Outbreaks are 'a weird moment' for P.E.I. Here's one expert's advice on how to cope

Feeling anxious about rising COVID-19 case numbers in P.E.I. schools? You're not alone. Experts are feeling them too.

From talking to your kids to setting a routine, this clinical psychologist (and parent) has some tips

Closed schools and rising COVID-19 case counts are 'a weird moment' for P.E.I., which hasn't seen much of either throughout the pandemic. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Feeling anxious about rising COVID-19 case numbers in P.E.I. schools?

You're not alone. Experts are feeling them too.

In an interview on CBC News: Compass Thursday, clinical psychologist Dr. Jacqueline Goodwin said she reacted to the news of last week's outbreak as both a parent and medical professional. 

"First, I had my parent's hat because I have two kids," one of whom is too young to be vaccinated, Goodwin said. 

"I think we're all deeply aware that there's a little bit more risk at this moment around the delta virus, so I think it would be normal that many folks had a little bit of a surge of anxiety around this." 

On the other hand, she said, as a health professional she knows that she and others are "absolutely" prepared to help families through with the challenges they are facing.

"We're in a weird moment in P.E.I.," Goodwin said. "We've done so well. We've not had the same level of exposure to some of these feelings and experiences as other parts of the country."

In many ways, she said, we're "kind of trying this on" and figuring out how to cope.

COVID-19 school closures and mental health

2 years ago
Duration 6:58
Clinical psychologist Dr. Jacqueline Goodwin joins CBC News: Compass host Louise Martin to talk about the impacts of COVID-19 school closures on kids' mental health.

How are your kids really feeling?

A key ingredient to coping is understanding how the stress and uncertainty affects everyone in the family, from young children, to teens, to the adults trying to guide them through it, she said.

"There can be a whole range of feelings for younger kids," Goodwin said. "Sometimes you can see, kind of, more negative ... feelings like anger or sadness and a little bit of minor behaviour."

That's your cue to sit down with a child, ask them how they're doing and listen, non-judgmentally, to their answer.

"Validate and support whatever emotional experience they bring up," Goodwin said. "There's no sense in arguing about feelings. They just are." 

We need to really reassure kids there is a circle of care in this province.— Dr. Jacquelin Goodwin

It's also important to make sure that they've got the facts right, particularly with younger children, Goodwin said.

"Sometimes they hear bits and pieces and then they put together something that isn't accurate, and that can increase anxiety."

The same can be said for adolescents, although their information sources might be different.

Social media can be a wonderful tool, but it can also be a hotbed of rumours and inaccuracies, Goodwin said.

"We need to talk with our adolescents about, you know, what are they hearing on social media? What are they hearing in their various chat places?" 

Talk to your kids, access help if you need it and take care of yourself, Dr. Jacqueline Goodwin advises parents. (CBC News)

In addition to finding out what they're hearing and feeling, it's important to let kids know that the adults in their lives, all of them, are there to support them, Goodwin said.

"We need to really reassure kids there is a circle of care in this province," she said. "Everyone from teachers, to cleaners, to administrators … [they're] doing everything they can to keep everyone safe," she said.

"And if someone should get ill? Our system is prepared to manage that."

Don't forget about the adult in the room

But in the midst of caring for others, it is vital that adults remember to care for themselves, Goodwin stressed.

"I think sometimes as parents, we feel like we need to really show [that] we're super brave and we're coping. And, you know, the reality is we feel these feelings too, and our kids definitely can sense that at times, so we need to access our support."

Goodwin said one constant she hears from families is that they need "good communication and support."

Accessing that may be as simple as picking up the phone and calling someone – particularly if you are isolating or know someone who is.

And speaking of isolating, Goodwin has some advice for those who are going through that right now, or know someone who is.

"A big thing in isolation, from my perspective, is that people need to build a bit of a routine," Goodwin said. 

"They need to value that sleep is at nighttime," she said. "Important regular mealtimes, getting up and getting dressed, showering ... trying to preserve that regular structure of the day as much as possible." 

With files from CBC News: Compass