Kids & Family Resources
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Back to School Internet Safety
Lauren Brown, MFT School Program Coordinator K-8
While we gear up to send our kids Back to “School” online, we know this means more screen time and social media for everyone. For years, we have been hearing the experts weigh in on how screen time should be monitored and how social media use in teens is linked to depression and anxiety. But now that we have no choice but to engage in distance learning, how can we be sure our kids are being safe? Even young children who may have very little social media experience, will be navigating a digital world. Depending on the age of the student and your own personal family rules about screen time and internet use, this new normal could be very tricky to manage at first. However, like any other newfound freedoms we bestow on our children, the key to success is to lay out expectations ahead of time, come up with appropriate consequences for not meeting expectations, and to keep communication open and flowing in both directions. Here are some tips for keeping your kids safe online:
What basic privacy steps should all parents discuss with their kids?
- Explain that nothing is really private online. It's crucial for kids to guard their own online privacy by not posting and sharing things they don’t want to become public.
- Never share passwords
- Keep personal details such as name, address, phone number, mother’s maiden name etc private
- Think before you post- is this really something you want to share? Would my parents like this if they saw it?
- Only communicate with people you know; never chat or send photos to strangers
- Know how to recognize ads and don’t click on them
- Tell a trusted adult if something mean or creepy happens while on the internet
- For teens who have social media accounts, online interactions typically go beyond basic. They should know what’s OK and not OK to share. Talk to them about respectfully sharing opinions, constructive feedback, appropriate comments, and creativity. Its not OK to share intimate photos, hate speech or hurtful and destructive comments.
Remember that young teens don’t have an off switch in their brains. That means they are notoriously impulsive. This lack of impulse control, combined with online anonymity could lead teens and tweens to engage in dangerous behaviors such as cyberbullying, inappropriate photo or video uploads, illegal downloads, and meeting strangers. Our youth are creating a digital footprint that can last a long time in cyberspace. Try and teach your kids to self-reflect before they self-reveal so that they have safer and more positive online interactions.
|A great resource is commonsensemedia.org. They have a section for Distance Learning Resources including some great ideas to help kids socialize safely online and resources for coping with stress. https://wideopenschool.org/programs/family/prek-5/learning-at-home/|
Reducing Stress and Building Resiliency in children during the Covid-19 Pandemic
Lauren Brown, MFT School Program Coordinator K-8
Many of us are now sheltering in place and our children are home with us and are likely facing the same anxieties we are. Fear of the unknown, lack of control over an ever-changing situation and a profound disruption to our daily lives, the likes which we have never seen before, are all simultaneously creating feelings of anxiety, fear and stress.
This is not the time to shut down or to not communicate with our kids to “protect them”. They are already impacted. Kids can develop anxiety vicariously by watching and listening to their parents experience symptoms of anxiety. And while stress is an inevitable part of life, managing it improperly can lead to unhealthy habits and behavior that can upend family stability.
Research shows that age appropriate, open communication is far better at easing fears than keeping kids in the dark or “protecting them”.
Ask your kids how they are feeling.
If they are younger, and don’t have a lot of experience talking about how they feel, have them describe their feelings using colors or animals. Sometimes it is easier for younger kids to express themselves using external things. An example would be “what color is your worry today?” or, “ you seem super angry. What animal is your grumpy or your angry today?”. Art is another great tool for younger kids to express their feelings. Drawing or coloring how they feel is a great way to name the feeling and also an effective stress relieving technique!
It’s OK to tell kids you don’t have all the answers and that you don’t know what’s going to happen next, but you can reassure them about the things that are in your control.
Also, keeping somewhat consistent routines is helpful. I know this situation is anything but routine, but kids typically do better when they have some consistency. There are a lot of sample schedules floating around on the internet that breakdown screen time, exercise time, family game time, etc. that your family may find helpful.
How do I know if my kids have anxiety?
Symptoms of Anxiety include:
- Sleep Disturbance
- Loss of appetite
- Dizziness or “feeling funny”
- Stomach Aches
- Out of breath or difficulty breathing
- Inability to focus
- Unusually clingy
Some helpful things to say to calm an anxious child include:
- “Lets take a deep breath together”
- “how big is your worry”
- “What color is your worry”
- “this feeling will pass”
- “what do you want to tell your worry”’
- “tell me about it”
- “what do you need from me”
Coping with stress is a very important self-care tool that everyone should be practicing right now, and it is particularly important to model this to kids. These skills are important all of the time, not just during this pandemic. The greatest thing about coping techniques is many of them are free and can be practiced safely at home during social distancing.
So, what are coping techniques? Anything that can be done to make us feel better.
Examples include: exercising, playing with pets, journaling, drawing, painting, reading a book, vegging out with our favorite TV show, enjoying our favorite food, talking to a trusted friend, playing a game and so on.
The important thing about coping is that these things need to be done consciously and in control. Any of the aforementioned activities can turn into negative things and/or addictions if done to excess. (think over-exercising, over-eating, or numbing out with too many video games and/or TV).
Use this time to connect and communicate with your family. Don’t be afraid to get outdoors and into nature.
Re-establish (or establish) family meetings, game nights and movie nights.
Find creative ways to keep your kids entertained and remind them that it’s ok to have feelings, to be scared, angry or frustrated and take this opportunity to teach them healthy ways of confronting those feelings.