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Bright Futures

Articles and Updates from Phoenix Children's

July 06, 2020, Mark Popenhagen, PsyD, ABPP
Eight Ways to Help Ensure Emotional Well-being for Kids with Complex, Chronic Conditions During COVID-19

As Arizona grapples with an increase in COVID-19 cases, Arizonans with chronic illnesses are further impacted due to isolation and fear of attending regular medical appointments or last-minute visits when new symptoms arise.

I’m often asked how parents can help protect their child’s emotional well-being during periods of isolation, especially kids who have a chronic illness or condition. I almost always talk about the Eight Pillars:

Stay Connected

Humans are social beings: It’s normal to have a hard time being stuck in quarantine. However, there are lots of videos and apps that can help us feel connected with friends and family, like WhatsAPP, Zoom or FaceTime. Reach out! Don’t wait for people to call you. Take time every day to connect with loved ones. You can still contact friends across the globe through the various EB-specific social media groups. Get creative. If you like to go to the movies with friends, download a group chat app and watch the movie together. Maybe group dinners are your thing: Use a similar app while enjoying take-out from your favorite restaurant.

While it’s important to stay connected, it’s okay to take breaks if things get overwhelming. Announce to your friends that you are going to unplug from social media for a few days (and then do it!) Take time to recharge. Just spending 15 minutes in a quiet part of the house can be refreshing and restorative.

Keep a Routine

Whether we realize it or not, we all have a routine or schedule that we follow every day. While you may not be physically going to work or school right now, make sure you implement and keep a routine anyway for you and your family. Get up in the morning. Get dressed, eat breakfast, and get your morning routine going. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. A sense of normalcy will help you feel more in control of yourself and your environment. A sense of structure can help people — especially children— feel safe and secure. 

Keep Moving

Regular exercise is really important to improving your mood. Try walking laps around your home, your yard or around the block (while social distancing). Practice the exercises that your physical therapist has been asking you to do. Lift cans of soup — it’s amazing how heavy a can of soup can feel after a few reps.

Speaking of soup, maintain a healthy a diet! It might be hard to find all of the ingredients that you’re used to, but do the best you can, and know that you’re doing your best.

Find Purpose and Meaning

It’s so important to look to the things you did before the pandemic that brought you happiness and a sense of meaning. This may be the perfect time to start that new hobby you’ve been thinking of. Love to travel? There are millions of books and e-books out there that can take you places you’ve never been! Love animals? Many zoos are now doing virtual walk-throughs. Want to try a new craft? Go online; there are many how-to videos on YouTube, Pinterest, or other social media sites.

Educate Yourself

Talk to your medical team about what specific precautions you should take. At the same time, be cautious of rumors and social media posts with limited or questionable sources. Make sure you verify sources and ensure the credibility and validity any information you find. When we are informed, we have a better handle over our emotional state. If you are a parent of a child with a chronic illness, make time to talk with your child about their fears related to the pandemic. It’s OK to tell them you have some fears too, but that you are taking measures to keep yourself and them as safe as possible.

Good Hand Hygiene

When washing your hands, make sure you use plenty of soap with lots of bubbles for at least 20 seconds. If your medical team has recommended bleach baths, make sure that you do those as prescribed. Do not use undiluted bleach on your skin! Although COVID-19 is not known to be transmitted through cuts or other wounds, talk to your doctor about whether your child’s chronic condition or illness puts them at additional risk.

Medical Supplies and Medications

On a practical note, make sure you have enough medical supplies and medications to take care of your child. Order refills early in case delivery times are delayed in your area. Talk to your medical team right away if you can’t get the supplies you need, but do not reuse your supplies if they are meant to serve as single-use items. They are not designed to be washed and reused, and doing so can make your child quite sick. Maybe your child’s team can order you a substitute that will also work. Knowing that you have everything you need when you need it will keep your mind at ease!

Seek Help

Finally, if you’re still feeling down or anxious, seek help from a professional. A psychologist or therapist can help walk you and your child through these issues and help you feel better all around. Most therapy providers now provide sessions over the phone or online, so you might not have to wait as long for a face-to-face session. If you or your child is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-8255.

You have more power than you think and there’s more that you can do than you realize. Take care and stay healthy!

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