Last month, Dr. Erin Ax, a certified school psychologist and registered psychotherapist, noticed a shift in her conversations with local parents.
“Spring was like a mini-vacation,” Ax said. “There was online learning, but it more like, ‘We had a pancake breakfast and then we had class in our pajamas.’ It was unstructured and kind of fun.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic wore on, however, Ax, who has over a dozen years working in schools, as well as a busy neurofeedback and behavioral consulting practice in town, began to observe stress, anxiety and fatigue among parents.
“Summer hit and all this time parents haven’t had a break,” she said. “Then they started thinking about what going back to school would look like and I noticed a lot of stress and anxiety. I had parents calling to talk about the pros and cons of home schooling, and I realized that parents were scared to send their kids back to school and parents were scared not to send their kids back to school.”
So, Ax said, she started to think about what strategies and tools parents “will need to ensure their children’s success while they navigate the challenges they and their families are facing. In particular, as the pandemic heads into its seventh month and with schooling profoundly altered.”
The upshot? Ax is launching Parent Coaching During Covid, a five-session program designed to give parents of school-aged kids the strategies and tools needed to “make the best of the situation in order to help children adapt to learning from home in ways that strengthens the family bond, so parents and children are a cohesive unit.”
Ax will work with program participants over five private sessions. Topics include creating a learning environment at home, devising good routines, motivating kids and parent consistency. Ax also assesses young people to better understand their learning styles and how best they can organize themselves and develop planning skills.
“This is not counselling,” Ax emphasized. “It’s giving parents strategies to make home life easier, to improve their wellbeing and the wellbeing of their families.”
She added, “This is skill-building. It is introducing a topic in each session that relates to what the family is challenged with and coming up with practical strategies that are implemented that week. Then people come back to me the next week — or two weeks, depending on their schedule — and we talk about what worked and what didn’t work. It’s practical skills and strategies that will lead to greater communication within the family, which will lead to greater happiness, less stress and fewer challenges.”
Ax described her curriculum as covering fundamental, but important, topics. “I don’t want to say these are easy — nothing is easy when it comes to parenting — but they are good basic strategies that, when tried over time, lead to success at home. And, they will be customized around what people need.”
One component of the program, Ax said, is working on routines, in particular to make mornings as positive and stress-free as possible.
“I understand behavior and how important strategies are, whether it’s for a 7-year-old, an 11-year-old, a 17-year-old or a parent,” Ax explained. “For example, we look at how to teach a routine in order to make kids more autonomous. It’s giving kids more responsibility and parents more of a break, but it’s that teaching part that takes a while. Consistency, including between parents, is really important, too. These are some of things that we will work on.”
Ax remarked that the program’s contents are not new; they mirror a lot of what she covers with existing clients, but the program is new to the coronavirus environment. At the same time, she said, an upside to the pandemic is that many people are now more aware of the importance of their mental and emotional wellbeing, and the need to ask for support.
“I think there is a chance here to jump on this to give people support where maybe a year ago they wouldn’t have asked, but today they are more likely to ask,” she said.
Ax noted that clients can continue beyond the five-session curriculum and avail of other services that she offers, such as neurofeedback. “Neurofeedback and parent coaching can go hand in hand.”
Anyone wishing to participate in Parent Coaching During Covid can apply to the Telluride Foundation’s Good Neighbor Fund for funding. Ax is also partnering with Bright Futures for Early Childhood and Families, which will allow parents to avail of the program for little or no cost, an arrangement due to begin in the next four to eight weeks.
Ax said, “I think everybody is doing a great job given the circumstances and recognizing what we are going through is really hard. It’s unprecedented. I want to be a support to individuals and the community, so that people understand that they are not alone. Whether you are single, a parent, younger, older — everyone is feeling deeply right now. It may sound cliché, but we are all in this together. We need to recognize that we may need to dig in and go there, and for that, I want to be a resource and advocate.”