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  • Writer's pictureDr. Lisa Marnell, OTD, MBA

Coping During Covid: Ideas from OTs, Parents, and Teachers!

Over the past month, my feelings about our situation have shifted from frightened to optimistic to sad to frustrated. I worry for my loved ones. I worry about this summer and next year. I worry about work and teletherapy - everything is a challenge.

SO . . .

Last week I asked teachers, parents, therapists on my e-mail list to reach out and send in any ideas, light bulb moments, that help them manage. Anything! What encourages them stay positive? What do they say to themselves when they feel low? Do they have tips on managing kids and work?

I received so many wonderful replies and here are the results! (Please note: I wanted to include work hacks for teleltherapy in this post as I asked for those too. But I will write another blog post about that topic soon!)

Here we go . . . 5 Ideas for Coping:

1- Make yourself (and your family) a schedule.

This great tip was shared with me in several e-mails. Yet, every single person had their own story, their own specific challenges regarding time demands - and mental/emotional issues they and family members were facing. So, what do I mean exactly?

Many parents are struggling to get their own work done AND to supervise their children's schoolwork. And sometimes (oftentimes) kids need support. The mom of a high school student offered one super tip: She wakes up a couple of hours before her son. She gets the bulk of her own work done and has a chance to organize her day. Then, when he wakes, she is in the right state of mind to support him with his homework before the day gets away from them. Another therapist wrote in to say she gets her own work done in the mornings so she is free to be with her children in the afternoon.

A wonderful group of OTs got together and brainstormed and sent me their ideas. They suggest getting up, getting dressed, making breakfast, pretending it's like a normal school day - they find this good for the mental health of both kids and parents.

Here are some more scheduling and organizational tips:

* Determine a time to start the work day and a time to end.

* Post a daily schedule in a few places around the house for everyone to see.

* Plan on the weekends so that you are ready for the week.

* Set up clearly defined work spaces for your and your kids.

2- Keep Things Simple!

So many of us are driven, type-A people. This serves us well in life. We know how to get things done - usually. But times have changed, and we may restore a little of our mental health by cutting ourselves some slack and cutting corners.

One mom of a toddler wrote in to say she tries her best to keep her daughter occupied while the dad is at home working. This mom sets up lovely and elaborate craft projects that take major prep time. But her young daughter is done with them far too quickly. The "aha" moment for this mom came when she simply took out paints, brushes, and paper. This resulted in plenty of fun creative time, with the stress level dropping for both of them!

One OT wrote in and explained that now she takes one main idea and grades it for the different level students with whom she works. Her "aha" moment came when she was working with her own kindergarten student on a challenging writing assignment. It was a struggle. Scaling back and adapting our approaches may help us more in the long run.

3- Find Time to MOVE and Find Time to RELAX:

How to Get Moving - One idea that was shared is to keep track of your exercise, your daily moves, your sleep, your water intake etc. Consider purchasing a watch as one teacher told me she did. Or do this on a budget without buying a watch or Fitbit and make a chart of your activity. Set timers. Make a plan. Consider Yoga. Schedule a daily walk alone (I try to find some quiet time every day) or do this with family.

How to Relax - Reading a novel before bedtime is something that a couple of you wrote in and shared. Most of us enjoyed reading before bed when we were kids; there is something inherently comforting about it - so give this a try! What other ideas for relaxing would help you?

4- Go Bananas!

We are all struggling with mental health to some extent, so instead of trying to keep it together, how about letting go - in a good way?

* We're talking Dance Party with the kids . . . or you alone . . . that's totally acceptable!

* Go for a SPEED WALK and enjoy the nice weather. Or skip. Or jump. Or hop.

* Or walk in the rain. Or jog. Or run.

* Play games. Play Charades. Play telephone with your family. Play Simon Says. Play balloon volleyball. Play Hide & Seek. Play Detective. Set up a net and play badminton.

5- Keep the Big Picture in Mind:

We know we need to stay at home to flatten the curve, to protect health care workers, to not overwhelm hospitals. But one other factor helped one teacher who wrote in. And this is it: Staying at home is buying the scientists the time they need to test medicines and to develop a vaccine. This hit home with her, and she realized that she is playing her part in the big picture. And this helped her feel optimistic again, knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

And finally, ONE MORE THOUGHT that was shared with me a few times:

. . . Be Kind to Yourself!

At the end of the day, or at the start, reflect on something meaningful in your life. Gratitude. One OT walks to the lake at the end of her road every day and tosses in five rocks, naming five things she is grateful for. Take pride in your new accomplishments with technology, coping, resilience. Take pride in time spent with your children or a phone call to a family you service.

And an addendum to this final thought . . . Be Kind to Others!

One therapist and her daughter shared that they created a wooden "sandwich" board at the end of their driveway with a "daily message for young readers". They share a new letter every day, with a reading passage on one side of the board and a fine motor activity on the other side. She and her daughter work on the next day's message in the evenings. Their board has become a destination: Some families plan bicycle rides to view their board every day!

Thank you so much to everyone who wrote in and shared their stories and tips for coping! These were so wonderful to read and filled my heart. Time constraints stopped me from sharing everything, and please know that I may need to write another blog post on this same subject!

But . . . up next is a blog post that shares the amazing teletherapy hacks that you have been e-mailing to me. Between work and school, it will take me at least a week to write this one. But keep an eye out for this blog post - I will send out an e-mail to those on my list when it is completed and posted!

As always, feel welcome to touch base with me, Lisa Marnell, by e-mail at

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"Today's Foundation is Tomorrow's Success!"

Lisa Marnell MBA, MS, OTR/L

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