Managing Your Child’s (and Your Own) Hidden Emotions During COVID-19

Mom talking to emotional teenage daughter

As a primary caregiver for a child, have you had COVID-19 moments when your anxiety got to an uncomfortable level? Have you feared for a child who you knew was not best served by the lack of variety, social freedom and the structure of school, sports or work?

I have.

Whether during a sleepless night or a quiet moment in my easy chair, I have found it is all too easy to let the reptilian brain imagine unhappy scenarios for my family that I cannot fix.

You see, I, like many of you, am the fixer. A staff member gave me a Brian Andreas poster that says, “He carried a ladder almost everywhere he went and after awhile people left all the high places to him.”

When you are a problem-solver, it can become a high expectation for yourself that the buck always stops here. With me. Eventually.

Of course, I don’t stay there. But as parents, we struggle even if we don’t let it show.

My best way out of my own emotional work is to study and understand what is happening so I have a plan. Intuitively, I may know what to do, but listening to professionals can be a great reassurance.

So, what are they saying?

Here is how to take care of our kids. (I am putting this first even though I know, like the metaphorical flight attendant, I should be telling you to put your mask on first. We will get to that.)

Child Trends tells us we have three primary Rs to undertake with our kids. Reassurance, Routines and Regulation. Our kids can read us better than we can read ourselves. They need reassurances that we believe ourselves.

As parents we need to be guardians of the truth repelling false narratives. They need to understand in our words, in age-appropriate context, what is happening in the world and that adults are doing all they can to manage it.

Next, they need routines. Predictability is a great reducer of anxiety and the structure can reduce depression. Through routines the family can bond together against an external challenge. We are in this together.

The whole family needs regulation. No binging on coffee or cokes. No counting on sugar rushes to improve mood if that was your thing. Good sleep schedules. Moderation in TV, devices and togetherness. Watch your introverts and don’t force them together too much and your extraverts that they are not dying for more connection.

Is there a parent who doesn’t feel guilty that device usage is spiking? It is a concern for normal times and sure, now too. But the best day my teenagers had was when they and a group of friends overdosed on Fortnight on two computers. The laughter and screams were something I could not create for them. The access to devices and a shared platform created the kind of connection only peers can provide. Monitor for safety but recognize that devices can create emotional lifelines.

How will you know if your child is OK? The National Association for School Psychologist recommends watching for significant behavioral changes. That might look like clinging in preschoolers to agitation and sleep disruption in teenagers. I ask my kids every morning, “How did you sleep?” They probably see it as a greeting, but it is a real check-in.

During the crisis, not all  children in our homes may need professional mental health support, but every child needs what Child Trends calls a “sensitive and responsive caregiver.” The deeper the wounds your child may carry, the more skilled they are at catching a “poser” versus someone who authentically cares and is there for them. Having that presence creates an anchor that tethers each child to an emotional shore.

Erika’s Lighthouse recommends three simple communications everyone can say. I notice. I care. How can I help? I notice you seem down today. I am sorry. Is there anything I can do to help? And then they give this advice that everyone would benefit from: Be quiet and listen. Yes, validate their feelings. But don’t problem solve immediately. And for sure, don’t try to tell them they should not feel that way. It might hurt that you cannot solve their problem. It might feel like they made choices that you want to criticize. If you continue down that road they will not want to communicate. None of us would.

Remember that like all of us adults, individualized responses are key. None of our children will respond to the same methods of care.

Let’s return to the idea of our children needing to feel tethered to a caring adult. That only works if you are a source of strength for them.

How do we manage our often-hidden emotions?

A longtime life coach used to say it this way. “Observe your emotions like a leaf floating on a river. But don’t make an altar to your feelings.” I love that advice, because stuffing our feelings never works, acknowledging them does. But building a case in our minds to justify our feelings to ourselves and others is self-defeating.

Our feelings come from lots of places but often from the way we think.

It is difficult to manage your information diet without a plan. Dr. Earl Turner reminds us that anxiety is a fear of the unknown. He says we can reduce anxiety by being informed and knowledgeable, but that overdosing on our COVID-19 consumption can elevate our anxiety. Know when to stop. My husband in the middle of the news stood up and said, “I am going for a walk.” Good self-regulation.

If we don’t want to be suffering internally, there are two time-worn tricks that are hard as hell, acceptance and staying in the moment. Suffering germinates from our insistence that things should and must be different. Acceptance of what we cannot control is the antidote to bargaining with reality. We need to use every trick in the book to stay in the present. The future brings anxiety and the past only offers regrets and nostalgia.

Today, use all your senses to experience the physical world as it is this moment. Harness your mind to deal with today’s challenges for which we all are provided enough grace. The universe seems to dish out grace only as we actually need it—not for future imagined possibilities.

