COOS COUNTY — As parents grapple with having their kids home during the mandated school closures, South Coast Education Service District’s school psychologist Sam Aley encourages household routines to keep families connected and calm.
On Day 2 of the school closures, Aley took his son Eliot to the Millicoma track and field to play baseball. Aside from the two of them and one man walking his dog, it was empty.
South Coast ESD psychologist Sam Aley throws a ball to his son Eliot on the Millicoma track and field in Coos Bay on Day 2 of the school closures.
“I think initially, kids had a range of emotions when it was announced that school was closed,” Aley said, referring to the precautionary measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. “(The children’s emotions) started with excitement then to worry, to happy about being home, then to fear. It’s unchartered waters for kids because it’s not a weekend, not a vacation, not a summer break. It’s an illness spreading across the country affecting schools.”
When asked about possible long-term impacts children might carry with them as the pandemic persists, Aley said they will fare better if a structure is implemented at home now.
“If kids aren’t monitored properly and are watching lots of news on COVID-19 … it could increase anxiety which activate centers of your brain that deal with fear,” Aley explained, adding that this could cause children to be more emotionally volatile. “If we limit their television and social media access and provide enriched structure, the chances of anxiety go down… Kids are extremely resilient… If you promote structure in your home, I think they’ll be okay.”
In the Aley household, the day starts at 10 a.m. His preteen sons get ready, make breakfast with him, and then tackle a list of at-home activities and community activities that meet the social distancing requirements.
The activities list include two hours of chores, from reading to exercising, before they even look at a screen. When children do log onto social media, Aley advised for their time to be monitored.
“This is a good time to talk with your kids about social media so if something comes up, they can immediately talk to you,” he said.
Aley provided online activities that can enrich children and promote learning. These include
virtual field trips, Wilbrooks Free Online Books, Scholastic Learn at Home, a list of education companies offering free subscriptions due to school closings, the Metropolitan Opera Nightly Performance Stream, and the ABC Mouse Home Access. To do the ABC Mouse early learning academy, Adventure Academy, and ReadingIQ, visit ABCmouse.com and use the redeem code SCHOOL7771 for free access.
Aley pointed to other at-home activities for parents during the school closure from family movie night with education videos like National Geographic or the History Channel, to hikes at Shore Acres or Gold and Silver Falls.
“For exercise, we do yoga, treadmill and walks around the area,” he said. “We also do meditation… You can find the things that your kids like to do but you don’t have time for in your day-to-day life like batting practice or shooting hoops.”
South Coast ESD psychologist Sam Aley plays baseball with his son Eliot on Day 2 of the school closures, keeping exercise as part of the new d…
Parents can also work side-by-side with their kids on larger home activities or teach more complex chores.
Of course, Aley said parents shouldn’t feel bad if they take a day off and lounge in their pajamas with no plans for the family.
“The more time kids spend with adult role models, the more resilient they become,” Aley said. “If you do these things, you’re building resiliency which will reduce anxiety and things that come from watching too much COVID-19 footage.”
Explaining the pandemic to children
Aley advised that when children ask about the COVID-19 situation, “the best thing you can do is be honest with them.”
“Kids are highly intelligent, even young children,” Aley said. “Make yourself available so your children know they can come to you. Increase affection, let them know you love them. Avoid blaming any one group as responsible for the virus.”
When parents explain the pandemic to children, Aley directed they should say what is developmentally appropriate and include what their family is doing to be proactive.
“One of the things families are being proactive is by washing their hands for 20 seconds, which is singing the ABC song slowly once,” he said. “If we give (children) guidance on what they can do to prevent infection, it gives them more of a sense of control over the disease and reduces anxiety.”
For elementary aged children, Aley advised parents to explain COVID-19 with brief, simple information and include reassurances that their home is safe while adults work hard to keep them healthy.
For early middle school children, he said they will ask more questions on what will happen and will need assistance separating reality from rumor and fantasy.
“You will discuss efforts the school and community leaders are taking to reduce the spreading,” he said.
For upper middle school and high school students, Aley said in-depth conversations are good, as well as showing direct sources from the Centers for Disease Control and providing honest information on the status of the pandemic.
“With older kids, when they have that knowledge it gives them a feeling of responsibility and a sense of control,” he said. “This is a great time to develop deep, meaningful relationships with your kids. The more routine and structure we can provide, the more predictable their lives will be. Anxiety will be reduced and responsibility will grow.”