Mental Health for the Whole Family During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Written by Dr. Sharon Arbel, Ph.D. on .

Mental Health for the Whole Family During the COVID-19 Pandemic
March 4, 7-8:30 PM

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Dr. Sharon Arbel is a Clinical Psychologist with over 20 years of experience helping children and families.  She owns and operates a private practice in Tarzana (which is currently online) where she sees her own clients and also supervises and trains interns in their clinical work.  She is a former university instructor for graduate level psychology students and is the mother of three children.  Dr. Arbel will be giving a virtual workshop to the WHPS community on March 4th about "Mental Health for the Whole Family During the COVID-19 Pandemic."  She will also be contributing monthly to our newsletter via a Q/A section for the remainder of this school year. 

This Month's Q & A With Dr. Arbel

Q. My child is constantly telling me that he is bored. With extracurricular activities cancelled and far less social interactions, how can I help him feel less bored?

A. First off, boredom is nothing to be worried about.  Boredom is actually a pretty wonderful experience, which children in today's day and age do not have enough of. Boredom leads us to feel more comfortable with ourselves and find creative ways to entertain ourselves as well as give ourselves permission to simply rest.  When your child complains of boredom, rather than presenting him with various options of entertainment or jumping in to entertain him yourself, you can simply reply with, "that's great, I want you to feel bored at times because that it healthy for your development."

Secondly, I will say that I am seeing a great deal of kids recently who are not interested in some of the things that were previously very enjoyable to them.  This is a mood-related symptom and thus "bored" can often be a synonym to "sad/empty."  Be sure that you are attuned to how your child is using the word.  If you have a hunch that it comes from a place of feeling sad or empty, your leaning in and helping him to cultivate that language and self expression to tell you what is really going on will be very important.  Our presence as parents is truly key during this very challenging time in our lives.

Q. My children fight often. They have been spending so much time together during the pandemic that they can't stop bickering.

A. This pandemic certainly has blurred boundaries between siblings.  In some families, the sibling relationship has been a saving grace during this time of social isolation, while in other families, it has been a significant stressor due to the constant bickering.  Everyone needs boundaries and time alone.  See if you can prescribe time alone for your children every day.  It would help if they also had a safe space where they could go and unwind or read or just be alone. Furthermore, see if you can integrate quality time with a parent (1:1) every week. Finally, pay attention to the ways in which you deal with the bickering.  Do you jump in to meditate or reprimand? Sibling rivalry is very commonly about parental attention so the more that you can stay out of the picture, the better for everyone. 

Q. My children have so much screen time these days. What is the time limit that I should be implementing?

A. This is a question I get asked daily by parents in my practice, and it's a very legitimate one.  Between learning, socializing, playing, and exercising online, kids are getting screen time well beyond the recommended amounts.  The key here is to pay attention to the quality and purpose of the screen time.  In other words, what goal is it serving and how important is that goal?

Outside of the school day (whether online or in person), children need to be getting exercise and outside play, as well as socialization.  They need to practice social skills, be a contributing member of their household, interact with peers their age, and interact with their parents.  They need a proper sleep and meal routine.  If after all of these things there is time left over for playing video games, then there is no harm from time to time. Just pay attention to the order of priority of the important daily tasks that come before playing video games and watching tv.  If you are clear with your child about their responsibilities, screen time becomes less of a battle.

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