TOGETHER by AGCI

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Episode 003

How to Thrive in Uncertain Times

DA: You’re listening to Together by AGCI. I’m Dayn Arnold.

I think we can all agree that we’re living in unusual times. With heightened concerns about health, new phrases like social distancing, and many of us working from home, this is a huge adjustment. At the moment I’m speaking to you from my new bedroom office with my wife and kids trying to be quiet in the other room. And for many of us, this is a new balance, and one that we could use some help with. So we reached out to our friend Briana Currey to see if she had some insight for all of us in the age of social distancing. Briana welcome!

BC: Hi, thank you so much for having me. My name is Briana Currey, and I am a licensed clinical social worker, and I have worked for AGCI since 2013. But I’ve been working in the adoption field for 25 years now. So I have had the pleasure of working with many different families and a lot of kids from all over the world. And, um, I am happy to join y’all and offer any type of advice or tidbits that I can give you to help with your day to day processing of all of this information.

DA: Well as, as a parent who is in the home with my three children and my wife and in the midst of this situation, uh, I am just as curious to know any of this stuff as I think anyone else would be. Um, so maybe a first question would be how should families begin talking to their children about the current crisis? It’s a, it’s a tricky subject to broach with our, with our family.

BC: No, it really is. And the problem that we’re facing right now is that our information is changing day to day. So for really young children it’s important to break it down to like an understandable level for their age. Don’t try to overexplain it. Just reassure him or her that you are providing care and that you are following the guidelines of doctors and then do exactly that. Get your information from reliable sources like the CDC or the WHO and not from, like, random social media accounts. And then validate your children’s feelings and let them know that you hear them and then express your love to them. I do encourage you to not make any promises that are out of your control. While we all want to say to our kids, everything will be okay, it is really important to understand the severity of this crisis and to answer questions honestly.

DA: Yeah, that’s tricky to find that balance between like making sure that you’re positive and your kids are not, uh, feeling unnecessarily worried, but also being truthful enough to them that they understand kind of the gravity of, of where we’re at.

BC: Absolutely. And it’s really something that we can model for our kids as well.

DA: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, I know I’m going to have to work on that a little bit with myself, with myself. We all, I think we all have our little moments of a mild panic or maybe not so mild panic, but um, yeah. Ultimately, I think what you’re saying is right with the CDC and the WHO and all those things, like really finding your reliable sources of information and following those.

BC: Yeah. And I’ve noticed, you know, we’ve also had our TV on a whole lot with the news and so perhaps maybe that’s not the best idea. Maybe we need to shut that part off a little bit. You know, get your information and then turn that off so that, you know, 24 hours a day we’re not cycling in new information about this virus because that does make it very panicky in a way.

DA: Totally. Like for myself, I’ve been pretty much just trying to check in with the news once a day trying maybe not succeeding, but… You know, you want to stay updated, but you don’t need to obsess over it because that’s not any more healthy than not being educated at all.

BC: Absolutely.

DA: Yeah. So, uh, you know, as, as we’re all in close quarters, most of us are in close quarters. Um, what maybe, what are some ways that we can begin establishing kind of a new routine at home with this unusual circumstance?

BC: Yeah, I think it’s really important that you involve every member of the family regardless of the age. So have a family meeting and if you are working from home it will be really important to establish boundaries in order to decrease the tension in the home. For example, something that you can do that would be helpful. Would they make like a stop sign that you could put on your door or your work area and put that up when you really truly need not to be disturbed. So that that’s a quick sight that your kids can see and they know, Oh mom or dad is working, I’ll get to them in a little bit. And so you plan your work schedule and make sure you also schedule times to check in with your kids because they will need this reassurance. So if your normal work schedule is eight to five, you can’t expect to be able to disappear into a room from eight to five without checking in with your kiddos cause it’ll be really hard for them. So make a schedule that allows for you to have that time. And then also make a schedule for your child and your whole family. So a quick poster board can do it. And this is a schedule that your child can reference throughout the day so that they know what is going to come next. Children receive comfort from knowing what is coming next. And so if they can look at something in the room, it will decrease the number of questions for you. And this can be accomplished with words for older kids, but also for little kids, you can use little pictures to explain what their day is supposed to look like. A family schedule is so very important during times of uncertainty and it will decrease tension and negative behaviors in your house. It is of utmost importance for your newly adopted children because this helps promote security and trust that they truly need.

