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A child psychiatrist answers viewer questions on parenting during the pandemic

During the coronavirus pandemic, we all have questions, and the NewsHour is bringing them to experts for answers. This week, we consider the challenges parents are experiencing as they try to help children navigate an unfamiliar world. Dr. Sarah Vinson, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that brings us to Ask Us, where we take your questions on the pandemic to experts to help make sense of these tough times.

    We get your questions from our Web site, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

    And, for the record, Facebook is a funder of the "NewsHour."

    Amna Nawaz has more.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Thanks, Judy.

    And thanks to all of you for sending us your questions.

    Now, parents and grandparents are dealing with even more responsibilities these days, taking on new roles as teachers and counselors, in addition to caregivers.

    A lot of you sent us questions about parenting in the pandemic.

    To answer them, we're joined by Dr. Sarah Vinson, a child and adolescent psychiatrist. She's also the former president of the Georgia Council on Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

    And she joins us now from Atlanta.

    Dr. Vinson, welcome to the "NewsHour." Thanks for being here.

  • Sarah Vinson:

    Thank you for having me.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, let's jump right into the questions now.

    Our very first one comes from Ann Stringer. She's a grandmother from Mays Landing, New Jersey. She reached out to — on Facebook.

    And this is Ann's question. She says: "I feel anxious and closed off with my adult girls back home. Also, my son is overwhelmed with his three kids. Any tips for our multigenerational family?"

    Dr. Vinson, what advice can you give Ann?

  • Sarah Vinson:

    So, the advice I give Ann is going to be similar to the advice I'm giving everyone right now, is to focus on the things that you have control over and that you can change.

    And so we can't change the fact that people are sort of cooped up, or that your family has a lot of extra responsibilities right now. But we can still be intentional about making connections with people and talking and interacting in whatever ways make the most sense for us.

    And so that can look like playing board games electronically, doing FaceTime, just calling to catch up. We're just looking for ways to be active and involved in your grandchildren's lives and being another touch point for them in a positive way.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Those are all great tips. Good luck to Ann out there.

    Let's go to our next question now. It comes from Julie Gerien. She's in Napa, California.

    She also reached out on Facebook. And Julie sent us this video:

  • Julie Gerien:

    Some parents are beginning to let their kids socialize.

    How can I keep my kids safe and still let them connect with friends in person? I'm making sure that my kids wash their hands, and I'm monitoring their proximity to others. But other parents may not be.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Dr. Vinson, how do you do that? How do you keep your own kids safe? And can you still let them safely socialize with other kids?

  • Sarah Vinson:

    So, like anything else when it comes to parenting, there's sort of a risk-benefit analysis that you do, right?

    When your child is learning to drive, you're afraid of letting them do that, but you know it's sort of part of what they need to do in order to progress.

    And so now we're in post-COVID world or COVID world, where part of parenting is thinking about these things. And so just like if you were going to have your kids go over for a party at someone's house or a playdate, you may ask questions about, are the parents going to be there? What's the level of supervision, those sorts of things?

    You get more information, so that you can make a decision as a parent about if this is safe enough for me to feel comfortable with them going.

    So, under these conditions, I think it's completely fine for you to ask questions about whether their friend has been sheltering in place, what precautions they have taken, if people are going to be wearing masks when they're getting together.

    And those are all pieces of information you have a right to as a parent. And using that information, you can then make a decision about whether it makes sense to move forward with that in-person playdate or not.

    I do think that that is going to be really helpful for children from a mental health standpoint to be able to talk and interact with their friends. And so there are ways that we can make this safer, if everybody's wearing masks, if we're asking those questions and those sorts of things.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The risk-benefit analysis of parenting, we all know so well.

    Let's get to another question now.

    This is from L.H. Phillips. She works in education in Arkansas. She submitted this question to us on Facebook.

    She writes — quote — "We were thrust into this situation with little preparation. What will we do with students who are poorly prepared when schools reopen?"

    Dr. Vinson, it's such a good question. What can you say to L.H.?

  • Sarah Vinson:

    This transition back is going to be a challenge for teachers, for administrators, for parents, and especially for the children.

    And I do think there are ways that we're going to see preexisting gaps in education that get bigger as a result of people being home for so long.

    And so the next question is, well, what do we do? And I think that there is time now for us to have conversations with school districts, with administrators, with state decision-makers around the kinds of supports that we need to have in place for kids, both from an academic standpoint and an emotional standpoint, when they go back to school to give them a better chance at this being a successful transition.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So important to point out the problems existed before will still be there post-pandemic.

    Our final question now comes to us from Holly Joseph. She's in the Bay Area in California. She reached out to us on Twitter. And Holly sent us this video:

  • Holly Joseph:

    How do we keep kids engaged in distance learning vs. just completing their assigned tasks?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Dr. Vinson, Holly is in my husband Paul and my head's.

    What how do we do this? This is so difficult for so many parents homeschooling right now.

  • Sarah Vinson:

    Parents are being asked to do something that is a skilled profession.

    And so my advice is, look for ways that it applies, that make sense for you and that make sense for the child, and that you can demonstrate sort of in the home setting.

    So, it could be something like playing Monopoly together, if you're talking about money and making change, so looking for things that use those principles that they're using in school, but in a practical way, where you're able to engage with them, looking for ways that you can incorporate that into activities that you do as a family.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Good luck to all the parents out there.

    Dr. Sarah Vinson, thank you so much for being with us and taking these questions today.

  • Sarah Vinson:

    Thank you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And thanks to all of you for your questions.

    You can send us more any time via "NewsHour"'s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, or on our Web site. That's PBS.org/NewsHour.

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