Monday, June 29, 2020

Educational Resources for Summer

The school year has finally ended in New York City and almost everyone has given a sigh of relief. The abrupt transition to online learning, with parents thrust into unfamiliar roles of teacher and monitor of their children’s schooling, the stress of the pandemic – which hit New York City early and with deadly force -- and the social and political upheaval following the murder of George Floyd and others made this a spring like no other.

Right now, no one knows what school will look like in the fall. A high school administrator has told us that his team has been instructed to come up with plans for every eventuality, including all learning to happen in school (with social distancing and masks) and all learning to continue online. The most likely scenarios are some combination of in person and online instruction, with students reporting to their school buildings for part of the day or for some days. The only thing that is certain as June winds to a close is that nothing is certain. One of the ideas for easing students' way back into school and helping to make up for lost learning is "looping", where students, especially in elementary school, move up to the next grade along with their teachers. This allows a third grade teacher, for example, to move to fourth grade with his students. The benefits to this system include knowing each student, and being aware of what the students learned -- and did not learn -- while their schooling was online. What it does not address is the fact that teachers may have taught a specific grade for a number of years and extensive preparation is needed for them to step into the curriculum of a different grade. Another possibility could be to have teachers from two grades consult together, at least early in the year, to figure out where students stand in September and what may have been lost in the months of remote learning.

There are no easy answers for families in this situation, but we can suggest some tools to use over the summer to help students get ready for whatever lies ahead in the fall. Our website has an extensive collection of resources for students of all ages, most of them free, which can help address areas of challenge, offer enrichment in an area of current interest, or let your child explore a new subject or activity to engage their imagination and build skills.

Summer is an especially good time for kids to play educational games or to learn how to keyboard. For kids who follow current events, Project Vote Smart offers age appropriate information on how our government works, what roles different elected officials play, and things to consider as the November election approaches. For the kid in all of us, the Schoolhouse Rock series on YouTube offers several entertaining videos about how the government works.

Whatever your summer plans, we hope you and your family remain safe and healthy, and wish you a Happy 4th of July!

Monday, June 22, 2020

Dealing with Burnout

Do you find yourself feeling completely exhausted no matter how much sleep you get? Do you feel trapped, helpless, and unappreciated? Have you noticed that your self-esteem has lowered, and that you feel pessimistic all the time, especially when you watch the news or read social media? These symptoms might sound vague, but if you feel that they are familiar, you may want to do some research on burnout. As described by the website, burnout is:

“a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.”

Most often, burnout is caused by work, but the word “role” in this definition can mean anything you align yourself with, such as housework, schoolwork, or even participation in a cause. More recently, the extensive use of social media and the 24 hour news cycle can also bring on symptoms of burnout. It can occur in a situation where a person loses their sense of self. They feel that their responsibilities make it impossible to practice any kind of self-care, and they close themselves off to opportunities to break away from the source of their stress. Symptoms of burnout can include:
  • Physical signs such as exhaustion, trouble sleeping, frequent colds/illnesses, head and body aches, and change in eating patterns
  • Emotional signs such as feelings of failure and self-doubt, feelings of defeat and helplessness, negative and cynical outlooks when before there were positive outlooks, and loss of motivation
  • Behavioral signs such as withdrawing from responsibility, using food, alcohol, or drugs as a coping mechanism, increased isolation, and procrastination
People who experience burnout are more vulnerable to illness, and burnout can also negatively affect friendships and relationships, which in turn can make symptoms worse. It’s a vicious cycle that can be difficult to recognize, much less break out of.

Recently, the confluence of the COVID19 pandemic and the intense anti-racism protests taking place across the country may make people more susceptible to burnout. In a 2015 study it was shown that human rights activists were particularly vulnerable to burnout. That same study found that activists who didn’t keep their symptoms in check were far more likely to leave the movement about which they once felt so passionate. But activists who did manage their burnout symptoms were able to stay in the movement longer, working to end the inequalities that originally motivated their activism.