DA: Yeah, that’s awesome. I mean even for us, we were, we were just talking about it last night, my wife and I were, about what are some ways that we can have more structure and a little bit more discipline in a time where it’d be really easy to just kind of let it run all over the place, you know? And so like, even this morning, we were like, well, maybe we shouldn’t stay in our PJ’s until halfway through the day or the entire day. Let’s start getting dressed and, and feel like our day is actually starting and feel like there’s a little bit more… The day’s not just getting away from us every time.

BC: Right. And that just really creates a normal for your kids. And kids, little kids, but I have an 18 and 19 year old and we have a schedule downstairs in our kitchen. I’m having them follow it. We’re not sleeping till noon, they’re not sleeping till noon. And, um, and you know, we’re still having some time together as family, but then we also know we all have times where we’re doing something that we need to get accomplished individually.

DA: Yeah. That’s super helpful. Um, so what are some ways that families can foster connection during this time?

BC: Connection is so important, especially for adopted kids. And this is something I love to talk about. So I work with post-adoption a great deal and I interact with a lot of families who are in their adoption process after the whole uh, travel and everything. And so connection is so important. And so being forced to shelter at home is a perfect time to connect with your children. So get back to some real basics and remember what is important. If your work can wait, I would say let it wait. I know everybody needs it now, but right now everybody’s schedules are a little more relaxed and a little more flexible. So play board games, cook together, put together a scrapbook, look up crafts online. The internet has exploded with different ideas of top 10 things you can do with your kids and all of those kinds of things. And so, you know, take a few minutes to look something new up online. It’s not that you have to go to the store and buy a lot of things because you don’t. Find what you have in the house and make it work.

DA: Yeah, we’ve been… My boys lately have been, uh, there’s a children’s book illustrator. They found YouTube videos that he just started putting them out of like, here’s how to draw. And it’s just so encouraging to see how everyone has really so quickly transitioned to online availability because that’s the best way for us to connect right now. It’s really cool what’s out there right now.

BC: Yeah. And a lot of people are… For example, if your child is in ballet or you know, some kind of performing art, a lot of people from Broadway have asked kids to put them online so that they can watch them. And so that is a way for your child to still be able to do their performance or show off and um, and let the, let the world see it, or let grandma and grandpa see it. Um, since they’re not going to be able to be here and be on stage.

DA: And you’re, the real point of what you’re saying is to make sure that we’re doing this with our kids. Like to make sure that we are establishing that connection. It’s not just them having stuff to do, it’s us doing it with them.

BC: Yeah, yeah. Because that’s just fun. And your kids will really appreciate it. And for adoptive families who the adopted child craves this type of connection, this is such a good bonding opportunity and will build and grow. And so while there is a whole lot of negative regarding this virus and the situation that we’re dealing with, let’s find the nuggets of positive and the nuggets that can be helpful to our families. And this is the opportunity for us to be… Forced family fun, you know?

DA: Yeah, for sure. I think it’s a, you know, in some ways it almost brings it back to uh, you know, in an odd way the way things should be. Like, we are, we are forcing ourselves to connect with our families because we have to, but also just because this is how we’re wired. We’re designed to be this way. And so when life kind of slows down a little bit and you have no control over it, then you might as well kind of start to rebuild those relationships with your own family. It’s, it’s, there’s kind of a weird side benefit to that.