Breathe. Walk. Play with your animals. Serve others. Journal. Pray. Patiently take one day at a time.

No one said it would be easy, but as a 70’s era gospel singer Evie sang, “Don’t run from reality. You have to face every day like it is.”

Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director at National PTA and the proud dad of two adopted teenagers, Kira and Gonzalo.

Top 10 Ways to Grow School Spirit From Afar

When my children’s school closed in March, the president and vice president of our parent association were adamant about maintaining a sense of community among students and families while social distancing.

They came up with a virtual Spirit Week that they hosted on the parent association’s Facebook page, encouraging families to post pictures of their children participating in the different activities comprising Spirit Week. The idea was fantastic, and it got me thinking about other ways to nurture school spirit virtually.

 Here are 10 ideas to consider for your school:

 1. Participate in the Boost Educators Challenge

Encourage each student’s family to challenge the rest of your school’s families to give their teacher(s) a shout out or thank you over the school’s social channels. We started this challenge at Booster. Check out BoostEducatorsChallenge.com for details.

 2. Host a School Spirit Week on Facebook and Instagram 

Host a daily fun activity for students or families to do from home and post their work on the school’s Facebook or Instagram page. An easy way to incentivize kids to play along is by selecting one participant at random to receive a special prize.

 3. Start a “Five Days of Gratitude” Project

It feels good to do things for others, so why not launch a card or letter writing project where students write letters or make cards to send to frontline and essential workers like doctors and nurses. You can select the group that’s done the most for your community during the pandemic.

 4. Open a Commemorative Online Pop-up Shop

You might consider an online pop-up shop for Kindergarten to fifth graders to purchase items to remember this milestone year. If you want to make it a fundraiser, funds raised might be used for school needs like e-learning initiatives, food for students in need or perhaps a local food bank or other charity. Check out Booster Spirit Wear for some milestone celebration ideas.

 5. Host a Virtual Graduation Ceremony

This could be an invitation-only event hosted on Zoom or through another online conferencing provider so school families can watch the graduation remarks live. You might also consider creating yard signs for newly-graduated students, if it feels right for your school community.

6. Feature a Teacher & Student Talent Showcase

You probably have some super talented teachers and students at your school. Why not host a talent show night using Zoom or another online conferencing provider that will allow many people to watch and cheer participants on? If you want to make it interesting, allow the audience members to vote for their favorite acts!

 7. Start an “Art Smiles” Project

Consider hosting a school-wide art project. Assign each class a special theme to celebrate in art. Your school could donate the student artwork to a local nursing home or senior living facility near the school. This will “wow” the residents and allow your students to have their artwork on display. Check out this article about seniors receiving similar special gifts.

8. Do a Give Back Spirit Event

If your school wants to join together on an initiative that drives school spirit and raises funds that can be used for essential school community needs (i.e., Chromebooks, internet access, food for families, e-learning platforms, etc.) or even a local charity, the new, fully virtual (but still super fun!) Boosterthon At Home program might be an option for your school.

 9. Host a Virtual Career Day

This could be hosted for a single class or the entire school or both. What a great opportunity to have students learn about different job functions! This is another opportunity to showcase folks who’re making a difference in the community. You likely have many parents at your school you can honor.

 10. Start a Virtual Family Trivia Competition

An online trivia competition between grade-level families or play teachers vs. students. There are many services out there (take a look at Crowdpurr) if you want to get a membership and even customize the questions.

Any member of a school community can help boost school spirit and keep your school culture thriving. If you’re a PTA leader, perhaps you can get one or two of these ideas going to end the school year on a high note. If you’re a parent, perhaps you can share the ideas in this blog with your school administrators and/or PTA leaders so they can consider a spirit activity or two.

What I do know is that the social component of school is harder to “do” remotely, but every bit as important (and memorable) to students as distance learning. So why not rally school communities around something uplifting and fun to end the year on a high note?

 


Kim Miller works full-time for Booster and is a mom with two children, ages four and seven. 

National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product, or service and no endorsement is implied by this content.

Join Us in Celebrating this Year’s Graduates on Facebook

This is a bittersweet time for the Class of 2020. As students head toward graduation, it’s not the day they might have imagined — no processions, no diploma handoffs, no parties. They are commencing at a time of great uncertainty. But graduating is a tremendous achievement, and worth pausing to celebrate even in these circumstances.

So, May 15 at 11 a.m. PST/2 p.m. EST, Facebook will broadcast a National Graduation Celebration called #Graduation2020: Facebook and Instagram Celebrate the Class of 2020. During this live broadcast, a commencement address will be given by Oprah Winfrey. The ceremony will acknowledge high school and college graduating classes in every state across the country. Many celebrities, including Awkwafina, Jennifer Garner, Lil Nas X, Simone Biles, and more, will share words of wisdom for the class of 2020. Miley Cyrus will do a special performance of her hit song, “The Climb.”

