Iowans Thrive Blog
Featuring stories, research, and news on Iowa's movement to respond to ACEs
The COVID-19 pandemic creates a significant risk to our health. As our lives are transformed in response, we also face another threat: high levels of stress from fear, uncertainty, loneliness, and desperation.
For those already struggling before the crisis or now facing job loss, a lack of resources, or no help at home, this time can be especially overwhelming and lead to challenges within the home. Many communities are already seeing signs of increased violence, mental health concerns, and substance use.
We know from The ACE Study science that adversity can have a major long-term impact on our future health and well-being, but we also know that positive experiences can counteract these outcomes.
Now, more than ever before, we need to be creative in how we respond.
We can do our part to reinforce families’ foundations in the wake of this storm and create the building blocks for children’s healthy development and well-being. Strategies must focus on helping caregivers alleviate their heavy load of stress and to foster the safe, nurturing environments children need to thrive.
Here’s how we can work to address stress at all levels during this pandemic:
Caring relationships and safe, nurturing environments are especially important to a child’s development. Dr. Amy Shriver, a pediatrician in Des Moines, says that a child may respond to stress with big feelings and behaviors, such as fighting, arguing, or withdrawing.
Parents can respond by pausing to consider what their child’s actions might be telling them about how they are feeling and what their child may need right then. Caregivers should make eye contact and provide physical touch with hugs or by holding hands. Her handout provides additional tips. The Harvard Center for the Developing Child provides these tips for caregivers, including practicing serve and return interactions.
As a community, we can support children by checking in with those we’re concerned about. Call them once a week or write a letter letting them know you care with a stamped envelope for them to write a letter back to you. Ask a parent if you can have a virtual play date with their children where you can read books or play charades.
Adults carrying the heavy weight of stress may react with a fight, flight, or freeze response that makes planning, staying calm, or caring for their children difficult. More than ever, families need protective factors, including skills to manage stress, connections with friends and family, understanding of child development, and access to food, housing, and other basic resources.
Dr. Shriver offers these tips to help the whole family manage their stress, including reaching out to family and friends when you or your child feel stressed, modeling self-care activities for your child, and practicing coping skills, such as deep breathing or exercise.
Parents can also be forgiving of themselves and their children. Maybe you are trying to teach your child reading or math and they aren't cooperating or your kids are on screens more than you prefer. It's okay to forgive yourself and your child for these situations and to either redirect to other activities or let it go.
You can help parents by checking in regularly with a text message or phone call, dropping off a meal on the front step, or sending a gift card to someone who might be struggling financially. To identify local services and resources that can help someone who is experiencing challenges, call 2-1-1 or visit www.211iowa.org.
Creating a sense of safety, choice, and support can be especially important for employees who may have experienced trauma in the past or are facing extreme levels of stress during this time.
Employers can support families by being understanding about caregivers’ added responsibilities during this time. Managers can check in each day with their team, work together with employees to create plans to complete work each week, and bring a sense of fun and calm to meetings. It’s also important to maintain open communication about the difficult decisions being made during this time.
Daniel Hoffman-Zinnel, CEO of Proteus, Inc., based in Des Moines, offers these tips for working from home for employees who are striving to find a new sense of normal.
We can each work to build connections within our neighborhoods while remaining physically distant. Some people are stocking little lending libraries with food or toilet paper for people to take as needed. Others are putting hearts in their windows to show they care while practicing social distancing. Set up a way for neighbors to check in each week, such as through a virtual chat or a phone tree.
Advocates can begin to identify the policies needed to support families through the long-term impacts of this crisis. Many of the support systems being implemented, including expanded Medicaid, paid leave, family-friendly work policies, and telehealth, could be items to encourage decision makers to continue supporting after the crisis ends.
Follow Iowa ACEs 360 and Child and Family Policy Center on social media for key policies to support families at the state and federal level. Reach out to your local representatives on needs you are seeing your community.
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