BC: Yeah. And a lot of people are saying, well, you know, my, my teen only wants to sit on his telephone. And there are ways to get around that. So you know, something that could be fun for your family and, and for your middle school or teenager is… I know as I was raising my kids, I wanted to teach them what they needed in order to one day be launched and take care of themselves. And so this is a really great opportunity to teach them how to change a tire, how to balance a checkbook. What do you do when you make a grocery list or how to plunge a toilet and do your laundry. These are daily living skills, but all of our kids are going to need to know someday. So go ahead and use this opportunity to do it. You can make it a game. You can make it a challenge. Um, you know… I gave my sons a gift one year and it was called The Gift of Becoming of Man. And what it did was it broke down all the different things that I would commit to teaching them so that I could launch them into adulthood. So I would encourage you to do something similar. And if you need ideas, I will give my email and you’re happy to email me and I will send you my list. But it is, it’s something fun that you can do that will help in the long run as well.

DA: Yeah, that’s so great. And kind of kind of related to that, um, you know, we’re, we’re trying to connect with our kids, but the connections that we have with the people around us or family members is, is… maybe not severed, but it is certainly compromise in this time. So what are some ways that families can kind of keep their kids connected to relatives, like grandparents or people that they might not be able to visit right now?

BC: Sure. Well, we’re super fortunate because we do have FaceTime and Zoom and all of those, um, you know, fun opportunities for things like that. So I would encourage you to set up in your, in your daily schedule a time for your kids to be able to interact with their friends, or contact grandma and grandpa. Um, maybe have dance-off where your kids and their friends can have a little dance parties. There’s actually an app called house party where people can join in and everybody can see each other and you’re interacting just like you’re in the same room. And so you can have those opportunities with grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins. Um, if the grandparents though… Like, what if they don’t know how to use social media or they don’t know how to use the internet? That’s my parents. Um, and so I would encourage your kids, especially your little kid, to draw the sweet colored picture, show them how to put it in the envelope and actually go stick it out in the mailbox and mail something to their grandparents. And then the grandparents could then, in turn, do the exact same thing and mail it back. This is how that generation learned to communicate and they still really appreciate it. And this is a new way you could introduce communication for your young kids. And also for your teens, they could learn how to write an appropriate letter and they can practice that to their grandparents. And then the grandparents could in turn write back. Maybe have your kid interview their grandparents, um, to find out a little bit more about them. Have you ever had to deal with something like this? Um, what was the hardest time when you were growing up? And that would be a way to connect with each other via the phone or Face Time or even through a letter that, um, your kids could still establish a really good bond with their relatives even though we’re a distance away.

DA: Yeah. That’s great. We talked a little bit earlier about, um, you know, being honest with our kids. And we don’t need them to feel fearful, but we also need them to understand the situation. Um, but as we, um, you know, as we move forward in this time, you know, what, what are some ways that we can, an environment for our kids that is as free as possible from being fearful?

BC: Yeah. I mean, isn’t this just a scary time? It’s so unusual. And, and day to day we’re learning so many new things and we don’t know what’s going on, but I say be age appropriate and honest. Um, you know, hiding information, secrecy that creates anxiety and fear. So it’s important to share information with your kids. But don’t talk about it in a way in front of them that’s really negative or, uh, scary. Get your information from reliable sources so that you’re not sharing information that’s inaccurate and more fearful. And then most importantly, allow them to express their fears. It’s okay. They can express their fears, they can have fears. You can express your fears an age appropriate way, and then offer comfort. A couple of good points would be, um, to understand you can’t, end their fear. But what you can do is you can help them manage it. Teach them coping skills to manage what they’re dealing with and that it’s going to be beneficial longterm in so many different ways. There is a saying that says, “You’re preparing the child for the road, not the road for the child.” So you can’t take care of everything nor should you, but you can help them navigate it and learn to navigate it. And so don’t give them… Don’t avoid the information, or try to just ignore it because you’re wanting to keep them safe, but talk to them and be honest. Share positive but realistic expectations, respect their feelings and validate them. Don’t ask leading questions, because that might scare your kids and it will in turn reinforce their fears. So just model healthy ways of how you yourself are handling your own anxiety and fears about all of this unknown that we’re dealing with.

