Returning to school and community activities after sustaining an injury or enduring a prolonged hospital stay can be overwhelming and stressful for children and their families. Specialists at Shriners Hospitals for Children are skilled in helping families create plans to ease these transitions. Many of the tactics they use can also be helpful for all children and families as restrictions related to the pandemic fluctuate.
Jennifer Greenman, LCSW, is a social worker at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Erie. She collaborates with patients and families to develop a custom “safety plan.” Each patient’s unique plan helps them identify ways to feel safer in an uncomfortable environment. Following are some elements included in the plan.
Schedules: Schedules help kids know what to expect and maintain a sense of control over their environment, which boosts their confidence and feelings of security. “We create routines and structures for the kids to follow and the parents to model,” Greenman said. “We develop a daily schedule, which includes getting up, getting dressed, eating breakfast, etc.”
Relationships: Another important part of making a child feel safe and comfortable during a transition is their relationship with their parents or caregivers. These relationships can be fostered in many ways.
Having a meal together helps children handle the stresses of daily life and can strengthen relationships within the family. It is an excellent time to turn off screens, talk about the day and genuinely connect with each other. Greenman suggests asking open-ended questions to initiate communication during meals. “Instead of asking ‘How was your day?’ try asking, ‘What were the best and worst parts of your day?’”
Fun: Greenman said it is important to find ways to have fun, while still being safe. Although schools may be opening for in-person learning, many extracurricular activities that students enjoy may not be back to normal. Families can get creative and find ways to adapt activities for enjoyment and socialization outside of school.
“Following an injury or surgical procedure, a child may not be able to participate in the traditional sports that they previously enjoyed,” said Greenman, “so we try to get them involved with adapted sports.” The same efforts can be applied to those affected by the pandemic – finding new ways for kids to participate in activities they love.
Acceptance: Finally, Greenman advised easing back into socialization and acknowledging that we may not get a complete return to normal. Many changes that are occurring due to the COVID-19 pandemic could remain in place for a long time, if not forever.
“It’s OK to feel a little awkward in social situations,” she added. “Social anxiety may be heightened after becoming accustomed to being separated from peers.” But using these elements to plan transitions back to normal activities can help alleviate that awkwardness and bring kids back to the comfort of familiar routines.