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LET’S TALK: Your Family’s Mental Health During COVID-19 Outbreak

We are all in this together. The COVID-19 outbreak is not just a Tampa Bay issue, it is worldwide. While there is a common sense of mutual understanding, we are also all feeling very wide array of emotions.

Dr. Wendy Rice of Rice Psychology Group recently joined us for a live conversation about how to take care of our mental health and our family’s emotional well-being during this new normal.

Here is a snippet of what she had to share about mental health during COVID-19:

(Some answers are edited for length.)

As news evolves every day, sometimes by the hour, it’s hard not to get anxious. How can we as parents take care of ourselves so we can take care of our family?

Dr. Wendy Rice: We have learned the value of meditation and mindfulness and if you are somebody who already knows how to do this and stopped your practice…get back into your practice of doing that. It’s a way of starting your day and clearing your head and allowing yourself to focus.
If you can find time and a place to take of yourself, to sort of replenish yourself, you are going to be more available addable to be patient with your kids.
If there are two at home and you can trade time with the kids [do that]. Do what you can to support each other. We know that you’ve got to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on your child. Make sure you have oxygen.

We’ve embarked on e-learning this week and my child is fighting it. What can I do to encourage my child?

Dr. Wendy Rice: Cut yourselves as parents some slack because this is really hard! We have to adjust our expectations.
Right now, especially if you have an elementary or middle school child…don’t tell them this…the grades don’t matter that much.
Make sure your kids are involved in some learning activity each day and maybe are getting the gist of what they are supposed to be learning but your relationship with your child is the most important thing and so we have to be reasonable about this.
Let them know that learning how to learn in this way maybe is our goal for this week. If it glitches and you miss social students today…it’s okay, we’ll figure out how to make it up.

If my child continues to whine, should I push them to continue with e-learning in the morning?

Dr. Wendy Rice: It’s a case by case basis for sure. Maybe first thing in the morning isn’t your child’s best time. Ask them, What can I do to help you to make this better for you? Come up with a plan to make it more manageable.

We are all in the same boat right now. I’m sure that helps when we know we’re in this together.

Dr. Wendy Rice: Nobody has got this under control, It’s okay that this is a debacle.
If it’s not working so well this week—that’s okay. This is not going to make or break your child’s future if the first week of April your child doesn’t shine during pandemic school.

It’s been hard to explain to my child why they can’t play with their friends, even with the neighborhood kids.

Dr. Wendy Rice: I think right now this is the hardest thing to explain without scaring them.
During this learning period when we’re learning how this virus gets passed from person to person, we‘re doing the safest thing which is to stay home.
W’re not prisoners, we’re not locked in our homes, for now all of our social stuff needs to be virtual.
Alternatives are key: Set up tournaments for online games and allow your child time to connect with friends online.

When it comes to screen time, can we relax the rules a bit and allow more time on electronics?

Dr. Wendy Rice: I think that you do what you can. The key is still moderation, but it’s also survival. If you are a parent working from home and you are in meetings all day-maybe the night before you come up with ideas, you sit down with your child and make a schedule so they have activities to do.
What I’ve been doing with some patients is brainstorming some activities and it’s neat because they are connecting with things they used to enjoy doing like painting, puzzles and crafts—all sorts of things because every spare minute is filled up with technology.
If you’re going to be on it, let’s make sure we’re not only playing games that there is some variety. Keep an eye on it, still make sure they wind down before they go to sleep.
It’s probably going to mean a bit more tech for everyone.

How about my own use of screens and news consumption, as a parent?

Dr. Wendy Rice: Less is more. One suggestion I have is if you want to see what happened over night, watch for an hour in the morning.
I like to watch the t6pm press conference and then listen to the talking heads talk about it and see if my interpretation matches sup with what they say and then be done with it.
Let’s try to limit and not have it on all day, especially not around the kids.
It can be traumatizing for the kids to hear this. If the kids are seeing stuff like that (COVID-19 news coverage), let’s talk about it. Why are we staying home? We’re staying home because we want to stay out of hospitals.

I know for little ones it’s not quite as traumatizing because they are getting more time with their families than ever before.

Dr. Wendy Rice: That’s one of the pots at the end of this rainbow is so much more family time, especially for parents who are really able to carve it out even if they are working. It is so powerful.

Let’s talk about routine and structure. How important is this right now for our kids?

Dr. Wendy Rice: They really need some structure and some expectations.
Part of the reason the school day happens the way it happens is that there’s a schedule. Activities have a beginning and end time, they build in breaks, they build in tome to pass from one subject to another. It’s really helpful.
Get a white board, easel,  or even a piece of paper. Write a schedule with them. Help them to structure their day. We created centers today with somebody I spoke to.
Timers! I love timers. I love timers for myself! Timers are great because it gives kids a beginning and an end.
The more adults in the house can create an inviting space for the kids, the more we can help to break tasks down into manageable steps.
Catch them being good and catch them trying. Catch your kids being good and get excited, Show up with a positive attitude.


Laura Byrne
Laura Byrne
Laura Byrne is an award-winning former television news journalist who spent 15+ years in newsrooms across the state of Florida including Sarasota, Tallahassee, Fort Myers and right here in Tampa Bay where she still freelances on occasion. She covered the political beat, crime beat and every day breaking news during her time in Florida newsrooms, but is now focused on sharing positive news stories and events with families in Tampa Bay. She is a proud mommy of two little boys who keep her on her toes and laughing every day. Her goal is to inspire families just like yours to get out and play and experience all that Tampa Bay and our great state of Florida have to offer! She encourages you to share your stories and upcoming events so we can spread the good news.

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