Burnout is difficult to overcome, but there are steps you can take if you begin to feel or have already have symptoms. One of the most important ways to prevent burnout is to take the time to find value in your work. Even the most mundane office job, the most boring school assignment, or the most grating chore has meaning and value in life. We all live interconnected lives--people rely on us in our roles, and our jobs matter to them. Take the time to remember the people whom you are helping in your own role. That being said, also take the time to grow a life outside of the role that is the source of your stress. The first step of true self-care is participating in activities that get you away from the stressful centers of your life, engaging parts of your brain that would otherwise go unused. Find a hobby that you love and dedicate time every week to it. Some simple starting points can be:
  • Reading, any genre, any level of difficulty, any topic that makes you happy. Try to pick books that have nothing to do with your job. Find genres that help you temporarily escape the stress centers of your life. Your brain is a muscle and you need to exercise it just like any other muscle. If you struggle with reading, don’t be afraid to start with shorter, simpler stories, or listening to audio books as you read along. The important thing isn’t the type of book, but rather just that you are taking a break from the stressful parts of your life.
  • Reach out to others. Family, friends, and coworkers--you have people in your life who care about you and want to speak to you. Having burnout can sometimes make you feel too exhausted to be with others, but if you plan a relaxing activity--dinner, watching a movie, or a walk together are all good starting points--you’ll begin to feel more energized and happy.
  • Get off your phone. This is so important--being on social media, reading the news all the time, and getting constant notifications can cause burnout. Turn off your phone, leave it in another room, and do an activity that has nothing to do with technology.
  • Take breaks. Changes from daily routines are the key to keeping symptoms of burnout in check. Whether you take a week off from work, or an afternoon out of the house, a change of scenery can help bring fresh perspectives to your work, and they allow you to recharge and relax.

The COVID19 pandemic is an incredible source of stress on our lives. To turn on the television and witness the latest in a series of long standing racial injustices and conflicts that have come to a head at the same time can exacerbate this stress. Many people may have thrown themselves into their work in order to distract themselves from the pandemic. Others are compelled to march -- often in challenging situations -- to express their deep feelings about racial injustice.  These actions may open people up to symptoms of burnout. Taking care of yourself is the first step to managing stress during one of the most stressful times in recent history.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Teaching Our Children

Back in early May, we were making plans to reopen The Yellin Center and were preparing blog posts on issues related to COVOD-19 and how families could cope with a pandemic and the stresses that came with lockdown, economic losses, and home schooling. And then, on May 25th, the world changed yet again.

George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officers and the entire world responded. People of all races and backgrounds came together to declare that Black Lives Matter and that George Floyd's death could not be accepted as one more death in a long line of Black lives lost to police violence and systematic racism. It had to stop. Now.

As parents everywhere struggle to provide their children with an age-appropriate understanding of complex issues of racism, police violence against people of color, and how to change the world into one where respect, understanding, and kindness guide all public actions, we have come across a few -- of many -- resources that parents may find helpful as they speak to their children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has looked at the myriad impacts of racism on children's health, development, and well-being and come up with suggestions as to how their members "can  begin untangling the thread of racism sewn through the fabric of society and affecting the health of pediatric populations."

Common Sense Media has an extensive list of children's books on racism and social justice, broken down by age. Reading these with your younger children -- or discussing books with your older children -- can be excellent starting points for in-depth conversations.

CNN has a piece on how to talk to your children about protests and racism, which includes this advice from California pediatrician Dr. Rhea Boyd, who teaches nationally on the relationship between structural racism, inequity and health and who notes,

"Whether from social media accounts, conversations with peers or caregivers, overheard conversations, or the distress they witness in the faces of those they love, children know what is going on, and without the guidance and validation of their caregivers, they may be navigating their feelings alone."

And this coming Wednesday, June 17th, Common Sense Media is hosting a free webinar on
Parenting in Support of Black Lives: How to Build a Just Future for Kids (and How Media Can Help). Advance Registration is required.

We hope some of these resources help your family navigate these important conversations.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Summering Safely in 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted our lives and the lives of our children in ways that no one could have predicted. From a spike in unemployment, to online school and all the challenges that it brings, everyone is tired and looking forward to warm, sunny days filled with beach vacations, days in the park, ice cream on the boardwalk, and playground excursions.

Unfortunately, although infection rates have diminished and most areas are slowly starting to open up with restrictions, COVID-19 is by no means conquered, and significant risks remain. Even as summer begins, research shows that a warming climate does little to mitigate the effects of the virus. Summer 2020 is going to look different from summers past.

