any student, the ability to play the songs they truly love will energize lessons and keep them from quitting.

If we can do all these things – keep students from quitting, help other students and musicians discover and learn, make music together online, teach through scholarships and through books, then I believe we’re contributing to a more creative and musical world. And those “Forces of Blah”? They don’t stand a chance.



Currently, the Meridee Winters School of Music has a trailblazing online music school in addition to offering in-person in-home lessons in the Main Line area of Philadelphia. As an author, Meridee has had five #1 new releases on Amazon in the last 2 years and her music method books are used worldwide, from Germany to Japan, India and beyond. Her teachers do workshops regularly in teaching techniques, video-making and of course songwriting. If you believe you would benefit from these creative music lessons, visit mwschoolofmusic.com.

Talk to us about your experiences getting your children involved with music learning. Comment here on the blog or join the discussion on Facebook or Instagram.

The Value of Negative Experience

Image Credit: Mel Kadel

Dr. Corinne Masur

Stacey Abrams tells the story of having been the Valedictorian of her high school class and, as result, being invited to the Governor’s mansion for a reception (as all valedictorians were in Georgia at that time).  When she and her parents arrived at the gates of the mansion the guard turned them away.  He said they did not belong there.  He refused to look at the list of valedictorians. It was not until Stacey’s father insisted that the guard checked the list and begrudgingly admitted them.  Twenty-four years later, Stacey Abrams decided she wanted to run for the office of governor of Georgia so that she could control those gates.

A young adult patient of mine told me a story that is similar in some ways.  In seventh grade she did very poorly in her Latin class.  The school had her tested and the psychologist who performed the evaluation told her that she would never be able to learn a language due to a learning disability.  When this young woman went to college, she made it a point to take Spanish every semester and to do several study abroad programs in Spanish speaking countries.  After she graduated from college, she got a better job than she had expected, based partly on the fact that she was now bilingual!

Some negative experiences, some experiences of criticism or humiliation or deprivation or limitation can actually provide the motivation for some children and teenagers to achieve. Such experiences can be formative in regard to how children develop, in determining who they decide they want to be and what they decide they want to do. Being told “no”, being told “you may not do this” or “you cannot do this” can lead some children to decide that they CAN and they WILL.  The anger and the hurt these children experience can be channeled into a powerful drive to prove those who said “no” wrong!

As parents most of us carry the burden of feeling we need to smooth our children’s way, of protecting them from hardship or pain. And of course, it IS the job of parents to keep our children alive and to maximize their chances of healthy development.

But is it healthy for children to always experience a smooth path?  To never meet with a failure or a “no”?

Is it best to try to protect children from every possible insult or danger?

I think not.  And furthermore, I believe this mind set leads to our fear/belief that the current pandemic and the limitations it has imposed will stunt our children’s educational, emotional and social development.

Life provides all sorts of experiences – for most of us these include success AND failure and everything in between.  We learn from our successes and perhaps we learn even more from our failures, our mistakes and the rejections and limitations we experience.  And we can be motivated by any of these experiences, not just the positive ones. 

Recently a post, supposedly by a superintendent of schools, went around on social media. She or he said:

“One of my biggest fears for the children when they return … is that in our determination to “catch them up,” …we will lose who they are and what they have learned during this unprecedented era … It is necessary to surrender the artificial constructs that measure achievement and greet the children where they are, not where we think they “should be.” … They did not miss the test prep. They did not miss the worksheets. They did not miss the reading groups. They did not miss the homework … Resist the pressure from whatever ‘powers that be’ who are in a hurry to “fix” kids and make up for the “lost” time. The time was not lost, it was invested in surviving an historic period of time in their lives—in our lives. The children do not need to be fixed. They are not broken”.

These are wise words. Our children will be different because of the pandemic, but they will have learned things during this time. They may not be as versed in the school subjects that they might have mastered had it not been for the pandemic, but they WILL have better tech skills (video games, and social media); they will better know how to navigate the internet, they will be well versed in connecting with others via online platforms, they will know how to occupy themselves better. Moreover, they will have experienced frustration and boredom and disappointment – and they will have survived. They will know that they can endure difficult times and heart-breaking disappointments and losses.