If you would like your graduates to be acknowledged on this broadcast, submit a video or pictures using this portal by May 4. Facebook plans to acknowledge all schools who have a submission.

As a PTA, you can submit your own video or you can work with your parents, teachers, students and administration to submit one joint application with multiple videos. Use National PTA’s Teacher Appreciation Week posters for graduates and Zoom virtual meeting backgrounds to make your video extra special! Check them out at PTA.org/ThankATeacher.

Here is how you can participate:

1. Record A Congratulatory Message For Your Graduating Class

This option is perfect for anyone to do! For example:

“Hi, I am <NAME> and I am a teacher at Plymouth North High School in Plymouth, Massachusetts. I want to give a special shout out to our 2020 graduating class. Congratulations on this huge achievement, I’m so proud of you. Go Eagles!”

The video should be approximately 15 seconds in length. Be creative, stand out and show your school spirit!

 2. Cap & Gown Videos

This option is great for students! Coordinate with a group of your friends (your athletic teams, cheer squad, choir team, chess team) and safely record a video of your cap toss with your fellow graduates via a video service like Facebook Messenger or Zoom. For example:

“We are the Marina High School Cheerleaders from Huntington Beach, California – Go Vikings!”

Then toss your cap or your pom-poms. Don’t limit yourself! Be creative, unique and stand out.

The video should be approximately 15 seconds in length. Keep in mind there should be no music, no profanity and no branded logos outside of your school colors.

3. Thank You Videos

This option is perfect for PTAs!

Thank your favorite teacher, principal, faculty members, mentor or parent for getting you here, to graduation. Be sincere and heartfelt in your thank yous.  Make it count and start off by saying who you are and what school you are from.

The video should be approximately 15 seconds in length. Keep in mind there should be no music, no profanity and no branded logos outside of your school colors.

4. School Spirit Photos

Perfect for anyone, especially if you’re on a time crunch!

Just send in photos of yourself and pre-quarantine photos of your team/schoolmates in your school colors, jerseys and hats.  Be creative and show your school spirit!

5. Record a Congratulatory Message for Your Graduating Senior

This option is perfect for very proud parents!

Share how proud you and your family are of your graduating senior and why. Show their photo in the video if they are not there with you OR have them seated next to you if they are.  Show them your love and support.

The video should be approximately 30 seconds in length. Keep in mind there should be no music, no profanity and no branded logos outside of your school colors.

This year’s graduation will be different than other years, and no doubt memorable because of it. We’re proud of our graduates for all they have achieved—congratulations to the Class of 2020!


Alyssa Montchal is a manager of programs and partnerships for National PTA.

Ways to Make Your PTA Virtual

With so many schools closed through the end of the school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, how are PTA/PTSAs keeping in touch with their school communities? They are going virtual!

National PTA surveyed local leaders from across America and heard about the many amazing things they are doing to be relevant to their members, students, families and communities together during this health crisis, with stay-at-home orders and social distancing in place.

Your PTA serves a vital role in supporting your community, and that role has only become more important during COVID-19. Try some of these creative ideas to bring people together, while respecting social distancing.

Community Building (Online)

Email, Google Docs and remote classrooms can go a long way to serving your students’ academic needs, but what about their emotional ones? Your PTA can support a feeling of community and school spirit even online.

  • #TogetherApart: Support stay at home orders by requesting students and families to post pics of how they are social distancing.
  • A Taste of Normal: Use your PTA Facebook page to help your school continue to deliver morning announcements (weather, birthdays, daily math problems and more) on Facebook Live.
  • Virtual Spirit Wear: Encourage your community to share their school pride by taking a pic in their school gear and sharing to your PTSA’s Facebook.
  • School Spirit Week: Similarly, ask your families to post different pictures online according to a new theme each day–crazy hat day, PJ day, crazy sock day, etc.
  • Bust Boredom: Lift people’s spirits! Send out daily challenges (fitness, crafts, etc.) or provide virtual morale boosters (funny pictures, inspirational quotes, etc.)
  • Let’s Read Together: Pick a book for your community to read together. Have the principal, your PTA President or a great volunteer record themselves reading and share the video online.
  • Make Space: Put the “social” in social isolation by hosting a virtual meet-up for your families on Zoom or Google Hangouts.

The Great Outdoors

Getting a few minutes of fresh air and sunshine can be critical for mental and physical health, particularly for children. Remind your families to don their masks, stay at least six feet from others, and participate in one of these fun challenges.

  • Chalk the Walk: Have families get outside in the fresh air to draw pictures or write positive messages on their driveways or on the sidewalk. Then families can walk around the neighborhood, get some exercise and enjoy all the art and messages. This activity could be neighborhood or community-wide.
  • We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Host a neighborhood scavenger hunt! Ask school families and community members to place a teddy bear or bear pictures in a window, front yard, in a tree, etc. Kids and families can get outside, get some exercise and hunt for the bears while practicing social distancing. Tell families to post online how many they found!
  • Themed walks! One of our local PTAs held a shamrock walk for St. Patrick’s Day. Families drew and cut out shamrocks and put them in their windows. Families could walk around and find shamrocks. This idea can be adjusted for other occasions, like emojis and signs for Teacher Appreciation Week, or made evergreen by using something like rainbows.

Take Your Events Online!

Don’t let all your PTA’s prep work go to waste! It may take a little creativity, ingenuity and flexibility, but you can (and should!) try to host some of your beloved events online!

  • Virtual Talent Show: Give kids the chance to show off their hobbies and special abilities!
  • Virtual Career Day: Inspire kids to keep studying so they can become their heroes.
  • Virtual Graduation Celebration: Missing milestones can be tough. Collaborate with your school to do something for your High School Seniors.
  • Online After School Programs: Some after school programs sponsored by your PTA might be able to be moved online with the help of your enrichment program vendors.
  • Online Reflections! Encourage your PTA students to start working on their Reflections submissions. This year’s student-selected theme is I Matter Because

Provide Resources

As a family engagement association, your PTA plays a unique role as a go-between with your school and your community. In a crisis like this one, that role becomes even more important.

  • Bulletin Board: Don’t underestimate your reach! Share links to your state’s assistance for unemployment/underemployment or information on free internet options.
  • Food Pantry: If your PTA already runs a food pantry, please continue to do so! Some of our PTAs have switched to a drive-through model of service to minimize contact.
  • Special Delivery: Mobility can be a huge problem for some families. Your PTA could consider delivering school meals for those who can’t come pick them up.
  • Power Community Action: The PTA voice is mighty! Grassroots activism can be as simple as sharing National PTA’s action alerts or starting a petition around your state or local legislation.
  • Community Childcare: Essential workers may be having difficulty arranging reliable childcare. Your PTA can help connect families who are available to provide childcare to families in need of childcare.
  • STEM @ Home: PTA can create easy STEM activity packets (try the ones on our STEM @ Home page!) and hand them out when students pick up school meals.
  • Virtual Vacation: Many families have had to cancel their travel plans for Spring Break. Your PTA can turn this into an educational opportunity by sharing destinations for families to explore together virtually every day, with tours of historic sites, local recipes, themed crafts and traditions.

Keeping Revenue Coming In

Your PTA can’t do all of the great things it does without resources! Try these ideas to raise much-needed funds.

  • Restaurant Takeout Night: Support local businesses while raising money for your PTA and school! Collaborate with a local restaurant and ask your families to order takeout. A percentage of those sales can be donated to your PTA.
  • Set Up a GoFundMe: Make it easy for your families to support each other! Set up a site to collect online monetary donations for your PTA/PTSA food pantry.
  • Sell Graduation Yard Signs: Help your community celebrate their special seniors! Create cute “congrats grad!” signs that, when sold, a volunteer can then drive by and put it in the recipient’s yard.
  • Sell Spirit Wear: Sometimes what you wear can make all the difference in how you feel. Lift spirits and build a sense of community by selling spirit wear for your school and your PTA!
  • Host an Online Auction: Reach out to local businesses for donations of vouchers, gift cards or other “to-be-used-in-the-future” items your families could use, then host an event live on an online conferencing platform.

Meet and Greet

Our PTA Family can always use more members! In a time of social distancing, we need to create connections more than ever before. Use this moment to invite all your school community to join your PTA/PTSA!

  • Make Your Meetings Effective: Your PTA/PTSA meetings can easily be hosted online but be sure to stay organized and on task. Send out all the materials in advance and be respectful of your members’ time.
  • Make Your Meetings Impactful: Invite key players such as the principal, school staff and other school parents to brainstorm how your PTA can best help support families.
  • Celebrate Your Volunteers: Create opportunities to share the great work your PTA is doing, while letting people know you appreciate their efforts.

On behalf of National PTA, thank you for all you do to support children and families. Quarantine is really tough, but we want you to know that you’re doing an amazing job and we’re so #PTAProud of you! Visit PTA.org/COVID-19 for critical resources, join our local PTA leader Facebook group, and share your local PTA/PTSA virtual story with us. Stay safe!


Suzan Yungner is the director of membership and field service for National PTA.