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Holiday Tips for Kids and Teens During the Pandemic

Therapists Q&A Laurie Groh, MS LPC SAS talks to Molly Selby MSW LCSW about tips for managing the holidays during the pandemic. Giving great examples of what to do and how to include kids with the planning of family time.

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Molly Selby, MSW, LCSW

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Video Transcript

Laurie: Hi! My name is Laurie Groh. I'm co-owner at Shoreside Therapies and I'm here with Molly Selby and she is a specialist that works with teenagers and kids and today we're going to be talking about some tips for the holiday season- we're in it! We are in the holiday season.

Molly: Hi Laurie, how are you?

Laurie: I'm doing great, how are you?

Molly: Good, just a couple more days until Christmas.

Laurie: I know, I know! So why don't we just get right into it? You know so, Molly, though, you work a lot with teenagers and kids, and before we get started, would you mind sharing some specialties within that age-group that you work with?

Molly: Sure, I work primarily with six-year-old kids all the way up to 21-year-old kids and every age in between. So I mainly focus on working with kids who have anxiety and depression. But also, ADHD, you know, I've seen a lot of kids that have ADHD. Also, I've worked with kids that have OCD, so those are some of my top, you know, specialty areas. I've worked in schools, I've worked in a hospital, worked in residential facilities, so a lot of different environments. But always with kids!

Laurie: Yeah, 20 years of experience! That is so impressive.

Molly: Over 20 years, yes, thank you!

Laurie: So the big question today, you know, wondering a little bit about what makes this time of the year different and the same. I think that's an important question just to kind of illustrate some of the things that may be different this year, some of the things that are the same that you could build on as far as we do this every year. But obviously there's a big difference this year. So you want to speak a little bit about that today?

Molly: Sure, sure, so this year, the things that are the same are.. you know people are still shopping, although more online, people are still getting together with families, sometimes in small groups. But a lot of people are choosing to do that virtually how we're talking today, but it's still getting together with the best way we can. And you know we're still watching Christmas movies and hearing Christmas songs. So those are all nice. But the difference is that we're doing all those things in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has obviously you know, had a lot of people working from home, kids going to school from home. So, everyone's spending a lot more time at home. That holiday break from school is maybe not the needed break, anticipated break that a lot of people have usually looked forward to because they've already been at home a lot.

Laurie: Right, right, yeah, and that does definitely make it harder all that time in the house, and so I think it's great today that we're talking about some tips to make it, make it better and make it not just less stressful but maybe more fun and more engaging and having some ideas.

Molly: Yes.

Laurie: All right, so you know, what do you think we can do to make make the holiday season less stressful and, you know, fun and exciting?

Molly: Well, you know what we want to avoid. Let me start with that, is too much time for kids online, like texting or just being on their phones or on their ipads in their room, isolated, maybe too much sleep, because those things can kind of lead to increased anxiety and depression. And we want to make sure that kids don't get depressed over their Christmas break and we also just want them to have fun. So I have a tip for everyone. It's called behavioral activation. So really, basically, what that is is get up and do something and do something together. So there are four main areas of behavioral activation that I want to talk to you about today and there are things that you can do and encourage your kids to do and do with them at home over the break to make it, you know, really fun, family time and a really positive time together.

Laurie: Yeah, great. Should I pull that up right now so everyone can see that?

Molly: That would be fabulous. So the four categories of behavioral activation are fun, exercise, accomplishment and social. So as you can see, what you could try is: sitting down with your child or your teenager and making a chart like this and putting the four categories on there: fun exercise, accomplishment in social and then ask them like brainstorm with them or ask them to think about what are things you like to do in each category. That part is really important. It's important to go through it with your child and have them be an active participant in deciding which activities are motivating to them or which activities they enjoy, because if you choose for them, they may not be as on-board with the idea.

Laurie: And, kids have that general need to feel important and valuable and any time you do something with them, where you're asking them to share their opinions, their thoughts, they are getting a boost in that area. So I think that's great, I love that.

