As COVID-19 took over their lives, the world as kids knew it vanished overnight. Routines were gone, loss of structure started causing loss of motivation, increased sibling fighting, clinginess, behavioral and educational regression. Are the kids all right? Or is COVID-19 damaging them in ways that masks and social distancing can't prevent?  

These are just a few of the questions the Gloucester Education Foundation is pondering — and answering— in its free two-part virtual forum via Zoom: "Parenting During a Pandemic, creating stability in the midst of uncertainty." One part of the forum is Thursday, May 28,  at 7 p.m. and can be joined by registering at Eventbrite at https://bit.ly/2M1iui

On Thursday, Gloucester pediatrician Dr. Brian Orr, and Rebecca Wetter, school psychologist at O'Maley Innovation Middle School, will be joined by Dr. Mark Konecky. A Gloucester-based clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst with advanced training in cognitive behavioral treatment,  Konecky specializes in treating anxiety and depression for adults and families. 

The forum will be moderated by Aria McElhenny, executive director at Gloucester Education Foundation, and John Sarrouf, co-executive director and director of program development at Essential Partners, a Cambridge-based nonprofit that helps groups build resilience, cohesion, and trust across deep divides of values, beliefs, and identities.

The evening's topics include keeping children mentally healthy, and helping them to be social safely and deal with disappointment and grief.

The first panel discussion —  now available on YouTube— brought to the table Wetter and Orr, who shared some calming, and optimistic perspectives on the subject of parents and their offspring. 

The pandemic "might even have some positive effects on kids," Wetter said. "Rates of anxiety among kids had been through the roof due to the high-pressured competitive demands and over-scheduling. This time has given us a chance to sit back and enjoy our lives, to spend time together. Overall, I don't think we need to be too concerned. The kids will come out of this OK." 

Orr agreed. "This is a time where we have reduced a lot of stress on kids. ... Recognize that you're doing the best you can in this pandemic that has never happened before. So you're doing a great job. You have to take the good with the bad, go with the flow. And no guilt parenting!"

Orr and Wetter did not shy away from the negatives. Returning to school in the fall "is going to be hard," Orr said. "It's going to take baby steps." As for the question of kids spending time with friends, Wetter was adamant, "They have to! That's their job! They have to be with friends. There are lots of things they can do while maintaining social distancing regulations."

Last week's forum on Youtube can be found at https://youtu.be/Rn25SAJObpo 

The Gloucester Education Foundation, which has raised some $2 million to support programs throughout the Gloucester school system, has been pro-active during the COVID19 pandemic. As well as organizing these Zoom parents forums from members' homes, the foundation has partnered with local teachers and volunteers to manufacture for free distribution more than 2,000 face shields using 3-D printers at Gloucester High and O’Maley Innovation Middle schools.

For ongoing information on the foundation's activities, or for another link to the Zoom panels, visit www.thinkthebest.org.

Staff writer Joann MacKenzie may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or jomackenzie@gloucestertimes.com.

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