Children will react in different ways to online learning this month, Ottawa psychotherapist says

An Ottawa psychotherapist recommends parents and students focus on daily rituals and routines as school moves online for the first two weeks after the winter holiday.

And Natasha McBrearty of Crossroads Children’s Mental Health Centre says children will react in different ways to online schooling and school closures this month, and it’s important to listen to their concerns.

“So looking at your days, maybe planning them with your kids if they can engage in the conversation with you and making a plan that’s going to encourage them to do some school, but also keep some joy and fun in the day,” McBrearty said during an interview on CTV Morning Live.

“Routine and predictability is so important for kids, especially at a time when there’s a lot of uncertainty. That doesn’t mean every minute has to be, you know, accounted for and micromanaged, but it does mean that there’s a natural flow to the day and there’s things that kids can count on.”

Classes resumed online for elementary and secondary school students on Wednesday following the two-week Christmas break after the Ontario government decided to close schools to in-person learning in a bid to control the spread of COVID-19.

McBrearty admits it will be difficult for children to pivot so quickly to online learning after a break from school.

“I think the first thing is just really taking stock – acknowledging how you are doing, how you are feeling. It’s a lot easier to be there for your kids when you yourself are in touch with your feelings, taking care of yourself and acknowledging where you’re at,” McBrearty said.

“The second piece is looking at what you can control and what you can put in place to keep you and your family well.”

McBrearty and the Crossroads Children’s Mental Health Centre offers tips to care for yourself and your family during the transition to online learning.

  • Practice compassion. Acknowledge that isolating can be stressful
  • Make a daily plan. Routines offer security and predictability
  • Reach out virtually to family, friends or neighbours
  • Get outside for a walk or other exercise

McBrearty says children will react in different ways to online school.

“I think you’ll have some kids who are thrilled, this is like an extension to a holiday break; and you’ll have others who are just – they’ve been through the online school, they hate it, they have already built up some resistance to it,” McBrearty said. “So I think kids are going to react to it in different ways, and what’s really important is to validate those feelings and to really listen to their concerns.”

If you are concerned about your child, you can reach out for services through CounsellingConnect.org.  The website provides quick access to a free phone or video counselling session, available in English and French. 

You can reach out if you or your family are concerned about several issues; including anxiety and depression, behavioural issues, grief and loss, drugs and alcohol, isolation and loneliness.

CHEO is hosting a town hall meeting Thursday evening to discuss how parents and children can cope with the school closures and restrictions.

You can find more information here.

COUNSELLING CONNECT FOR EVERYONE

McBrearty says the Counselling Connect service is for everyone in Ottawa and the surrounding regions.

Since its launch at the start of the pandemic, there have been between 800 and 1,000 phone calls and video chats through Counselling Connect each month.

“It’s been really hard for everyone. I think everyone is reacting in their own way. There’s a whole range of frustration, and sadness, and anxiety, and anger even,” said McBrearty during an interview on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron.

“I think people judge what they’re feeling, they’re looking around and saying, ‘Well, maybe I don’t have it as bad as this other person,’ but I have to say that everyone is experiencing it in their own way and all those feelings are valid.  For people who are feeling distressed or overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to reach out because there are appointments available and I think sometimes people are surprised by how much you can get out of just one session.”

The youngest client for Counselling Connect is three, while the oldest client is 99 years-old.

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