DA: Yeah. And even specifically like with the way that you might talk with your spouse or anyone else in the house or even on the phone, like, your kids are tuning into that kind of… Whether they are listening to your words, they’re tuning into your energy and they can tell when you’re super stressed out and it doesn’t, it doesn’t benefit them at all.

BC: Oh, absolutely. And just remember, little ears are everywhere, especially when they know something’s up. That’s when they really tune in. We think they’re not listening to us, but they are.

DA: Oh, for sure. So let’s kind of take it a little bit of a different direction. You know, we have a lot of kids that are, uh, they’re not in school. I think most kids in the nation right now are not in school, which is the first time I can remember that ever happening. Um, and I’m sure that parents are concerned that their kids are gonna fall behind or you know, or teachers are going to be concerned. I have two sisters that are both teachers and they’re kind of like, Well, once we get back from this, it’s going to be welcome to the first day of school again. Um, what are some ways that we can keep kids from falling behind academically when they’re not in school?

BC: Absolutely. So I actually have more than one job. My other job is I teach at a local university. And so I’m actually teaching online this week, um, for my students. And by doing that, I’ve found a lot of resources online. So just like the internet is exploding with fun activities to do. The internet is also exploding with a lot of educational tools. So I’d really encourage you to go online and simply Google something like, um, “educational opportunity for school age children at home” And you’ll get a whole list of things that you can do. A lot of local school districts have added tasks online that kids can do. They’ve done the research for some of these websites and put it in a nice little one-stop-shop kind of place for you so that you can access those resources. So check out your school’s webpage. Um, and then I encourage you to schedule this into your day. Just like you’re scheduling everything else, for your kids to get up, get dressed, you’re going to do your work time and they’re going to do their work time. I would encourage you, though, to remember that weekends are still weekends and a few days off here and there are really important. Um, but you can teach your child day to day with reading books together. You can teach math for measuring and cooking. Um, there are ways to do school without doing worksheets. Um, but if you have a friend who homeschools, I would encourage you to contact them because they would have some good advice on some different tools and ideas for you. The other thing that I’ve started doing with my boys, and actually I did this when my boys were really little because my home used to be my home office for social work, adoption work, and I would have families into my home doing home studies. And um, so my boys met kids from all over the United States and all over um, all over the world. And we got a globe and we would look up where everybody was from. And so I would encourage you to watch some documentaries together and nature shows and then get out a map, or if you have a globe and look that area up. And that can be a simple way to teach some geography and social studies. The game Candy Land is a great opportunity where you can teach them math. We converted the actual game of Candy Land into something called Penguin Paradise. And we did multiplication tables with it. There’s lots of different things that you can do for your little kids in order to keep the schoolwork going. For some of your high schoolers, especially early high schoolers, I would encourage you, because I’ve just done this two years in a row, um, is to start having them research colleges. Ask them to look up a couple of colleges and take the online tour. The college, uh, websites have great information and you can see a whole campus online with their videos and just let them kind of start dabbling in it and understanding it because it’s, it’s never too early to kind of start looking at that so they don’t get so overwhelmed at the end.

DA: Yeah. That’s so great. And that, that I would imagine also kind of keeps them focused on the long game, that this time is not forever and that eventually you will be heading off to school.

BC: Yeah. Something else that we did as a family just as… So it’s bonding time, but then it also can be educational, is we read books together out loud. And so instead of saying to your child, here, go read your school book or go read this novel, actually read it out loud. We’ve got through some major book series that way. Percy Jackson, Lion Witch and the Wardrobe, Harry Potter. All of those books I read with my two sons out loud. And sometimes if it was something I didn’t necessarily want them to hear, I could eliminate a little sentence here or there or I could actually explain a word, you know, that they didn’t know. And so it brought on dialogue, but it was also just a really fun time. We would all get together and cuddle in my bed and read books together. So that’s a really fun thing that you can do. And if you want to, you can pass the book to your child and say, okay, it’s your turn. Um, and then that gets some of their reading in.

