April 30, 2021
Welcome to Voices of Compassion, CHC’s podcast series providing courage, connection and compassion, highlighting topics that matter to our community, our parents, families, educators and other professionals. My name is Cindy Lopez, today we’re talking about re-entry as we emerge from COVID. According to a report from the American Psychological Association about half of Americans are feeling anxious about re-entry after sheltering in place for so long. It’s going to be a new way of doing life and that can be anxiety provoking for most of us.
So how do we manage our anxiety and get back to living? Listen in to this podcast episode to hear from licensed clinical psychologist and CHC’s chief of clinical services Dr. Ramsey Khasho as we talk about how to ease our way back into the world and support our kids in that process. So, Dr. Khasho is there anything you’d like to share with our listeners as we get started?
[00:01:07] Dr. Ramsey Khasho:
Well, I’m really excited to talk about this. Everybody is being impacted by the re-entry of schools and reopening of schools. So I’m just glad that we’re addressing it and talking about it with the community. As a psychologist and an administrator at CHC, this is something that we’re seeing with families coming through our doors and not just as a psychologist myself, but as a parent of three, I am also thinking about these things and discussing them with my family.
[00:01:32] Cindy Lopez:
So, as we think about re-entry into the world, as we hopefully are beginning to emerge from COVID, what are you hearing from parents and how are they feeling about re-entry for themselves and for their families?
[00:01:46] Dr. Ramsey Khasho:
Well honestly, it’s truly a mixed bag. We are seeing a lot of families and kids and parents who are truly excited about this re-entry or who are already excited about being back in school in some hybrid model. They’re excited to be back in the sameness and routine. I think for parents, the idea that they get to have some more space between their work lives and their children’s school lives. And at the end of the day, you know, most adults, we all know this is good for kids to get back into a routine, to get back into some structure. There’s another group of people who are understandably very anxious, they’re worried about COVID transmission, they’re worried about what the re-entry process is going to look like. And so that experience is very hard for them, and they’re very concerned about their health and wellness and safety, both physically and emotionally.
[00:02:37] I do want to talk a little bit about communities of color here, as we think more about diverse communities, one of the things that’s important to note is that communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by positive COVID-19 cases in some communities two or three times the rate of the general population.
Additionally, we also know that those communities struggled due to past historical experiences with considering getting vaccinated, and so we see lower vaccination rates in those communities. And so we really have to think about you know for communities of color that this was really difficult, this is really challenging. We’re asking them to return to school, and increase their risk of exposure when they’ve had these experiences in their communities. And so while the science says that it’s okay in that, we’re safe in terms of the school re-entry we really need to have compassion for people who are really struggling with this decision of going back to school.
[00:03:36] Cindy Lopez:
Yeah, thank you so much for reminding us of that Dr. Khasho. I think the experience is really individual and how it impacts you and your family is individual. And thank you for the reminder to us about communities of color and compassion. Dr. Khasho as we think about re-entry, whether it’s some hybrid version or if it’s fully in-person, what is the current thinking about the impact of school re-entry on our young people?
[00:04:07] Dr. Ramsey Khasho:
It’s really quite positive. As I mentioned earlier there are a lot of families and youth who are just eager to get back to school and get back to that structure and routine. We know especially for younger kids, that structure and that routine of school is really healthy for them and their wellbeing. There’s a tremendous amount of joy of going back to what was very familiar to them, that they get to see their teachers finally in person that they get to see their teachers from last year, and just see their peers once again, face to face, I think is really exciting for a lot of young people and their families.
And also we have to understand that for another subset of the population, the re-entry process will be incredibly jarring. It’s a completely different environment from what young people are used to if they’ve been in school in the past. So you know many mental health professionals are really anticipating what we’re thinking will look like a pretty prolonged recalibration to school and to what school looks like now with plexiglass and spacing between desks and constant handwashing. So we just need to understand that it’s, it’s going to be different and that’s challenging for kids that great sense of change.
And then we have, you know, those students who are generally anxious and reluctant, as I mentioned, for many families this experience doesn’t feel like a good thing. There’s fears of safety and the risk, and so we do anticipate there’s going to be an increase for some young people and their families of general fear and worry, but also potentially more sort of clinical anxiety before we see the overall benefit over time.
