Unbabbled: Coronavirus Resources (Part 3)

Supporting Children's Social-Emotional Health with Lily Yoder

Talk of COVID-19 has been everywhere for weeks. But how can we speak with our children about this global pandemic without evoking fear or anxiety? We speak with Lily Yoder, a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Play Therapist about how to talk to children about COVID-19, as well as how parents can support their children's mental and social-emotional health through this time.

About Lily Yoder

Lily is the Director of Student and Family Services at The Parish School. She earned her BA in Psychology from Baylor University and her MA in Psychology from Houston Baptist University. Before joining The Parish School in 2018, Lily had over 10 years of experience providing counseling and play therapy to children and families in a variety of settings. She has significant experience with young children, ADHD and anxiety disorders, and is a member of the Sam Houston Chapter of the Association for Play Therapy.

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Stephanie (00:05):

Hello and welcome to Unbabbled, a podcast that navigates the world of special education, communication delays and learning differences. We are your hosts, Stephanie Landis and Meredith Krimmel and we're certified speech-language pathologists who spend our days at The Parish School in Houston helping children find their voices and connect with the world around them. Hello and welcome to a very special episode of Unbabbled. We are doing this in two ways. We will be here in a zoom meeting where you can see the video and hear the audio and we'll be getting you this episode as a podcast as well as our typical way of talking to you all today we are sitting here and speaking with Lily Yoder. Lily Yoder is a return guest. Lily is a licensed professional counselor and registered play therapist. She has over 10 years of experience providing counseling and play therapy children. And today we're talking to her to get her input and what we can do to and ways we can talk about COVID and all the craziness that is happening right now with COVID-19 to our children and how we can help them with their emotional and mental health and support them through this time as well as tips to support ourselves through this crazy time. So Lily, welcome. Thank you so much to speaking with us today. So I just want to start off. We've been hearing so much about like we can't avoid talking about this to our kids. We just can't. I mean there's no way to tell them like, Oh well school is closed just because. You can't go to the zoo just because. There are no can't talk to your neighbors just because. So we have to talk to them about it some way and people are saying, well, I'll talk to them about it in a developmentally appropriate way, but especially for our special population, do you have any tips for parents on what talking to them about it in a developmentally appropriate way might mean?

Lily (01:53):

I think it's important to be honest with our children about it, but honest in simple terms with simple information and not providing all of the details or over too much information that might be overwhelming for them. Just being very simple and saying that, you know, right now there's a germ that's um, getting passed around pretty quickly and pretty fast and this germ can make people sick and it spreads really, really fast when there's a lot of people together. So right now we're trying to, people are trying to figure out how to make ways, um, what are ways that they can keep the germ from spreading. And so one of those ways are, you know, right now we're going to stay home. Instead of going to school, we're going to stay home instead of mom and dad going to work. We're going to stay home instead of getting together with our friends and, and playing at the park with other friends or with doing our extracurricular activities like, uh, tumbling gymnastics, um, basketball. Um, and then just letting children know that, you know, right now they're going to, they're going to do school, you know, virtually or remote learning, you know, so they're going to do school at home and mom and dad are going to work at home and children can help by washing their hands while singing happy birthday two times. They can help when they go outside and play. If they see friends and neighbors, they can just wave from a distance rather than running over to them and, and hi-fiveing or saying hello. They can just say hello from far away. And then just letting children know that once this journey is kind of, it's not gonna be around forever. And once the germ has kind of disappeared and doctors are saying that it's okay to go back and, and be around lots of people, that school will get started again. Um, extracurriculars will get started again.

Stephanie (03:41):

Yeah. I love how you use the term of being a helper in there and gave them a little bit of like positivity and power over ways they can help instead of making them feel a little like, like a victim or helpless or there's nothing that they can do and feeling overwhelmed that way.

Lily (03:58):

Right. And I think that's important. Definitely one way, um, to help children feel more of a sense of control while they are, while the whole family is going through this new normal experience, establishing a new normal is letting kids know that they can help stop spreading this germ around. Um, and then they also can help and be a contributor at home. Finding ways for the child to help and letting their helpfulness be volunteer as opposed to forcing them to help. So suggesting, you know, would you like to help me with this? And if they say yes, you know, just being like, Oh, you're such a help. But if they choose not to, then knowing that that's okay.

Stephanie (04:37):

As you've talked about new normal, can you speak a little bit about like helping parents establish a routine or a sense of new normalcy?

Lily (04:45):

You know, I think it's important to, to, to have a schedule and your older kids you can have them participate in creating the schedule, which gives them a little bit of a sense of ownership. Your younger ones are just kinda kind of create the schedule for them. The schedule might be, you know, wake up time, breakfast time, outdoor time, project time, learning time, lunch. Um, but just, just having a general structure or schedule for the day and including what would need to be in the family. I know a lot of our teachers, um, are sending out, um, some examples and some, some schedules that parents can use at home and just know that those are guidelines and those don't have to be followed exactly to the tee. Parents and families can adapt it to what is going to work for them while everyone is in the household at the moment.

Meredith (05:42):

I want to go back a little bit. You talked about some really great ideas of how we can talk about COVID-19 to our kids and I love the idea of being a helper and giving them control. Can you give us any other suggestions or ideas of how we can talk about this with our kids? Without creating lot of fear or anxiety around it?

Lily (06:00):

Finding ways to send them the message that they're safe, that they can handle this, that mom and dad can handle this and that, um, they're in it together, um, is going to be an important component in that and just letting them know that the germs are normal germs. We have cold germs, we have flu germs. Um, we have germs that make us cough. We have gems that give us fever. And you know, anytime a child has a cough, their child gets over the cough, then they're better. And so just reminding them that this is just another germ. Um, and it's a new one. So, you know, doctors are still learning about it. And when people help by staying home and not spreading the germ around the doctors, it gives doctors more time to just learn about the germ. So that way everyone will be better prepared.

Stephanie (06:49):

Talking about germs is such an abstract thing. I mean it's not like we can look down and see a germ or see bacteria or a virus or any of that. Do you have any tips on ways we can make it concrete for our kids to kind of wrap their heads around it better?

Lily (07:03):

Um, there is this fun video that I saw on Facebook and I Googled it earlier today to look it up. It's on YouTube as well and I think if you Google like the germ soap and pepper, um, on YouTube at various, um, various ones will pop up. But basically, and it's, it's such a cool idea. I may do it and post it as well on our Parish resources site. But it's, it's a very cool activity to do with your children I think. Um, but basically you fill a bowl with water, you sprinkle some pepper in it, the pepper or the germs, and just reminding kids that germs are so small, they're smaller than pepper. Um, and so we can't see them, but they're there like pepper. Um, and when you can have your child or even you just dip your finger in the water with pepper and it will show you all the pepper on your finger. And so, you know, germs kind of stick to our skin like the pepper guys. And then when we touch other things or other people, the germs transfer, the pepper transfers and it's a great activity to help enhance and promote hand washing. You then have the child wash their hands and then dip their finger in soap, just like Dawn dish soap and put their finger back in the water with pepper and all of the germs just kinda flee, um, and, and spread away from the finger. So it's a great little activity that will help give children and understanding of how the germs transfer as well as an understanding of how the germs go away when there's soap around.

Meredith (08:31):

Yeah, I love that we did that with my kids but with glitter and um, I cannot remember what we mixed the glitter with, but we had my five year old son walk around the house and touch things without washing his hand. And then we went back afterwards and watched all the places he left glitter. And it was a really powerful visual for how easily, even though he didn't realize it in the moment when he was touching me, if we went back and you could find glitter on, on everything he touched.

Lily (08:55):

And what a fun way to do it for kids anyway.

Meredith (08:57):

Yeah. And do it outside cause nobody wants glitter all over their house.

Stephanie (09:01):

And with that there are so much news coming out and then like the news cycle is pumping all of the time. And I found myself even having to ask my husband to turn it off because I was starting to feel overwhelmed and I know that we're not thinking about it, but little ears are always listening. And I know because even my three year old the other day, we were on a walk because we can still walk around the neighborhood and a tree limb had rot and fallen off. And we were talking about why the tree limb fell down and as we're walking away, my little guy said, Oh, well the tree had a Corona. I was like, Oh, trees can't get the same germs we can. But you know, I don't think I had specifically sat down and like told him that, you know, it was a Corona virus or any of that, but he just picked up on it in the background. Such little sponges. Yeah.

Lily (09:58):

And I think that's why it's important both for children and even for, for parents, for us adults, um, to really limit how much use we have going on in the background limit, social media and how much social media we're looking at. Um, all the time. I think when we have that news just kind of replaying in the background or we're constantly looking at social media, we're kind of allowing ourselves to focus on all of the negatives of what's going on. Um, all of you know, the what ifs, what could happen. Um, all of just the fear and anxiety. It's just allowing it to, to place root in ourselves. And that doesn't mean that listening to the news isn't important, but maybe just reminding ourselves to try and listen to the news when our children aren't around. And then for our own just sense of being able to stay calm through this period. Just limiting how much we are following that and how much that is going into the back of our minds on a daily basis. And again, I've kind of taken my dogs, there are children outside and they like to bark at children outside.

Meredith (11:03):

Again, we're all working in a new normal. My kids, I can hear them out there running and playing. I'm like, who knows what's going to happen.

Stephanie (11:11):

So with that, my daughter obviously heard me tell my husband to turn the news off and she was asking me why. And I hopefully it was the correct thing to do just to tell her like I am feeling a little overwhelmed with the news. Like, it's going to affect my mood and I want to make sure that I'm present and feeling good while I'm playing with you guys right now. So I'm going to turn it off so that I'm not feeling overwhelmed because she could already tell that I was starting to feel anxious and then her behavior was starting to increase for the negative. So is that something that you encourage parents to do, talk about their own feelings and reactions?

Lily (11:48):

Yes. I think it's important for parents to remember that children, young children co-regulate off of a trusted adult, um, and that older children sense when we are feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Um, and that really drives their own state of regulation. So I think it's important for parents to remember that through all of this. A number one factor is that parents need to remember how to stay calm and take care of themselves emotionally and physically through this. And in that process, the more regulated that parent is, the more that children are going to feel safe and connected and, and that they're okay. And that's the message we want to send them and ourselves throughout this process is that we're okay, this will end and we will get through it and we are safe and we will get through it.

Meredith (12:42):

Yeah, it's amazing how much they pick up on and without, like you were saying Stephanie, without even directly talking to them. You know, my, my five year old came to me the other day and said, mom, the sickness has gone. And I was what sickness? And he said the one that's getting everybody sick, it's gone. We can go and play with our friends now. You know, and I have not sat down and talked with him directly. I mean now I have, and now that he said that, but before he was really just hearing us talk about what was going on or hearing the news or whatever he was. But it was amazing cause I had no idea he even knew what was going on.

Lily (13:14):

Right, right. It's amazing how much they'd pick up on and either through what they hear or how much they've picked up on energy-wise from us that we don't even realize that we're sending out to them. Um, and I think it's reminding ourselves that our brains, most basic need is safety and that's closely followed by connection. Um, and so that it's important like during this process where things are flipped upside down that we need to know how to take care of ourselves and be safe and then also to remain connected to each other and being connected to your children, find opportunities for connection while we're all at home with them. Um, and then also find opportunities to connect, um, as adults, finding opportunities to connect with others that help us feel grounded and safe. And I think that's what's really tough right now for all of us is that we can't go out there and see our best friend or go have a coffee date with someone that we can talk to knowing that you can still call them on the phone. And obviously like what we're doing here, we can zoom, we can FaceTime. It's not the same type of connection, but remind them yourself that we can still connect in other ways, um, to people that help us feel regulated.

Meredith (14:28):

When I feel myself getting worried or anxious, it does help me to remember that everybody's going through this, like that sense of connection and it's not just my city or my state or my country, it's like the whole world. So for some reason just that idea helps me kind of feel a little bit more secure and safe that, you know, I'm not alone in this because it feels so isolating and lonely being in your home with your immediate family only.

Lily (14:53):

Yes. Yes. And I actually have, I mean, this is just self-disclosure. I have like a friend date set up, um, tomorrow evening to watch a show that we enjoy watching together, um, on the couch. And since we can't do that physically, we're gonna, we're going to try doing it over face time, each in our own rooms, watching a show and see how it goes. But it sounds kind of silly, but it's, you know, again, it's a way of at least connecting, doing an activity that we enjoy doing together as a way of taking care of ourselves.

Meredith (15:25):

I heard Netflix is doing like a joint streaming thing. Have you heard of this? Where you can stream with someone in a different location, the same show at the same time? You should look into it. Same idea. A way to maintain connection. While apart.

Stephanie (15:39):

Do you have any quick tips on ways that parents can build that connection?

Lily (15:46):

I think it's just doing extra things together that you would normally do if maybe reading an extra book on reading it to your child, pulling them into your lap. Maybe it's older children, maybe it is watching a favorite show together. Maybe it's playing a board game, coloring together, get down on the floor with the kids and play. It doesn't have to be for long extended periods of time. I get that some parents are working from home, um, and still have work obligations that they need to do that might keep them away from interacting with the family. But it's also taking breaks within those work obligations when you can for two, three, five minutes and just doing a quick, um, activity with them, you know, and then also just just activities that parents can model to do with their children that not only take care of the parent but also can help take care of the child emotionally. So, um, engaging in some deep breathing activities together. Um, really simple ones that the child can do along, but we'll take care of the both of them and we'll also send, you're doing it together. Just be another way of connecting. We'll have um, some videos posted up like other activities, strategies, um, ways to kind of co-regulate and then increase connection, um, as well. Um, within the next couple of weeks here and next few days. Next couple of weeks.

Stephanie (17:09):

Yeah, I can definitely feel my kids. I'm feeling both more connected with being home with us all day, but also a little bit of an expectation that since we're home all day we'll be attending to them all day. So we've had a little back and forth and pull and tug of like, yay, they're here. But no, they keep kind of walking off and my daughter is directly said like, you're home. I want you to pay attention to me. Like I really love that but I still have to work. And so we've been working really hard on setting up our own schedule and putting in there and being very direct with that. How about like these are the times when we can read books together and we'll all come back to eat lunch at the same time and we'll still have family dinners together. But at this time and this time, daddy has to go to this meeting and I have to go in the office for that meeting. And so making it really clear with them that like, yes, we still want to be here for you, but we're still not 100% open access has been a a bumpy start in our home to finding that rhythm and hopefully every day it'll get a little bit easier.

Meredith (18:13):

And you touched on something Stephanie on setting expectations because I feel like that has, we've had a bumpy start as well with my five and two year old, but setting the expectations that, that we're a team in this. So I told my children, you know, mommy and daddy are really gonna need your help because we're all doing something new or working from home and we're going to have to step away and do some work and check emails and do meetings. And you guys are going to have to work really hard to be flexible. And sometimes we might even have to ask you to do something by yourself, you know? And so really laying out those expectations because it has been really hard. They're used to the weekends and they get all of us on the weekend. So this has been, and we're only on day three.

Lily (18:54):

You mentioned the word being flexible. And I think that is probably something to also really remember through this time. This is, this is a new normal, you know, everyone talks about how creating a sense of safety as being a sense of predictability and following those schedules and being consistent with those schedules. But we're all used to the schedule that we had before. And so there is no, you know, we can't, we can't follow that schedule because we're in a different situation at this time. And so it is creating a new schedule. Um, and we're not perfect, you know, we're not perfect. Individuals are not perfect beings, so we're not going to create the perfect schedule from day one. Um, and knowing that is just going to be a work in progress and we're going to try a schedule and we're going to know that some days it's going to work and some days it might not work. And that it's okay to be a little bit flexible with that, to be flexible with our children, to know that some days they're going to be able to follow that schedule and do need those learning activities that are needing to get done. And some days they may not, they may not be able to do that. Being flexible with ourselves. Some days we may, you know, do great at managing work responsibilities and interacting with our children and not putting them on screens all day and some days they're going to be in front of a screen all day or a lot of the day because we have work obligations to get done. And so really giving ourselves grace in that and forgiving ourselves that it's not going to go perfect and that we can, you know, adjust the schedule if needed. If we're finding that, you know, it's, we're needing something different as we establish this new sense of normal.

Stephanie (20:37):

Yeah, we've been making our schedule new each morning on a dry erase board for it because there's no, every day looks different. Every day looks different. We can't keep schedule the same from day to day, but we can still have the expectation that there is some sort of routine and schedule and we know what's coming for the day in the morning. So my daughter sits down and helps us write out and figure the schedule for the day. But sometimes things get missed and we have to go back and sometimes we can keep going along with it. But it seems to be helping her manage her own level of anxiety of not knowing what's coming and not knowing when I will pay attention to her, can read the book with her or help her do her math homework and when I can't. Is there anything else that we haven't, you've talked about the importance of giving safety and connection. Is there any other big things that we can help our kids with as they navigate through this?

Lily (21:34):

No. Again, I think that the importance is focusing on the safety connection, remembering to do things to take care of yourself as well. Engaging, being active in engaging in calming strategies, not just like in the moment, which are great, you know, if you're feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, taking some deep breaths and stepping away for a moment, but also preventatively, you know, just having five minutes a day of where we do something, calming either individually by ourselves or with our children and practicing taking breaths. You know, again, just finding ways to, to build connection into the, it doesn't have to be, you know, long periods of time, but in between those work responsibilities, you know, kind of stepping in and checking on how they're doing and doing, you know, a three to five minute or two to three minute little, um, activity at or at parish and one of our classrooms will do GoNoodles. So, you know, put a GoNoodle on those are like a minute and a half long and just doing the go noodle with your child might be another fun way of building a sense of connection that will get them through another hour of you having to go and get some work stuff done.

Stephanie (22:49):

Plus those GoNoodles. They're fun and they're silly and they like, they're lighthearted. And so they build that. Like they bring some joy back into this stressful time too.

Lily (22:58):

Um, you know, it's eye contact, it's touch. Um, and it's being playful. And there's one more thing I can't remember at the top of my head, but yes. So, I mean the connection doesn't have to be, Oh we're going to spend a full hour playing a game with you. That's awesome. Um, but if, if you're finding that you have to work, you know, it could be as simple as I'm going in and giving a high five or um, you know, like a touch or pat on the shoulder and saying, wow, you were working so hard doing this while mommy is working. Or it could be, you know, doing one and a half minute and go noodle activity. Cause that's very playful

Stephanie (23:37):

I think the dance party and the kitchen.

Lily (23:39):

Yeah. Yeah. So it doesn't have to be, um, you know, this really like long extended time. But just, you know, saying while you were being such a help or my mommy is working cause you were, you were doing this and, and I'm not interrupting mommy or daddy. Um, or you're being so helpful, you know, ICA setting the table. So again, labeling to them when they're being helpful and contributing in ways that you're wanting them to.

Stephanie (24:06):

Yeah. One of the things that I keep hearing from you and everyone around us is that this is our new normal and hopefully eventually, soon we get to go back to our old normal. Do you have any tips on helping parents navigate back to the old normal with their kids, if they might be then bringing some of that fear of going near people or back to the school where it was germy, or no, that had germs or this has germs. I can't go there to try and help them, like reenter the world we were in before.

Lily (24:39):

No, I think it's just reminding them that you know, that not all germs stay around forever and that now that so much time has passed, doctors are saying that the germ, um, has gone away or isn't around as much. Doctors are saying that it's safe to go be around lots of people. Um, the germ isn't spreading fast anymore and doctors now have new ways, um, to help to help people who have, who get this germ, um, to help them feel better.

Meredith (25:10):

So really emphasizing the safety again.

Lily (25:12):

Just emphasizing the safety. Um, and that, you know, this term isn't going to be around forever and so our new normal will come to an end and we'll go back to the old normal. Yeah.

Stephanie (25:24):

Yeah. And that, you know, teacher's jobs are to keep you safe. So we've sanitized the classrooms and we've done all of this and you know, you are still safe there.

Lily (25:34):

Right. I think that's a great idea of reminding them of, you know, what the schools and teachers already do, um, to keep them safe and um, those things will continue. And um, now that doctors and everyone know how to, um, now the germ isn't spreading so fast, you know, everyone's more able to stay safe while being around lots of people. Um, and continuing to hand washing and hand sanitizer. They don't need to stay home to stay safe.

Stephanie (26:06):

Typically at the end of our podcast we ask a general advice question, but we're going to make this one a little more specific. If you had one little takeaway for parents on helping navigate the social, emotional and the mental health side of dealing with COVID-19, what would your piece of advice be?

Lily (26:25):

Think, remind your children and yourselves that you are safe, that you guys can get through this and you'll get through it together. Um, reminding, staying focused on the positive and you know, how to increase connection and positive engagement with each other while you're at home together. And then just being flexible. Um, and knowing that, you know, being flexible and granting yourself some forgiveness that it's a work in progress and that, you know, one day may not go great, but the next day may be better.

Stephanie (27:00):

Thank you so much. We appreciate you giving your time and being here and chatting with us. It's helped me so hopefully it'll help other parents out there as well.

Lily (27:09):

I hope so. Yeah. Thank you.

Meredith (27:11):

And thanks everyone for tuning in. For more information on the Unbabbled podcast. You can subscribe on the app of your choice and for more information on The Parish School, visit parishschool.org and be on the lookout as mentioned for more resources from our student family services team during this time of extended school closure. Thanks everyone.

Meredith (27:32):

Thank you for listening to the Unbabbled podcast. For more information on today's episode, please see our episode description. For more information on how The Parish School is handling COVID-19, please visit parishschool.org/coronavirus. If you're not already, don't forget to subscribe to the Unbabbled podcasts on your app of choice, and if you like what you're hearing, be sure to leave a rating and review. A special thank you to Stig Daniels, Amy Tanner, Amanda Arnold, and Stella Limuel for their hard work behind the scenes. Thanks again for listening.