The children and the adults who are fortunate enough to live through this pandemic will not only have been limited and deprived and frustrated, they will also have been inspired in ways that we can only imagine right now.

Who knows how many children and teenagers and young adults will have been motivated to go into medicine, nursing, epidemiology, game and social platform design?

Who knows how many will say a resounding NO to the pandemic and find ways to fight or prevent future events of this kind?

Who knows how many friendships and social gathering will be created out of the sheer joy of freedom that is felt after the vaccine has been distributed and children are freer again to experience the social world?

None of us know the answers to these questions – but I am quite sure there will be many, many people motivated to make the world a more connected and safer place once this pandemic is over, just as Stacy Abrams was motivated to run for governor and my young patient was motivated to learn Spanish well enough to be considered bilingual!

Listen here for more on this topic:

https://www.npr.org/2021/01/07/954479010/listen-again-school-of-life

Local Love: The Franklin Institute

You don’t have to be a Philly local to benefit from The Franklin Institute right now. The Franklin Institute is sharing all kinds of fun online science videos this winter!

One of our contributors, Wendy, and her kids aged 2 and 5 years experimented with the Tinker Tuesday that was posted today. The project which used watercolors and salt was is a great way introduce ideas like hygroscopicity, absorption, and texture. While results varied based on approach, a fun time was had by all!

COVID-Era Nutcracker

If the Nutcracker is part of your family’s traditions during the most wonderful time of the year, you may be feeling like you’re missing out this time around. Well, San Francisco Ballet is trying out a fun, kid-friendly, and Fauci-approved alternative. This evening (6pm est) on the company’s social media one of their dancers, Tiit Helimets, will be retelling the classic story while he illustrates it live! It should be amazing to watch since this world class dancer also happens to be a gifted visual artist. You can follow along on the company’s Facebook live or on YouTube.

Enjoy!

Winning and Losing

Dr. Corinne Masur

Today is a good day to talk to your kids about winning and losing. The subjects of sportsmanship, humility and grace come to mind – as well as braggadocio, sore losing and bitterness.

Whatever side of the electoral battle you were on, you and your children will be having strong feelings today – and this week – and perhaps for months to come.

So what do we say to our children? And at what age are they ready to have this conversation?

Well, really children of any age, starting around 3 know about winning and losing – and they can talk about the feelings that come when they experience each. Of course, depending on your child’s age, you will speak about this differently.

But the place to start is to remind your child – whatever age they are – that how they and your family feel at this moment is not the way that everyone feels. Some people are extremely happy and relieved today and some people are extremely disappointed and upset today. And you can remind them that it is normal to feel happy when you win and upset when you lose.

HOWEVER – and this is where the more nuanced part of the discussion comes in – it is important, however you feel, to be aware that other people might feel differently than you do and to treat them and their feelings with respect.

Good sportsmanship is something that kids who play sports should be learning. You can provide this as an example: after a game, your team shakes hands with the other team to indicate that you both played a good game and that there are no hard feelings left over from the competition.

The losers can feel upset but still lose graciously. This is a concept that can be introduced to a 3 year old and also to a 16 year old.

And the winners can feel happy and joyous but they can also behave graciously by telling their competitors that they played a good game. Children can be reminded that bragging about winning is not the way to go, even though inside it feels so good to win.

You can tell your children the story of “burying the hatchet”. When Native American tribes had disputes or wars with each other, when it was over, they literally buried a hatchet in the ground to symbolize the end of the disagreement.

This is a way to handle winning and losing too. After someone has won or lost, it is time to bury the hatchet, to accept the defeat or the victory and to move back to getting along.

Today, I fervently hope that our nation can do this – and that all of our children can learn something about how to win and how to lose with grace.

Election Time Reading

Source: The New York Times

Wondering how to talk about the election with your children? The Thoughtful Parenting Team enjoyed this article from The New York Times:

How to Talk About the Election With Your Kids

As always, we’d love to hear from you and to know what you think. Have other resources that support you in figuring out how to guide your children through this quadrennial stressor? We want to hear about it!

