Perry Bell is a child and family psychologist at the Center for Child and Family Development, a group practice in Morristown, New Jersey. He regularly treats the full gamut of parenting and family concerns, “from potty training to college-age conflicts.”
The parents Bell sees now often report that they feel overwhelmed with the challenges of juggling their different roles. Many are navigating the demands of full-time jobs, and helping their children manage
distance learning, while also addressing daily life responsibilities and the tasks of maintaining a household. They do this while trying to assess the evolving news about COVID-19 and determine what they must do to keep their families safe and healthy.
The children he sees often share that while they were initially elated by the cessation of formal classroom instruction, they now notice the absence of the ebb and flow of the school day. And they find that they miss their friends and the structure of school life. Bell knows that often, dysfunctional behaviors can be exacerbated by the absence of social supports, such as those available in schools. And whether or not they realize it, children crave socializing and they suffer when it is lacking.
Fran Ackerman is a licensed clinical social worker working in a private practice in Highland Park, who offers psychotherapy to adults and teens struggling with depression, anxiety, loss and bereavement and/or a history of trauma. Additionally she works with couples who want to improve their marriage.
She noted, “The pandemic and the need to stay at home and socially distance has aggravated many people’s issues. It is particularly difficult for people who live alone as well as for those who juggle many roles and demands. Depression and anxiety have many ways of seemingly taking a stronger hold under these circumstances and making the struggle to stay healthy that much more difficult.”
“For people who have small children, the need to juggle parenting, helping with school, household concerns is a big challenge. New divisions of labor within a marriage and in a household need to be discussed and established. Many adult children have left the city and moved back in with their parents in the suburbs to ride this out. This brings with it a new set of challenges that need to be worked on.”
Gali Goodman is a psychotherapist in private practice in Englewood who also works at the Jewish Family Center of Clifton and Passaic as a clinician/psychotherapist. She works with couples, adults and children with a variety of mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and PTSD.
She reported, “I’m definitely seeing more anxiety and depression. Clients are struggling to maintain healthy relationships with their family members. This is causing additional stress and depression when they have no place to go to unwind and be alone. Enabling clients to find ways to maintain healthy relationships with their loved ones is a big part of the work that I am doing. In addition, the economic stressors as well as the pandemic stressors are causing more anxiety-related challenges.”
Jeremy Lichtman is a psychologist who works at the Center for Cognitive Behavior Therapy in East Brunswick. He works with children, adolescents and families, and specializes in treating anxiety, OCD, ADHD and other disorders in children.
During the COVID-19 pandemic he has seen three prevalent problems: Children struggle with boredom, especially teens. The social isolation is hard; they feel disconnected from peers and have too much free time. Parents have more time than usual with their children and see more anxiety, misbehavior, fighting with siblings etc. Their child can seem unfamiliar to them or they think it’s their fault that the child has become difficult to manage.
And many people feel an overwhelming sense of danger in the world, which promotes catastrophizing, disqualifying the good, black and white thinking, and imagined responsibility for wrongdoing.
Bin Goldman is the director of psychology and guidance at Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, in River Edge, and a psychologist in private practice in Teaneck.
He works with children from preschool through eighth grade, parents, teachers, young adults and older adults. He assists people with anxiety, depression and trauma.
He stated, “This time of shut-down, distancing and quarantine has been extremely hard for everyone, children and adults. Many of us are struggling emotionally more than we have ever before. The guidance department staff at RYNJ surveyed parents about the challenges they most wanted help with during this period. The two most common responses were their own anxiety and their children’s.”
“Many students are dealing with the loss of missing things they’ve eagerly looked forward to,” he added. “This is a hard year to be an eighth grader or a high-school senior. And for children who count the days to camp all year, the prospect of missing a whole summer is more upsetting than they might show us. Kids who have a hard time with school may be wishing for camp even more during distance learning, where they face all of the same hard work without the benefit of spending time with their friends.”
These mental health professionals offered advice to parents, individuals and families.
“Help your child create a regular schedule, with expected behaviors. This is very important as it sets a sense of order,” said Lichtman. Parents should do the same themselves. “Most people function better, and feel better, with rhythms and plans for their time. And it is essential to mental health to feel directed and purposeful,” said Bell. Ackerman advised, “At the end of the day, give lots of positive messages to yourself for following the plan.”
Parents should be mindful of their own mental health. Goodman said, “If people are unable to take care of themselves, they will less likely be able to take care of anyone else in a healthy and calm manner.” Bell commented, “When caught in an unplanned situation with no defined end, it is natural to develop discouraging views. People can assume the worst will happen, and/or they can assume that they ‘know’ what future events will occur.” Ackerman suggested practical steps, such as: “Get outside every day that is not raining. It can be sitting in the sun, walking or another form of exercise but getting outside is very important. Exercise is another thing that’s vital.”
“Establish times to talk with the people living within the household, during which issues can be discussed and resolved,” advised Ackerman. Goldman suggested, “Flexibility means being able to accept the reality I am in right now, with its limitations, and to adjust my expectations of myself, others and the future, and adjust how I respond. It allows me to have compassion for myself and forgive myself for having limitations, making mistakes and coping poorly. It also lets me give more room to my children and family to mess up without feeling like I have to respond or get upset.”
“Do your best to make sure your kid is socializing with others and is doing so in a healthy way. Keeping up with peers allows them to maintain important skills,” said Lichtman.
Find something meaningful to do with “downtime.” Bell noted, “Healthy self-esteem is built on a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Creative endeavors are a both a wonderful outlet and a justified source of pride. This is equally true for adults and children.”
“Anyone feeling a heightened sense of emotions, whether it is anxiety, depression or anger, should know that it is normal they are feeling this way. We are living in unnatural times with a variety of very strong stressors and it is completely natural to have these additional feelings. It’s what makes us human,” said Goodman. Lichtman commented, “This is a hard time for so many reasons. You are not a bad parent if you’re struggling. Don’t beat yourself up if you yell at your child one day. No one trained you for these unusual circumstances.”
By Harry Glazer