Molly: Yeah, and they're invested then in this idea of, and you can just present it to them as you now. We're going to do this because it's going to make the holiday break more fun, and fun is the first category you introduced, because that's your hook.

Laurie: Yeah!

Molly: It'll encourage kids to be part of this idea. Let's talk about some examples that you might brainstorm in each category. So under the fun category you might suggest or they might come up with shopping. You know it is only the day before Christmas eve. So a lot of people have some last-minute shopping to run out and do- take them along. You know you might feel more comfortable wearing a mask, of course, and social distancing, if you are going to go out and grab a couple of things, let them go along if you feel safe to do that or at home, you know maybe someone's into crafting and you can make craft gifts for family or friends. Include them in the wrapping. You know parents often do things for our kids a lot, but we don't think to really include them. Teach them how to wrap. You know my daughter the other day I was teaching her how to wrap. Of course they can't wrap their own, but they can wrap for grandma and grandpa and aunts and uncles and things like that.

Laurie: Yes, Molly, my kids too, my kids all wanted to wrap their friend's gifts this year and it was a mixture of fun and then, of course, the fighting over who can put the bow on and those types of things. It was really cool, though, actually, they're learning that skill and they're getting excited about giving.

Molly: Yes, absolutely.

Laurie: Sometimes kids just want to get, so it's exciting for them to get excited in that giving portion as well.

Molly: Absolutely, and I think that is really key, to focus on the giving part of Christmas, because you know that is just another way that we know helps kids who are feeling depressed. If they can start thinking about others, then that can be very helpful. So another example is to bake or cook, involved them in the baking of the cookies, involved them in the cooking of the Christmas or holiday meals. So yeah, exercise is another one. This one is, you know, obviously harder when it's cold. But gosh, you can bundle up and take walks. You can find when there is snow which we kind of lost it just now. But we'll get some back, go sledding and you encourage your teenagers to do those things too. They may roll their eyes when you first suggest it, but if you can convince them to get out there they're probably going to have a great time once they're on the hill and then ice skating. I just noticed on TV they are opening the ice skating rink downtown, I believe, outside, and even though there's a limit you can schedule a time, it's socially distanced. They're having less people. That'll be great. Next is accomplishment, now this one, I know that's a big word and for little kids I was trying to think of a simpler, shorter word, but I just couldn't, so accomplishment. That's really important for kids to feel like they have a few goals and help them set some goals. For what do I want to accomplish over the break? And then whenever you set a goal and you meet it? You know that's great. I mean the kids will feel great. It's just a natural boost of their mood and how they're feeling about themselves.

Laurie: Yeah, so Molly, I'm going to just tell you a little bit about that. So, my two younger boys, they love cleaning. Yes, it's really great, it's really great most of the time. They love it and then they always ask me to come into the room, but I have to close my eyes, you know, and then they lead me in and then sometimes I bump into the walls, but they led me in and then the look on their face. It's amazing, it's incredible, they're so proud of themselves and it's something that they can do and it doesn't matter that it's all shoved under the bed, you know.

Molly: Haha! No, it doesn't. Right! You know you can also play music that they like while they're doing that. You know try to make it a fun thing. Set the basket over in the corner and have them make baskets with their dirty clothes, and who can get the most in the basket? You know get creative and make it fun. So organized rooms, closet, because you have a lot of new toys that are coming into that room, probably after Christmas. So another good thing is to maybe store old toys that you know memories, that maybe they want to keep it. They don't really play with anymore and separate out also the toys that you want to donate because again, getting back to the giving, you know make a trip to the goodwill and wear your masks and drop it off because there's other kids that you know will benefit from that, which would be great and it helps your kids. You know get into the giving part of Christmas and then also set some homework goals if they have any homework, especially maybe your teenager. If they have some projects they need to work on, help them sort that out and arrange small sections each day. So they're not at the end of the break, doing homework for the last three whole days.

Laurie: Yep. That's what I used to do, that's what I used to.

Molly: Yeah, me too! But anyway, and then the last one's going to be the hardest. Obviously because of COVID, social. Encourage kids to do video calls like we're doing right here. Socially anxious kids are less likely to do that. But you know you get the facial expressions, that in the tone of voice that we just don't get in texting and facebook and instagram that you get from a video call. So encourage both video calls with family and friends, because those are social interactions even though they are through technology. Go caroling! I don't know if anybody does that anymore. But that is a social distanced activity that we can still totally do. You know you can go up and ring a neighbor's doorbell and back up and you know stand in a group kind of far apart and everybody's singing a song. That would be really fun if you can, especially younger kids, to do that. Write letters, talk to a friend or take a friend to see Christmas lights or as a family, just go drive and see what you can see. I know tons of the activities are cancelled and that's a bummer, but there are a lot of light shows and there's a lot of other things that people can drive-through so maybe there's one friend that your that your family does like and you know, allow you to see. Occasionally you can wear your masks and go see some Christmas lights. So just a few tips there.

Laurie: Molly, I do believe that I saw a post on one of our facebook sites where, in Whitefish Bay, I think there's a group of people that are doing the caroling in their cars as well. So that's another idea of, you know, rolling down the window and blasting some music and singing along.

Molly: I mean that sounds really fun. That does sound fun. Yes, we just have to get a little more creative this year.

Laurie: Yeah, well, thank you for all of those! I think that's great.

Molly: Another idea is, once you have this list, to take it one step farther. So I would suggest on your calendar of your holiday break days, you can sit-down and try to take the examples that you came up with, that you brainstormed and schedule like one or two each day and try to mix it up. So here's an example. So we're on Wednesday. I know this is January, but obviously we're in December, but let's say this was this week. So maybe today, on Wednesday, you would choose to shop and take a walk, again involve your child in deciding what you're going to do each day and then the next day maybe you would do the donate to toys and go caroling. So you want to, you want to mix it up, you want to just do one or two each day from your list and you want to kind of think of these as appointments, mental health appointments. So you know, in your mind, like tell yourself these are things that we, we need to do. We want to do them and we need to do them too, to get out, to get active, to keep our brains active, to stay social, because you know it's really easy to start spending a lot of time just kind of laying around which a few days of that is great. Everybody needs that. But if that goes on too long, then it can kind of start to, you know, increase those signs of depression or anxiety, and we want to make sure that that we try to avoid that.

Laurie: And Molly I love the idea of having like two a day and spreading it out. It helps me for sure because I might ask the kids: hey, what do you guys want to do today? And I have four separate answers, and then that doesn't work out. So I do like that idea of saying okay, we all pick these out together and we're going to pick. You know, one of my kids picks one for one day and then we kind of go through them all so that they know they can see it. Hey, this is what we're going to do. I get my turn. You know they always want to be first, but.. they'll get their turn.

Molly: Yeah! But they can on the chart, like you said that their turn is coming and that they've all gotten to pick something that they wanted to do and then there is no debate. It's not like. Well, I don't want to do anything today, you know, or I don't know, and then a lot of you know, maybe arguing or debating every day, every morning you've picked it out. This is what we're doing and I know it seems silly. But using the colored markers, especially for any younger kids or even tweens and even teens, I mean my daughter loves to organize her calendar with coloured markers. I mean there's just something more fun about that, like when they look at this, you know they'll be like oooh we're doing this today! You know it just adds a little something.

Laurie: Yeah, I agree. I agree I agree. Well, thanks, Molly, I mean all these are really great tips, so I do want to ask. So if someone wants to set up an appointment with you for their child or teenager, how would they go about doing that?

Molly: Oh, that would be wonderful. If they just go to the Shoreside website, Shoreside Therapies website, then they can just find me under the staff and it has my phone number and my email right there. You can text me, you can call me, you can email me. Any of those will be great and then we can get you set up right away. I have lots of availability on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays because I'm just, you know, starting at Shoreside therapies, and so, yes, I would love to have anyone call in that that would like to get started.

Laurie: Yeah, that's awesome. Thank you so much, Molly. I appreciate it.

Molly: Okay, thank you so much! Merry Christmas, happy holidays!

Laurie: Thank you, you too. You too.

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