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Families confined & coping: AAC official give tips

Updated: Apr 5, 2020

Families confined: AAC official give tips on coping

Tracy Shulden fielded multiple questions April 1, that were related to how members of local families can better cope with each other during the Maryland governor’s stay-at-home order. Shulden is the deputy director of behavioral health services for Anne Arundel County’s health department. She took the questions via email and Facebook post during the livestreamed COVID-19 Q&A event April 1.

One person asked how parents should handle the fears their children had about grandparents dying from the coronavirus.

“So the best thing when talking with children is always to be honest,” Shulden said. “And sharing them information in an age appropriate way, but also in a messaging that is positive.”

She suggested acknowledging to children that older people may be at more serious risk from the virus than younger people. That could be presented as the reason the children can’t see their grandparents in person.

She also advised that keeping kids away from the TV may be a good idea.

“Unfortunately, the TV is is more focused on those dying and that's the message that they're going to get,” she said. “You can assure them that their grandparents are healthy, and that they're staying at home and also limit their exposure to TV. Let them know that the majority of people who are getting the virus are going to experience symptoms like a cold and recover.”

She also noted that such conversations are good times to teach children about good hand washing habits and not touching their face. It also might be an opening to encourage the use of facial tissue too.

“It's also helpful to provide some distance between their fear by ending on a positive note,” she said “Like engaging them in a very happy discussion of, you know, what do you plan to do when when we're finally able to see grandma and grandpa, right? You know, let's make plans about that so they can get excited. Making those plans for the future will help provide them that hope and that comfort.”

Older children and adults

Another question that came up was how to keep your sanity while stuck in a condo with teenagers 24/7. Shulden though, turned the question on its head and recognized that ,for the teenagers, being stuck with their parents could be just as difficult.

She related a story of her own of how her son is learning over the internet. She asked him a question about how to hook up her blue tooth device. She said he declined to help, being pressed with many things to do. Shulden indicated avoiding some potential conflicts or disagreements could happen through some simple changes.

"One of the things is to establish a nice regular routine, so that we are doing the same things, and we know what to expect and when they're going to happen,” she said. “Posting a schedule can be helpful. It's also important with the schedule because it reduces conflict. And it's important to talk about any potential conflicts early, because this helps us in deciding where our good (personal) space would be.”

"It’s important for family members recognize when someone in the family was making some personal space for themselves with technology, Shulden said. Making the decision not to invade that space was an important one. She also encouraged group kitchen activities, like baking or cooking.

"And she said the same health and wellness activities that keep people healthy during times with more mobility, were especially important now.

“And, most importantly, for us to deal with being with each other for 24/7, is our own self care,” she said. “You want to make sure you have enough sleep. Make sure you're eating right, exercising, do whatever you need to do to feel fulfilled and strong. Because if you're better able to handle stress your mind and body are strong and healthy.”

Over time family members will have difficult moments though throughout this emergency. It was important to acknowledge that too, she said, and accept the likelihood that it is a part of the experience of being confined together.

“Things are going to start to wear thin, and you might freak out,” she said. “And it's going to happen. And the best thing to do is acknowledge that, and normalize it with your your kids, right? This is going to happen, and then model how you can get right back on track.”

Alcohol Use

Another question asked addressed the possible increased use of alcohol. The person asked how would one know when they go from drinking to relax, to acquiring a drinking problem. Shulden answered the question with a barrage of questions of her own.

“Some of the questions I would ask (yourself),” she said. “ Are you drinking earlier than you were the day before (and) the day before that? Are you drinking more than you were? If you were doing things in your home for self care--like exercising, yoga, reading a good book, cooking a good meal-- and those things stopped now because you started drinking, (that) probably means that your drinking has started to become problematic. But just the fact that you're asking that question probably means that you're a little concerned about the alcohol use.”

She suggested the drinker should change their ways to cope with staying at home. Her possible helpful activities included walking, exercising, watching a lighthearted movie, meditation, practicing breathing, reading a good book, taking a hot shower, or soaking in the bath.

Substance abuse treatment programs and mental health services continue to remain open in the county, with some changes:

  • Anne Arundel County Free Mental Health & Substance Use Services: 410-222-0117

  • Anne Arundel County Recovery Services Program (Peer Support) 410-222-7076

  • Anne Arundel Road to Recovery Clinics: 410-222-0100 (leave message)

  • Anne Arundel Wellmobile: 410-823-9355 (leave message

  • Anne Arundel County Adolescents and Family Services Program: 410-222-8765 (behavioral health counseling for youth ages 4 to 18 and their families)

  • Anne Arundel County, behavioral health services, Tele-health, resource line: 410-222-0117

  • Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-784-2433