DA: That’s so great. Are there any other activities you can think of for like the whole family or… I mean you had mentioned earlier too, keeping your older kids from just being buried in their phones. Like are there any things that you can, that you can speak to for older kids and maybe even the entire family?

BC: You know um, what my, uh, my forced family fun for my older kids yesterday was we looked up a local hike, um, and we went on a hike, and um, as we were doing it… Fortunately this place had different areas where there were little signs for fauna. And so we looked up… It would have the name of the plant on a little sign and we used our phones to look it up and see what it was about. So there are ways that you can still get out and be safe. And there’s a really good hiking website called, um… Oh, it’s called All Trails. And you can type in like, like how long you want the hike for, or the difficulty level, and it would give you area hikes just in your area.

DA: Oh, that’s great. You’re in the Northwest, right? So there’s probably plenty of hiking around where you guys are.

BC: Yes, and we’re having perfect weather for it. So we’re super lucky right now.

DA: Yeah. Well, um, I guess maybe one, one last question would be, uh, maybe what are some resources that you recommend for parents who are having a hard time right now? I mean, you’ve given some really great tips. Where could they go for additional information or for, you know, just as a way to kind of look back and find those, those types of things that you’ve talked about?

BC: Yes. So I, um, I did some research myself just because I wanted some information and I found two really good websites that provide information both about the Coronavirus and how to handle that, but also about anxiety and fear and stress related both to Coronavirus and then also just in general. And the first one is the American Psychiatric Association. So it’s www.apa.org and they have several different links on their web page about this information and how to handle the anxiety surrounding it. The other one is called Child Mind, and it’s www.childmind.org. Same type of concepts some really good information on how to talk to your kids. Um, good words to use with your children regarding the virus. And then the last thing I would encourage you is… The majority of adoption agencies are still open, um, across the United States. We’re just all working from home. And so I would contact your local agency and, and speak with your social worker and just ask for some advice. If your child’s doing something unique or different, and you’re wondering what that has to do with, you can certainly reach out to your social worker. Also, AGCI is available. I work with, um, all of our post-families, and I’m happy to connect with any of our post-adoption families. Families that are waiting, i’m happy to connect with you too, but I understand that you have a social worker you’ve built a bond with and so I would encourage you to start with your local social worker first. Um, but our agency is always available to everybody.

DA: That’s awesome. As an AGCI employee, I can vouch for the correctness of what you were saying. Yes, we are all still working despite there being a construction crew right outside my house. Hopefully you guys can’t hear it.

Well Briana, I am so grateful for your time. Thank you so much for your wisdom and all the research that you did to kind of pull together some of these tips for families. And if anyone has any further questions, is there a way for for them to contact you?

BC: Yeah, so my email is B C U R R E Y at AllGodsChildren dot org, and I am happy to take, um, any kind of questions, or if you want some resources, I’m happy to give resources. I do know that there also been a couple of other major um, agencies giving resources, like the YMCA has launched about 63 online classes for families. If you’re staying indoors and needs some activities, um, the YMCA would be an option. So there’s a lot out there that you could be doing to kinda ease all of this tension and stress and also promote family time with your little ones.

DA: That’s so great. We will, uh, we’ll make sure that, um, all the different, uh, resources that you mentioned are in the show notes of this podcast so that people can just find that information readily. But, um, thank you so much for your time and um, your just, your wisdom and insight was just invaluable. And I’m going to rush out the door right now and implement all of it with my children and they are going to love it.

BC: Good luck with that.

DA: We will, uh, we’ll talk to you later. Take care, stay healthy.

BC: All right. Bye. Bye.

DA: That was Briana Currey. She is a wealth of information. Again, if you want to get ahold of Briana, you can email her at bcurrey at allgodschildren.org. And if you want to email us at the podcast, you can email us at together at allgodschildren.org. And we will talk to you next time. Take care and stay healthy.