Night of Virtual Wellness at Parent University October 2020
North Merrick School District held the fall Parent University remotely on November 16 as “A Night of Virtual Wellness,” coordinated by teachers Maria Castle and Lisa Drewes. The evening was composed of three parts with presentations by Dr. Devorah Heitner on digital safety and Dr. Vera Feurer on relieving anxiety, and a family yoga session led by North Merrick teacher Christine Paras.
Dr. Heitner, the founder and director of Raising Digital Natives and author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive in their Digital World, discussed the new reality of children spending so much time online during the pandemic, both for school work and socially. She said parents can help their children learn empathy, responsibility and confidence as digital citizens to use technology effectively to connect, create and learn.
Some of her suggestions for parents are:
- Be aware that even young children pick up on the news cycle so give simple and age-appropriate updates as well as an understanding that information is evolving;
- Spend quality time together as a family while also finding time for self-care and being alone;
- Teach children to use technology to communicate with friends and family in meaningful ways and to help others remotely;
- Take breaks from technology and be creative through cooking or writing;
- Monitor children’s texting and gaming, and assist them with proper technology etiquette; and
- Mentor good time-management skills so that children learn people run the devices, not the other way around.
Dr. Feurer, a child psychiatrist at Cohen’s Children’s Medical Center, focused her presentation on helping parents identify and relieve anxiety in children, particularly during a pandemic. She explained that anxiety in children is common and normal but when it becomes overwhelming, it is crucial to intervene and treat so it does not become a lifelong challenge. Dr. Feurer also detailed TIPP skills (temperature change, intense exercise, paced muscle relaxation, and paced breathing) as well as breathing exercises, such as box breathing, to diffuse severe anxiety or panic, and she said there are many helpful YouTube videos illustrating these methods.
Her suggestions for parents include:
- Spend one-on-one time with each child with your undivided attention in an activity they enjoy;
- Stay calm, use praise, and provide positive reinforcement;
- Create structures and routines and involve the children with scheduling;
- Be aware of physical symptoms, such as headaches, which are often a manifestation of anxiety;
- Set a specific time for worrying and differentiate between real-problem worrying and hypothetical worrying; and
- Get artsy by crafting a mindfulness glitter jar, coloring or painting, and make time to move with exercise, dance or yoga.
Parent University concluded with North Merrick families participating in a soothing sequence of yoga poses guided by teacher Christine Paras. At the end of the session, Ms. Paras asked families to bring their hands to heart center, stating, “May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be peaceful. Namaste.”
Dr. Heitner empowered parents to be mentors and role models for their children
Dr. Feurer gave many tips and ideas on how to talk to children about COVID and deal with related anxiety