By Lindsey Collins

Dr. Michelle Sobon, Staff Psychologist & Behavioral Health Consultant at Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic, located in Washington, DC, joined the WBA in pinpointing the best ways to help children of all ages continue to navigate COVID.

One of parents’ primary concerns throughout COVID has been the steep increase in time spent on electronics, according to Dr. Sobon. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 1 hour of screen time per day for children 3 to 5 years old, 1.5 hours for children 6 to 10 years old, and 2 hours per day for those 11 and older—a significantly lower amount than most children would spend in the average online school day.

“You know there are negative impacts of screen time,” Dr. Sobon explained. “But those recommendations were developed outside COVID. I want to say, give yourselves a lot of grace and a lot of self-compassion because we’re all trying to do way more than we possibly can, and you know screens just happen to be part of that.”

Instead of focusing on the length of the time spent, Dr. Sobon encouraged parents to instead focus on the type of activity being done.

“There’s active engagement like when you’re on Minecraft or Zoom with a friend and then there’s this passive screen time like the endless loop of YouTube videos,” said Dr. Sobon. “Minecraft won’t ever fully compare to like the creative engagement that’s required in building your own world with blocks, but it is much more engaging than again watching somebody else put together a Minecraft world on YouTube.”

For younger kids, she recommended setting up “parallel play” such as FaceTime with Play-Doh so children have the opportunity to socialize while using their creativity.

Another main concern among parents is the mental toll long-term quarantine can have on overall stress and mental health. Dr. Sobon reminded parents to focus on the foundation of the parent-child relationship because it lowers overall stress at home for both the parent and child.

“We want to have a ratio of five to one positive statements and interactions to negative statements and interactions to change the tone of the home,” she said. “Any behavior that you want to see stick around or increase, you can give positive attention to and that also helps your own stress levels because we can kind of turn into sniper parents looking for that bad behavior that we need to clamp down and stop right away.”

According to Dr. Sobon, keeping a routine can also help eliminate some of the stress brought on by quarantine, though it is important to create achievable goals. She also encouraged parents to not discredit small acts of routine, such as specific bedtime and morning routines.

“Kids can feel they have such a sense of empowerment and accomplishment if they at least know what their day is going to look like,” Dr. Sobon said. “But your full-time job is not to facilitate their school day in the same way as teachers and day care providers — that is their full-time job. Think instead about how you can create some islands of predictability for your child that remain no matter whether you’re going into daycare or staying home.”

Dr. Sobon also reminded parents that one of the best ways to help their children be successful is by taking good care of themselves. She encouraged parents to take the necessary steps to take care of their own well-being.

“I think parent self-care is big,” she said. “You know modeling is part of learning and that includes how you model stress management and how you model your own self-talk.”

When looking forward to the transition out of COVID, Dr. Sobon encouraged parents to be flexible and patient with the change.

“I really do believe that kids are resilient. It has been a hard year, but your kid hasn’t been alone this year,” Dr. Sobon said. “This is a whole generation of kids that are going through that and you can bet that there is a whole team — the schools are preparing for this and thinking deeply about how do we support our children as they’re moving back into the classroom.”

WBA members can watch “COVID & Our Kids – Preparing for the Future” in its entirely. Log in to your member profile and click on video library.