Counselors provide insight into recognizing the emotions of kids during pandemic

ISSAQUAH, Wash. -- Parents and kids are going through many emotions right now. That much is certain.  With just a few weeks left until the school year ends, and the uncertainty of whether school will fully reopen in the Fall, the feelings of anxiety and stress can be overwhelming.

From simple everyday chores to school work primarily at home, it can be a lot to deal with.

For parent Kelly Butterworth, that anxiety is all too real.

"The novelty has definitely worn off," she said.

For Butterworth, the parent of a 1st and 4th grader, the emotions are all over the place.

"Teetering on the edge of frustrated at being at home, and being ok with it," she said. "I think they’re able to switch into that mode much faster because we’re not able to go out. There’s not a lot of distraction from how you’re feeling."

She's not alone in that feeling.

"They`re looking for their parents to have some potential answer on what`s going on and you really don't," said Butterworth.

For Amanda Blashaw and Marissa Ballard, they've seen the emotion variance in kids since schools closed in March.

Ballard, a school counselor for Sunset Elementary School in the Issaquah School District, says kids' emotions range from those who are having a tough time, to those who are embracing this new reality.

"Whatever feelings or emotions that you or your children are having, are all o-k and their all valid," said Ballard.

For Blashaw, a Positive Behaviors and Social Emotional Support (PBSES) Coach, at Sunset Elementary, relationships are the key during this time. That can be relationships with their friends or parents.

"We’re really noticing that relationship is so unbelievably powerful. Things like connecting kids with their friends in new ways," she said.

That includes Zoom video calls or phone calls with friends or classmates. Even just a few minutes from the parent are helpful.

"Some (parents) have found it helpful to even just set aside ten minutes a day. Putting away our phones, putting away our computers," said Blashaw.

Another element for parents is to really recognize the emotions happening. Ballard used a chart originally developed by the website to reflect the different emotions she's noticed with kids at the school. The chart resembles an iceberg.

On top of the iceberg are emotions that are seen. Things like irritability, disrespect or sleep changes.  But below the surface, are what's really going on with the kids. Emotions like boredom, anxiety or just a lack of skills, among others.

"I think it's a great reminder that parents not give as much attention to the tip of the iceberg, but to address what's really happening under the surface," said Ballard.

Parents can be proactive in this process.

"This is something you can do preventively. Ask your kids, what’s going to make them feel good. Is it taking a walk is it going for a bike ride," said Ballard.

And if you as the parent are having heavy feelings, you can use that opportunity to emulate what to do.

"I think that’s an awesome opportunity, you in the moment call out as the parent, I notice that I’m feeling frustrated right now. I’m going to take a break and I’m going to be back in five minutes," Ballard said.

Kids thrive when they know what to expect, said Blashaw. While having a schedule is beneficial, a silver lining of staying home is that you can make a schedule that fits best for your family.

"Schedules can give kids that confidence, that autonomy," said Blashaw.

Another way to provide consistency is making charts. It doesn't have to be too detailed, said Blashaw. She showed us a chart using post-it notes.

"Just make a to do, and done list And the moving over when it's done," said Blashaw.

You really want to reinforce the behaviors you want to see of your kids.

"The reinforcements can really be anything from an extra virtual playdate with their friend. Maybe they get to sit in your work chair if you’re working from home," said Blashaw.

Or even more screen time. As long as that behavior is being reinforced in a positive way.

For Butterworth, she's noticed some of these behavior tips over the last few weeks.

"It's just not worth fighting over the school work stuff," she said.

Lastly, counselors say to cut yourself some slack. After all, you're not alone

"Number one is take care of yourself. Parents just give yourself some grace right now, show yourself some love," said Ballard.

The Issaquah School District provides several resources on its website.

Ballard and Blashaw also have a website that also provides resources, videos and activities for kids here.