I have been an occupational therapist for 3 years now, which feels both like forever and no time at all when I think about it. I have worked with kids aged from 6 weeks old to 19 years old, seen a variety of diagnoses/presentations/conditions, and learned more from the kids I’ve had the pleasure to work with then I ever thought possible. However, just like everyone else, this is my first pandemic. I’ve gone through all of the feelings just like many of you have: grief, sadness, joy, confusion, fear, content, stir-crazy, and just about everything in between. I have struggled, been productive, been lazy, completed projects and all other kinds of activities in my house. I’m attempting to work from home with a 6 month old while my husband is also working from home. The lack of routine and the attempt to acquire one has been an incredibly difficult goal for me to reach. The more I think about everything that’s going on, the more it ramps up my fears of all the unknown and uncertainty.
Then I think, “Wow, if I’m struggling this much can you even begin to imagine how my kids feel?”. All of the kids I get to see weekly are going through the same exact situation and thought process as we as adults are, but they have the disadvantage of a significantly less amount of life experience than we do right now to help us get through this. They feel all these same big feelings but they may not be able to recall the time that they had a loss and how they coped through it, or the time their job suddenly changed and how they reacted to it, but we can. Their worlds have turned upside down as well but this disruption is even more confusing for them to process.
While I still care about your child’s pencil grip, letter formations, motor planning, sensory difficulties and everything in between, as an OT our biggest priority right now is children’s mental health and coping skills. I want them to be able to succeed at everything they desire, but I also want them to be able to cope and manage with life changes. I want to teach them that in the face of this big challenge that they are capable and can work through this hurdle. That together we can find the tools to help them manage the disappointment of missed school, the fear of when this will end, and the confusion of all these new life changes.
OT looks different for me right now, by having sessions over a screen instead of in person as well as what I am teaching many of my clients. For example, for many clients we are focusing on coping tools and strategies because this is what is needed right now for so many of our children. I am focused on connection and seeing my kids every week, showing them that they are important to me and I can be a consistent person during an inconsistent time.
Some of the types of things we’ve been doing in our sessions include:
- Worry monsters out of tissue boxes to write down our worries and feed them to our monster because that’s what he likes to snack on
- Gitter bottles to show how our brain looks when we feel calm versus how it looks when we feel tressed out, and that time is a healer and allows our brain to relax again
- Coping tool jars and boredom buster jars to have options of activities that help us when we feel overwhelmed (playing with pets, hobbies, needing a hug)
- Art projects because art is such a great outlet during a time like this
- Encouraging journaling or writing down feelings to express them in a way so they don’t hold onto them
- Yoga videos and poses to help my kids connect back to their bodies (shout out to Cosmic Kids Yoga YouTube channel!)
- Simply having conversations and connecting with my clients who are missing friends, family members, teachers, and so many people in our lives
When I look back on this, I want to be one of the helpers as Mr. Rogers would say. I want to show my kids that they are valued and a priority to me even when nothing else makes sense. I have the hope that we will come out of this uncertain time stronger and more resilient, and that we’re all giving this experience our best effort to get through it.
I look forward to seeing all of my clients and families soon! And, coming from this non-hugger, maybe even giving you a hug or two!
Morgan Bernd, OTR/L
Pediatric Occupational Therapist
Child’sPlay Therapy Center