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Published on October 06, 2020

Navigating distance learning critical for employees, their children

Father and daughter

10 tips from Montage Health child psychiatrist

With most schools still remaining physically closed because of COVID-19, many employees and their families are struggling to help their children adjust to distance learning. Navigating unfamiliar educational teaching methods, filling gaps left by the lack of in-person instruction, and supporting kids who miss the routines of school challenge the work-life balance in many Monterey County households. One of Montage Health’s child psychiatrists, Dr. Susan Swick, provides tips to help make it work.

If your Monterey County business is interested in learning more about the mental health services that Montage Health can order to your employees, their children, and families, please contact Community Hospital’s corporate accounts manager Gene Fischer at or call (831) 658-3983. You can see more of Montage Health’s support for employers at

10 tips for parents – from Dr. Swick

  1. Anxiety is a normal response to uncertainty and change. It’s normal for disruptions to generate more worry, sadness, or preoccupation in children. If their anxiety is impairing function — such as losing sleep, not being interested in things they used to love, or losing contact with friends — it may be a good opportunity to check in with them and find out how they’re feeling. Connect with a pediatrician if you feel your child needs more support.
  2. Help children develop new coping skills. How working parents cope often is the foundation for how their children cope during stressful times. You should assess your own coping skills and how they impact your children – and try to add one new skill to your routine, with the focus on relaxing and recharging. Relaxing activities may include anything that can help take your mind off the stressful situation, such as listening to music or reading. Recharging activities leave you and your children feeling more energized, activities such as exercising, talking with friends, or something creative.
  3. Worry less about screen time. What children are doing on their screens is more important than how much time they are spending on a screen. If a child is spending time at a virtual band practice, doing school work, having some senseless fun, and then connecting with friends over Zoom, those are four different activities that are good for children. If they’re simply spending the day playing video games or watching TV, that may be something to address. Making sure there’s some balance in the day is key.
  4. Get outside to avoid the screen hangover. If any family member spends more than four consecutive hours in front of a screen, it’s likely they will feel a little headachy, bleary, or irritable. Build some natural breaks into the day for physical activity or fresh air outside.
  5. Don’t worry unnecessarily about long-term impacts of isolation on younger children’s development. Preschoolers’ interaction with you, other family members, virtually with teachers, and peers, goes a long way. There are some consequences to isolation, as the youngest children learn by doing and exploring with their eyes, hands, and bodies. A lot of that happens at school by interacting with other kids. Some of this learning will be delayed while they’re not in school. Kids, however, are like rubber – they’ll make up any lack of social development quickly once they return to in-person school. The critical piece for you is to set aside time every day when you can be fully engaged with your children.
  6. