myHR: February 24, 2021
Nearly one year ago, COVID-19 changed our lives in ways we could never have imagined. For the nation’s children everyday activities such as going to school, connecting with friends, playing sports, and just hanging out at the mall or library suddenly changed. The limitations created anxiety, stress, and frustration for both children and parents.
Although fewer young people have contracted the virus when compared to adults and some children have thrived despite the challenging times, the pandemic’s impact on mental health among children and adolescents has been substantial. News reports tell stories of some who’ve even committed suicide after feelings of isolation became too much to bear.
There are signs that a child may be struggling, says Linda Leibowitz, co-director, Executive Program in School and Mental Health Counseling at Penn’s Graduate School of Education. Infrequent school attendance - especially for those learning remotely - increased anger, and loss of appetite are just a few. These indicators may be difficult to identify, especially as some parents continue to work from home, juggling their professional and personal lives in the same space. Leibowitz says parents need to go with their instincts that something may be wrong.
“Parents and guardians know their kids and they just have to follow their gut. If there is an extreme or any observable change in your child’s mood, language, or behavior, and if you think it is worrisome for one second, err on the side of safety and talk to your child in a supportive way,” Leibowitz says.
“You need to know what they need and what they are feeling, so you have to talk to your kids and see if you can get them to verbalize what may be bothering them. Even if they share, choose not to share, or are not able to verbalize their feelings, parents should reach out to the school counselor, mental health professional, or family doctor to discuss concerns in case further referrals are suggested,” she says.
Seclusion has been one of the biggest barriers to positive mental health for children during the pandemic. Leibowitz offers 10 strategies for parents in helping children stay connected, energized, and optimistic.
- Create a routine. Don’t throw pre-pandemic rituals aside because of COVID. Develop and maintain a family routine that you and your children can look forward to. Set a specific wake-up time, substitute your pajamas for real clothes, and eat breakfast together, if possible. Talk about what your day will be like, discuss what time to get together for dinner, and schedule an activity for after homework and dinner. Create as much of a stable environment as possible.
- Connect with friends and family. Make sure your children get to see their friends, either during outdoor activities such as sledding or bike riding, or online through video games. If you have a teenager, allow them to spend time on social media connecting with their friends after homework, just monitor usage. Set up Facetime dinners and game nights with aunts, uncles, and cousins. Invite grandparents to read a story or build Legos together with younger kids over Facetime, Zoom, or another video conferencing platform. Children can also stay connected through faith-based virtual groups and programs at church and other religious organizations.
- Learn something new. Be creative. If your kids like the media, have them write a book, make a family video, or create a podcast and interview one another about how they’re feeling and plans for after the pandemic. Make different recipes and have a baking contest with friends. Also, learn a new skill such as a new language. Newspapers are a great resource to find virtual activities such as free movies and theatre productions. There are also numerous online resources available.
- Take a virtual family vacation. Talk about places you want to go post-pandemic and research details of the location. There are museums and tourist attractions all over the world that you can visit virtually as you plan a future vacation.
- Exercise your mind and body. Mental health is connected to physical health. Use mindfulness techniques and Human Resources’ free weekly group fitness classes and Penn Campus Recreation’s virtual group exercise classes to ease anxiety and stress. Get moving by biking, dancing, doing yoga, or taking the dog for an extra walk. Also, get out of the house and take a car ride to a park, garden, or other place you haven’t been since the pandemic began or a new spot to explore in the future.
- Do an emotional temperature check. Create a special time to check in with your kids. Ask them on a scale of 1 to 10 how they feel. Ask them what made them feel better or worse and talk about it. Empower them to be aware of their feelings and emotions.
- Collaborate with school staff. School counselors, trained to work with kids and teens around mental health, have virtual counseling groups, can schedule one-on-one sessions with your child, and offer referrals to mental health professionals. Talk to their teachers about progress and changes in behavior. Also, contact the school nurse to discuss physical and emotional signs of stress.
- Give them control. Simply ask your kids what they need, rather than just doing something you think will make things better. “Sometimes just giving them control is going to give them what they need for their own autonomy and they will know we are listening to them,” Leibowitz says.
- Remember to hug. Physical touch is important for all of us, especially now more than ever. Whether your child is 6 or 16, offer a hug, if your child is comfortable with them.
- Learn about COVID. Make sure your kids understand what’s going on about the pandemic and ensure them that as a family you are being safe. Monitor how much they are watching and allow them to get the basic information from trusted, age-appropriate sources without becoming fearful.
Mental Health Resources
Here are some resources that parents can use to support their children’s mental health.
- MindWell at Penn – Penn faculty and staff services and programs to foster emotional well-being and mental health awareness, including Penn Employee Assistance Program (EAP), Penn health plan behavioral health networks, and Penn Healthy You resources such as Be in the Know and the Virgin Pulse Wellness platform. The EAP can help navigate conversations with family members.
- SpeakUp.org – Helps teens develop supportive relationships with the adults in their lives.
- The Trevor Project – Saving Young LGBTQ Lives – Provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25.
- QTIPS – Tips for turning quarantine time into quality time.
- Philly HopeLine – A mental health hotline launched by the School District of Philadelphia for students and their families.
- Prevention During COVID-19: NJ Parent & Caregiver Guide – Provides resources and information for support during the pandemic.
- Self-care Tips for Teens During COVID-19 – The Mental Health First Aid program provides a toolkit of resources to protect children’s mental health and well-being during stressful situations.
- Mental Health and Coping during COVID-19 – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Children, the pandemic and long-term mental health consequences – Penn Today
- Here’s How Today’s Young People Can Live a More Resilient and Less Stressful Life – Thrive Global
- Is My Child OK? Warning Signs Kids and Teens are Stressed about COVID-19 – Boys & Girls Clubs of America
- Helping Children Cope with the COVID-19 Pandemic – Yale Child Study Center
Penn offers all benefits-eligible faculty and staff members access to retirement plans, health coverage, wellness and work-life benefits. We also understand LGBTQ community members and their loved ones may face specific issues that affect savings, health care costs, and lifetime income. While love is love and a dollar is a dollar, social and historical legacies can impact economic opportunities. Each individual’s life experiences shape their approach to personal finance. Add a spouse to the equation, and household budgeting gets even more complicated.
If you’re a married LGBTQ person or hear the call of wedding bells, we welcome you to participate in Marriage Equality: Decision Making for the LGBTQ Community, a free virtual workshop, on March 16 from 12 p.m. to 1 .p.m. Since nationwide marriage equality was established in all 50 states, same-sex couples have more legal and financial opportunities and challenges to explore as they build their families.
This virtual financial workshop, offered in partnership with MetLife, dives into specifics for LGBTQ faculty and staff when it comes to beneficiary choices, social security elections, tax filing elections, adoption considerations, estate planning, and medical coverage elections.
Participants will learn important money management details from certified financial planner, Albert M. Corrato, Jr.
Penn is proud to support every faculty and staff member and their families as they strive to reach their personal and professional goals. For more financial wellness programs, visit the Human Resources events calendar.
Working at home or in a bustling on-campus job site sometimes requires you to tune out noise. On conference calls, mute buttons and headphones help us hear each other in spite of trolley horns, children’s questions, and howling pets in the background. But while we’re ignoring all the noise, we also need to be open to listening for the unexpected. To fully understand our coworkers, especially as work environments and home situations change, it’s important to listen. Listening, in turn, helps us to be heard.
Active listening techniques have been used for decades to improve interpersonal communication. They can help us tune in to our peers, appreciate their situation, and maintain productivity in an ever-changing workplace. Penn’s upcoming workshops for faculty and staff cover different approaches to the practice of listening and being heard.
Mindful Communication: 3/10, 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.
In this experiential workshop led by Jennifer Schelter, you will learn how to be intentional, stay present, observe your thoughts, and manage your feelings for both listening and being heard through the practice of mindfulness.
Art of Effective Communication: 3/16 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.
This HR Talent Development workshop has been updated to cover remote work and hybrid team situations. You’ll learn to recognize different communication styles, best practices for choosing the right medium for a given communication, and active listening skills to facilitate effective communication. Art of Communication feeds better working relationships and potential productivity.
Communication Improved-Conflict Reduced: 3/23, 12:30pm - 1:30pm
This interactive workshop, presented by Penn’s Employee Assistance Program, focuses on non-verbal communication, active listening and overcoming barriers to effective communication in our professional and personal lives.
For more information about Penn’s Talent Development programs, visit www.hr.upenn.edu/learn-grow.
As the pandemic continues, it’s crucial for everyone, regardless of their vaccination status, to continue the basic community health practices proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19. In addition to using PennOpen Pass symptom check before entering campus buildings, everyone on Penn’s campus is required to maintain physical distancing, wash their hands, and wear face coverings to prevent infections.
One of the few times faculty and staff are not required to wear a mask on campus is when eating or drinking. Unfortunately, the virus takes advantage of people’s natural need for nourishment, hydration, and conversation. The risk of getting sick with COVID-19 from eating or handling food and food packages is considered very low. However, sneezing, coughing, and simply talking sends out respiratory droplets that can carry viruses. With masks off and guards down, mealtime gatherings with coworkers and colleagues can create an environment for increased disease transmission.
While you can’t eat or drink through a face mask, you can reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission during meals and breaks. Taking lunch or dinner in the open air improves ventilation and makes extra distancing easier (maintain at least 8 feet of distance whenever you eat or drink in public), but you can’t always dine al fresco in Philadelphia.
Though February weather may prevent you from eating outdoors, your lunch break doesn’t need to become a hot zone.
Follow Penn EHRS best practices for indoor eating locations:
- Only eat in areas designated by your school or center.
- Designated break areas should, where feasible, be separated from work areas with floor to ceiling walls. Conference rooms, private offices and break rooms are ideal locations for eating areas. Conference rooms should be available because all in-person meetings are not permitted. Avoid using open offices or public hallways for eating or drinking.
- Managers should work with their building administrators to ensure designated eating areas are adequately ventilated. Consider adding a HEPA room filtration unit in areas with less than 6 AC/H.
- Maintain a minimum of 8 feet distance—10-foot distance preferred—from others while unmasked. Six-foot distance is a minimum when all people are masked.
- Approved seating locations should be labeled. Seating should be distributed so that employees do not face each other. The maximum occupancy should be posted on the door to the eating area. Do not move chairs or tables.
- Minimize the time you are unmasked. Focus on eating, re-mask and leave the eating area. Do not read, work on a computer or engage in conversations while unmasked.
- Sanitize the table and other contact areas both before and after use. Disinfect any surfaces you contact during use (i.e., doors, sink faucet, microwave buttons). Use the disinfectant wipe to open the door and disinfect the handle as you leave.
- Post MaskUpenn in all eating locations.
For more details, visit the EHRS Eating and Use of Conference Rooms page.
Whether you’re on-campus, working remotely, or enjoying your weekend, these public dining practices will help you protect yourself, your family and your community.
You don’t need all day to create a soup with deep, bold flavors. This comforting and hearty meatless soup is an easy meal for the whole family or as a vegetable side dish. This dish comes together in less than 30 minutes, so you can enjoy a warm bowl on even the busiest weeknight.
Click here to send us your healthy recipes and tips.
March is both National Nutrition and Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Be in the Know offers ways to support your digestive health, plus earn rewards. Register for a healthy cooking demonstration with Corporate Wellness Nutrition on March 8 from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. You can also complete three nutrition counseling sessions with a registered dietician. If you have a colonoscopy this campaign year, report completion on the Virgin Pulse platform Rewards page.
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