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Counseling Students From Home
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Lori Walsh: School counselors and psychologists are vital in helping students survive the disruption and isolation of Corona virus. How are college students coping with going directly from being newly independent to back at home all day? How can parents help high school students dealing with missing out on things like prom and state sports tournaments? Dr. Kari Oyen is the Assistant Professor of School Psychology at the University of South Dakota. She's joining us to answer these questions, and talk about how the role of school counselors and psychologists has shifted. Welcome. Thanks for being here.

Dr. Kari Oyen: Oh, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Lori Walsh: I guarantee you there's so much to talk about that our time will feel way too short and I promise whatever we don't get to, we'll invite you back. So we'll lay that on the table now, but I want to start with, I think everybody has a basic understanding of just how much this knocked everybody off of their routine, how stressful it is, the tension at home, the time together. But I want to start with some behavior issues first. Are we seeing, do you expect to see, are you hearing from parents that some of this is really presenting itself? Some of that tension is presenting itself with behavioral issues from a seven year old temper tantrum to a 17 year old temper tantrum?

Dr. Kari Oyen: Yeah, I really appreciate that question. I think that I'm hearing from lots of different sources just about how this stress affects a lot of different people in a lot of different ways. One of the things that we know so much about kids is that kids really look to adults for guidance on how to react to stressful events. And so oftentimes kids are seeing how adults are responding in their environment and that may then in turn have them responding. Now the thing that's really interesting about kids is that sometimes their responses are different than what we would expect for other aged people. So instead of being verbal about their concerns, we might see things like temper tantrums. We might also see things like extra clingy, not really wanting you to leave the room, some of those kinds of things. Sometimes as kids get older, like adolescents and teenagers, you might see more withdrawal behavior, kind of that irritability, which tends to happen anyway as kids get to be teenagers. It turns out their parents aren't quite as cool to them anymore.

But again I think there are some warning signs, if kids are not enjoying things that they previously enjoyed, if they have an inability to initiate tasks, some of those kinds of things. Again, those are things that we're concerned about and I do think that it's wise for us to be aware that this could be related to stress related to the Coronavirus.

Lori Walsh: And some of that stress was there before. I know some college parents I've talked to have said, there was already a lot of pressure or stress and now it's compounded. I want to go back to something you said about kids looking to adults for guidance. And I can just hear every parent who's listening right now going "Great, more pressure on me. Now I am supposed to be calm too." Talk a little bit to parents and families who are just dealing with the reality of imperfection right now, are we damaging our kids for a lifetime because we cry at night or because we slammed the dishes last night, and said "I can't do this anymore." Help parents sort of sort their own fallibilities out here?

Dr. Kari Oyen: Oh absolutely. I think that, I am a working mom, so I'm a professor, but I'm also a mom of two children, 13 and 10, and I do feel those same pressures of trying to not only work from home but also feed everybody. Also now all of a sudden I've opened my own academy, right? The Oyen Homeschool Academy that I was not planning on opening. And I think it's easy to become overwhelmed in all the different tasks that we have to do. I think first of all just remember that it's impossible to do all those things at the same time. So I think that it's really important to take it one step at a time.

The other thing that I've really been hearing over and over again and what's been really helpful for my family is to really establish a routine. And so there's all these things that we're uncertain about, and there's all these things that we can't control. We can't control what other people are doing. We can't control if other people are getting COVID-19, and there's all these things outside of our control. But what we can control are the things that are happening as we're safe in our houses. We can control how we talk to our kids, saying to kids that, "There's a lot of adults that are really working hard to keep you safe. And part of the way that we can stay safe is by staying home.", and in establishing that routine and being calm.

And then also finding mechanisms for adults to take care of themselves. One of my favorite resources that I love to share with parents is, it's actually from the National Association of School Psychologists, and it's called Care for the Caregiver. And it's kind of like that corny safety demonstration on the airplane where they say that you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you can put it on someone else, and that remains true more today than probably ever, that you really do need to take care of yourself so that you can take care of others in your house.

And that might be things that are like making sure you get enough rest, eating well. Again, establishing your own routine, exercising. I've been making myself walk on my country roads. Again, those things are really good for your mental health.

Lori Walsh:Is there a way to give kids a sense of control, whether that's a teenager or a little kid, because some of these kids and their behavior that I'm hearing about really seems like they're grabbing for control of a situation, because so much is out of control. Can we figure out a way to give them more choices, and more control, and more input into how things are happening at home?

Dr. Kari Oyen: I just love that you brought that up. I think that again, a few things. First of all, I do think it's really important that we're available for our kids. I think that we really need to be mindful about how much viewing of social media, how much viewing of the news we have for kids. Because again, it can be fear inducing and sometimes unnecessarily so. I think when it comes to choice, I think that it can be really important to say to kids, "What times of the day do you think we should have academic times?", and "What times of the day do you want to do free time? And during free time, what kinds of things can we do?", and kind of help them be a part of the problem solving for all of us as we're establishing our routines.

For my own kids, we've been doing a lot of cooking and so I let them choose what are some things that we might be able to cook. And then I also think that it's really important, especially for kids that are on, when I think about seniors in high school, I even think about seniors in college, those that are really at this place where they have fairly significant milestones, where they can feel like they might be missing out, I think it is really important to validate their experience, and say that this is a loss.

But I think we also have to believe and have faith that kids are so creative and they can really find ways if we allow them to have the space, find ways to create new memories and new milestones and really be more of a facilitator of creativity. Because we do know that we have a fairly socially connected crowd, especially our young adults. And I do think that by allowing them to explore that space, I wouldn't be surprised to see some of the stress lessen, and maybe some of the connectivity increased.

Lori Walsh: Yeah, trust the process just a little bit because there are good things that are coming up. Kari Oyen is Assistant Professor of School Psychology at USD, and we'll have you back on again. Thanks so much for being here. We appreciate it.

Dr. Kari Oyen: Well, I really appreciate it. Yeah, you take care.