You know there’s also a group that we don’t talk about a lot that we really need to talk about with regards to this re-entry and that is the group of young people that has really benefited from learning at home. And these are young people who are socially anxious, who may be on the autism spectrum disorder, the kids who’ve been bullied at school and the learning from home and the distance learning has been very protective for them. And they’ve actually thrived in the learning from home environment. And so this population actually as we reenter school is going to be very challenging for them and going to take a longer readjustment period. And then finally, I just want to make sure that as we think about the re-entry, you know, because we have more adults having eyes on kids in person, teachers, coaches, we’re bound to have more kids identified by adults as having struggles. So we anticipate an uptick in referrals to mental health services, just because of that, that we have more eyes on kids and more eyes identifying children who are struggling.
[00:06:48] Cindy Lopez:
Yeah, so just a reminder, if you are a parent or an educator and you’re seeing some things that are concerning please reach out. We do have free 30-minute parent consultations at CHC that you can take advantage of and assessments and also therapy, teletherapy now as well. So you can find out more about that at chconline.org.
Dr. Khasho we know there’s a lot of anxiety about re-entry. Re-entry anxiety seems to fall into two buckets: one, some are still afraid of catching, spreading COVID right. And then two, there’s all this concern about re-entering socially, like do I still know how to do this, especially for our kids and students. So how can the adults in kids’ lives support this re-entry process, what are the big concepts that parents should keep in mind as they’re thinking about this?
[00:07:47] Dr. Ramsey Khasho:
Yeah, so I always tell parents your number one parenting tool is self-reflection and self-evaluation. And one of the places where we need to start is we as adults need to first take care of our own anxieties and fears about this re-entry process before we can even think about helping our kids and our children and our students. So I think it’s incredibly important that we work through our own anxieties and fears. Kids are smart, they can see and smell anxiety in adults from miles away and in actuality that is completely developmentally appropriate, children, especially younger children look towards adults as a compass of security, to see whether, is the environment safe, is it dangerous what do I need to know? So we really need to take care of ourselves first and getting ourselves in the right place and in the right frame in how we understand the re-entry and what it’s going to look like.
This doesn’t mean that a parent has to be perfect without any anxiety, I think it’s really incredibly important that parents model the fact that they too have some anxiety and some fears, but not just stopping there, sharing with young people how they’re coping with it and using examples of their own experiences. For example, if they’ve reentered jobs in the workplace and how they called a friend, who’s maybe been onsite at work and talk to them about it and what it was like.
We need to really normalize and validate young people’s experiences. This is scary, this is entering unknown territory and so we really need young people to understand that we hear them, that it’s okay to feel some worry and some fear, but we can’t stop there.We really need to move into a place of supporting and problem-solving and assuring.
And so another thing that we really need to think about is communicating and over-communicating the science of safety and the health and safety protocols that schools are putting in place. So I think it’s important to talk to kids about the fact that you know schools aren’t really considered hotbeds of COVID-19 transmission, and read the science and know it and explain it to young people in developmentally appropriate terms. We also need to talk extensively to young people about the health and safety protocols that their specific schools have set up, what that looks like and really just reviewing that. And that the systems that we’re returning our young people into have health and safety protocols. I think some young people who might be even incredibly anxious or just need more experiential. Experiences, you can do practice runs at home, set up a little area in the home that might mimic what they might experience at school. And if it’s even possible talking to the school administrators about how your child might be struggling with anxiety, and maybe if it’s possible to do a dry run at school so that they can see what the classroom looks like, and have them just go look and experience that so they know what it’s going to be like, and it isn’t so jarring when they go back to school.
[00:10:54] Cindy Lopez:
Thank you for tuning in! Just a note, before we continue on with today’s episode, we hope you’re following us on social media, so you don’t need to wait a whole week between episodes to get engaging, inspiring and educational content from CHC. Our social handles are linked on our podcast webpage at podcasts.chconline.org.
Dr. Khasho, we tend to talk about these kinds of big topics or these big concepts, which is important, but let’s take it back to the individual level. For parents and others working with our kids, I’m wondering if you have some specific tools or tips for parents that they can use with their kids to make the re-entry process successful or more smooth, for example, what you just said about maybe doing a dry run around the safety protocols. So, what other tips or tools or strategies do you have for parents?
[00:11:49] Dr. Ramsey Khasho:
Yeah, well, we like to talk in the field a lot about teaching young people concepts of mindfulness, really being present, relaxing the mind and the body, practicing deep breathing. There are a lot of really great deep breathing strategies for young people; bubble breathing is one, box breathing is another. The one that I do want to talk most about is helping young people with anxious thoughts, and we have to help young people challenge those anxious thoughts. So one of the things about anxious thoughts as young people and everybody, if we lean into them, we begin to feed them and we like talk about it as akin to gardening and a plant. And so if you feed anxiety, like you feed a plant, it’s going to grow and grow and grow and the anxious thoughts get bigger, scarier, more catastrophic. And so what we have to teach young people is how to interrupt that process. And the way that we do that is we have young people identify that they’re having an anxious thought and then stopping themselves and really begin to look in their environment or data that challenges those anxious thoughts. So for example, if a young person is struggling and saying, I know I’m going to get COVID at school, it’s going to happen to me, really stopping and being able to look at the environment and say, “what are some things in this environment that might challenge that anxious thought?” So they might see the plexiglass that’s around their desk. They might see that their peers are six feet away from them, they might identify that they’re wearing a mask and that other people are wearing masks, they might remember what parents told them about the science of transmission at school. And then we use that data to help young people then come up with a new and healthy thought. So rather than saying, “I’m going to get COVID at school,” with all of those data points, being able to come up with a new, healthy thought, such as, “it is unlikely for me to get COVID at school, or I’m really pretty safe here at school with all of the protections around me.” And so really teaching young people that skill and that strategy and practicing that skill and that strategy before they experience intense anxiety.
Another thing to really think about is helping young people identify a safe adult and a safe space at school. So, young people have really been sheltered by the security and safety of their own homes and their parents or guardians. If this young person becomes very anxious or dysregulated, who is a safe adult and a comfortable adult that could be identified again ahead of time as the person to go to, to talk to about what they’re experiencing and feeling, and even a safe space where they can go to. And that could be anywhere from the teacher itself to the school counselor’s office, to just a space that’s created outside where young people can go and just, you know, work on deep breathing and calming themselves down. And I think, you know, with our school personnel who are just doing such a phenomenal job, and I really believe and I tip my hat to all the hard work that they’re doing in this re-entry process, but really thinking more critically about, how school is going to look vastly different from when it did pre-COVID time and how can school personnel continue to be flexible? These kids are coming back they’ve had synchronous and asynchronous learning, they’re just not used to being at school for a full school day, sitting at a desk for hours and hours. And so really thinking critically about what are some flexible things that they can do, skills and strategies that they can use with their youth and maybe spending a little bit more time during the school day on teaching social emotional skills, it might be offering young people more breaks, movement breaks, snack breaks to help young people just recalibrate and readjust to returning to school.
[00:15:37] Cindy Lopez:
It’s been so helpful to hear this today, and you have shared so much. So I’m wondering if there’s one thing that you hope our listeners would take away from this episode, what would that be?
[00:15:53] Dr. Ramsey Khasho:
It’s such a great question and my answer is not any specific skill or strategy. It’s really having adults, parents, teachers really consider their state of mind. I’m really thinking critically about how do I plan to show up for my kids. And how do I plan to show up for myself in this process in this re-entry process, and sort of create intentions for yourself in terms of how you plan to show up. And so I think exercising great flexibility because of the newness and the complexity of navigating this re-entry process is critical. A lot, a lot of patience, as you mentioned, Cindy, really a lot of compassion, compassion for self and compassion for others. And really just understanding that this is a process that we’re all learning together. There’s no end point, there’s no sort of perfect right position to take. And that we’re all learning as we go and I think if we really show up with these intentions in mind, I think we’re going to do good by our kids and for ourselves.
One of the things I think is really important for our listeners to hear and understand is, you know, no longer are we in the age where you or your child have to really be struggling in order to reach out to get some mental health support and assistance. One of the great things about CHC is that we offer free parent consultations, where parents can just call us and ask questions, and you know, this is really a hard time and your child doesn’t have to be struggling significantly, but some parents know that this pandemic, and other stressors of this last year have really been impacting their children. And they just want to know what that might look like or what they need to look for, or if some small thing that they’re seeing in their child or teen is something to be worried about. I really want to communicate to parents, to not hesitate, to reach out for help. That’s why CHC and other organizations like CHC are in the community to support parents and help them navigate through these questions, and, and get the support that they need. And if something is identified that requires more support, that’s an opportunity to identify that and get families connected with the right services.
[00:18:11] Cindy Lopez:
Thank you so much, Dr. Khasho. Just a reminder that CHC is here for you. You can find out more at chconline.org.
And to our listeners, thank you for joining us, and we hope you’ll join us again next week.
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