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Stuck Inside Guide: Finding Hope in 2021

2021-01-21 by Dr. Jenny
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Finding Hope in 2021: Why Play Is Important

Hey, fellow parents! How are you doing? I’ll be honest, getting my COVID-19 vaccine recently was a true bright spot in what has been a tough fall and winter. Managing countless patients struggling with remote learning, emotional difficulties, and not getting therapies they need has not been easy. Like all of you, I’m sure, I’m ready to turn my focus to the future.

How can we, as parents, head into 2021 with a hopeful, problem-solving attitude? How can we make meaning of these struggles and show our kids how our families’ unique sources of resilience got us through this? As a continuation of our Stuck Inside Guide, I will keep posting monthly blogs in 2021 about how we can move forward with hope, deepened understanding of ourselves and our kids, and the powers inherent in our relationships. As we slowly move out of social distancing and spend more time together (hopefully!), I’ll talk about our emotional reactions to the new normal. Of course, I’ll tie it all into play ideas — that’s what we do here! But my goal is for this discussion of play to feel real, not frivolous or privileged.

Parents and child playing

“Play” doesn’t mean you have to have a fancy tea party or a prolonged board game session; it can be letting simple experiences open up your heart and letting your guard down. For me, it’s dancing and watching my kids react to the music I loved as a teen (Janet Jackson was a hit!). Even my often-cynical husband will open up by watching our dog run around, or kicking a soccer ball back and forth.

But that sort of hope, vulnerability, and openness doesn’t just happen. Especially after such a draining year. So we will offer some realistic strategies focusing on three core ideas:

3 Parenting Pointers in a Time of COVID-19

  1. Kids driving you crazy? Understanding their minds can help.
    I was near a breaking point in December. My 11-year-old was unmotivated and sassy, my 7-year-old was refusing to do schoolwork. But over the holidays, as I spent more time reading them books or playing board games, my 7-year-old started talking about his worries that had been building throughout the pandemic. I stopped interpreting his behavior as “defiant” and instead driven by anxiety that made him want to control things. We found a great meditation app, and we’ve kept up the nightly reading habit. It’s not perfect, but it’s better.

    As kids re-enter face-to-face school and social interactions they haven’t had in months, you might see emotions bubble up too. We can talk about ways to support their adjustment, and how play can help them tell the story of what we’ve all been through this year.

  2. Knowing yourself, and what makes you feel hopeful and forward-thinking.
    This has been such a disorienting year. We haven’t had access to all of the experiences and relationships that give us feedback about who we are. We all may be feeling a bit insecure or off kilter. I, for one, have chosen to stop all social media, which I was in the habit of checking whenever I was bored or nervous about the pandemic. But social media algorithms tend to elevate outrage and panic, not hope. When I need a distraction while sitting at my desk, I’m going to check wildlife live cams or take a walk outside instead, because nature centers me. What centers you?
  3. We all need to heal; relationships are how that happens
    Humans are a social species. Our secure relationships with family and loved ones are central ways that we regulate our bodies, emotions, and make meaning through back-and-forth conversations. (Unlike social media, which can often be a unidirectional rant, propped up by shares and likes). Play supports positive relationships in so many ways, even when you’re feeling like your bond with your child is in a tough spot!

Hope may feel hard to access. That’s OK. You may need to start small — like the news of an elderly neighbor getting the vaccine, or watching the snow melt and the buds start on the trees again. It may take work, but the fact that you even read this is a great start!

The American Academy of Pediatrics is partnering with Melissa & Doug on the Power of Play to raise awareness about the health benefits of open-ended play and how important play is for both parents and kids.

Learn more about the Power of Play >

This web site is not an attempt to practice medicine or provide specific medical advice, nor does use of the site establish a physician-patient relationship. The use of this web site does not replace medical consultation with a qualified health or medical professional to meet the health and medical needs of you or others.

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Dr. Jenny

Jenny Radesky, M.D., is a Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician whose research focuses on family digital media use, child social-emotional development, and parent-child interaction. She graduated from Harvard Medical School cum laude in 2007 and is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. Her clinical work focuses on autism, traumatic stress, ADHD, and self-regulation. Dr. Jenny’s ultimate goal is to help parents understand the individual ways their child thinks, learns, and feels; to help parents provide the best therapy and play experiences for their children; but to also allow parents to sit back and let their child’s mind take the lead sometimes. She authored the 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics digital media guidelines for young children.

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