So Woke?!? I’m So Woke, I’m Tired

Another humorous posts by Tejal Toprani Misra who is a psychotherapist in part-time private practice and a most-time stay at home mom. She lives in California with her spouse and two young sons.

“Why is your hand on your penis?” This is a question I ask my four-year-old at least once a day. In the active effort to be a forward-thinking, progressive parent I have to beat back my urge to say “Get your hand off your penis!!!” Growing up in a conservative South Asian family, touching yourself anywhere south of your neck would lead to shaming. Now as a parent I get to make the choice to reframe that question and proceed to psychoanalyze my four year old till I am up half the night. This is not where my effort to be a “woke” parent stops. It’s only the beginning. As a mom to second generation, Indian American, four, and one-year old boys (that’s a mouthful) I have also taken on the responsibility of educating them about their cultural background like I am Alex Trebek on Hindu Jeopardy. I’m not pioneering this endeavor by any means but I wish there was some camp I could send them to where they would come back with part immigrant hustle and part American entitlement. I’m envious of other ethnic backgrounds whose migration story to America started more than a 100 years ago so there is more of a flow chart to follow. Something like “if child A does not know about Hindu gods then have child A read book B.” As far as I know, this magical road map doesn’t exist for South Asians, or for anyone else, and if it does then please send it to me at the email below. I will be forever grateful. 

In this continued effort to raise “woke” kids I’ve added more to my plate. After learning that children start noticing race and gender as early three. I’ve been reading books to them on race and diversity since they were fetuses. We sent them to a school in the diverse city of Philadelphia with children of various backgrounds. I teach them daily that love makes a family and families come in all shapes, colors, sizes and make ups. And then in the spring of 2020 the glaring cracks in our racial justice system came closer to the forefront of our minds. Now I am reading about “when to talk about racial injustice?” Is it okay to tell them why there are so many helicopters flying over our previous home in Philadelphia? The answer for us was ultimately yes – but who knows if it was the right one. I do not say any of this in jest. I just have no idea how to navigate this territory. 

Recently the only people I have seen have been neighbors and somehow my professional degree put me at the top of the pedestal in regard to“how to talk to children about matters of race”. I don’t know how this happened but somehow it did. Or wait.  Maybe it didn’t have to do with my professional degree? This topic is a sensitive one and the sensitivity level changes based on the pigmentation of your skin. This puts people of color in a difficult position.  How is it that I/we are supposed to talk about this and how come we are suddenly supposed to be experts? None of us know the “right” way to discuss race but if we don’t discuss it, we will never know. 

Oh, and did I mention that we’re in a global pandemic and the world has stopped moving?  Well yes there is that too. To add insult to injury (shout out to my Mom for her famous line) we’re in a pandemic. We were blessed enough in my family to have one very compliant mask wearer and I told myself that by the time the younger one turns two in December this will all be over, right? Wrong. Now we will have to get my food dumping, bowl wearing on head toddler to wear a mask. If only there was some way to keep it on like a car seat. The silver lining to having a one year old is that he will never remember the pandemic, however I will have the joy of having it seared into my brain matter forever. 

I would love to drop the rope on being a “woke” parent but I also try my hardest to have the content my sons take in depict religious equality, racial equality AND gender equality. For me that means taking on the assignment of changing the pronouns in their books from “he” to “she.” I don’t even know if that’s doing anything but I’m doing it anyway. I try to have them watch content that passes the Bechdel and Latif test.  I also read them books on feminism and if something they’re watching seems off then I stop what I’m doing to interrupt and explain. I ask my boys to help me in the kitchen and clean up after themselves so one day their partners don’t say “Indian husbands don’t do anything around the house.” 

We also carry Costco (my four-year-old’s happy place) sized boxes of chips and water bottles in our car to give to unhoused people we see. This is my attempt at teaching our children that there are people in this world with less than us and to hopefully reduce any future douche baggery on their parts. I don’t mention all this to say I’m amazing but I’m definitely exhausted. The question is, am I a woke parent yet?

Who knows.