Due to the asymptomatic nature of some cases of COVID-19, anyone could be walking around and spreading the virus without their knowledge. That is why it is important to continue to practice both mask-wearing and social distancing. It’s annoying--I know I’ve already driven out of my house, realized halfway to my destination that I forgot my mask, and been forced to turn around--but it really can make a difference in the spread of the virus, especially if combined with staying six feet away and frequent hand washing. The good news is that children do not appear to be a high risk group for COVID-19. The data collected by the CDC shows that the vast majority of confirmed cases belong to adults, especially adults 65 and older. But it is not impossible for a child to contract it, which is why schools were closed and why children older than two should wear a mask and practice social distancing. In addition, parents and scientists are concerned about the emergence of a multi-systemic inflammatory syndrome that shares many characteristics with Kawasaki disease, an inflammatory disease of childhood that can affect blood vessels

Summer 2020 won’t be like past years, but it can still be a fun and relaxing time for families. In this post we will discuss some of our ideas for summer activities that can help slow the spread of the virus while keeping kids happy and occupied. Arts and crafts, a classic childhood activity, can be a great starting point. Drawing with crayons and colored pencils, painting, using Model Magic, or even textile activities like knitting and crochet will keep kids of all ages occupied and away from large crowds. Some crafts can even be adopted as a group activity for everyone in your household, such as tie dye, puppet shows, or cooking. Arts and crafts are great because they encourage creativity and hard work, while also keeping your child safe from the virus.

For older kids and larger households, games are a group activity that can bring variety and excitement to a summer in social isolation. Growing up, my family played a lot of card games and board games, and it was a great way to bring us closer together. During quarantine, it helped us to forget about the news for a while and just focus on spending time together. There are literally millions of games on the market, but a classic to start with is a simple deck of cards--it’s inexpensive, and the possibilities are endless.

Although exposure to crowds of people should be avoided, you don’t have to spend your whole summer staying indoors. Having a day out at a local park should be safe as long as you wear a mask, practice social distancing, and sanitize your hands. It’s a good idea to do some research to figure out which parks near you are more popular and which ones may have less people. Where I live, the state government released a list of guidelines and restrictions that should be followed, as well as which parks are more likely to be crowded with people. Each state will have different guidelines for using facilities, which activities are open to the public, and which parks attract the most crowds.

Finally, certain states will be opening summer camps in a restricted capacity as reopening proceeds. The American Camp Association released an 82-page reopening guide for camps attempting to open this summer. It emphasizes that camps should only be opening with permission from state and local authorities, usually during Phase 2 or 3 of reopening. Campers will be required to be screened for symptoms each day, activities will take place in small groups only, frequent sanitizing of camp materials is strongly recommended, and materials should never be shared between campers. These restrictions could possibly make camps more expensive, and some camps may not be able to open at all. If you normally send your child to a camp, do some research to see what kind of amended summer schedule the camp will operate on this year.

These restrictions are annoying, exhausting, and especially difficult for families with children. But, by following them, we can help stop the spread of the virus which has already done so much damage to many families all over the world. We look up to superheroes, the people who go to great lengths to protect strangers from harm. Now, we have to do the same thing. But it doesn’t mean that we can’t find things that make us happy, even with restrictions. We must strive to find a balance between our individual mental health and the good that we can do for others. Summer 2020 will be tense and difficult, but we can make it fun, too.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Opening Up ...

Today is our first day back in the office after shutting down in mid-March. It's been a surreal few months for us and, we are sure, for most of you.

First of all, we hope that all our patients, colleagues, and their families are well and have been staying safe. We have continued Yellin Center operations remotely during the worst of the pandemic, using technology to conduct consultations, follow-ups, medical management appointments, and attend CSE meetings. Dr. Yellin also stayed in close touch with his medical colleagues at NYU and elsewhere, to remain on top of the latest facts and recommendations, while Dr. Reddy has explored whether and how to conduct aspects of our evaluations using technology.

We've kept our terrific staff on board and they have been in touch with many of the families and students we serve, scheduling virtual meetings and working on the many steps needed to open our offices safely for everyone. We've posted our current policies on our website and will continue to update these as circumstances change.

Over the past couple of weeks, we've reconfigured our spacious office to allow for social distancing during evaluations and stocked up on masks, gloves, sanitizers, and table dividers. We've removed the toys, games, and magazines from our waiting areas and are screening our staff and all visitors before they get to our office -- and taking no-touch temperatures when they arrive. Masks are required to enter our building and in our offices.

We will continue to conduct many aspects of our services via technology, to minimize contact between students, their families, and our staff, but at this time are not offering the core aspects of our assessments remotely.

On a personal note, we've gained a new grandson, born during the height of the pandemic, where a last-minute switch of hospitals enabled his parents to be together during delivery. We've discovered a wonderful new website,  Readeo, that enables us to have our two and a half year old grandson, who does not live nearby, to read a book together with us. But, like so many of you, we also have had friends and family struggle with illness and, sadly, loss.

As we look around at our world, beset by the strains of pandemic and injustice, we hope that our lives and our cities will be like the plants we found when we returned to our offices after weeks at home. They were battered and bent, but we hold out hope that with time and care they will once again be healthy and thriving. We hope the same for you, our city and our country.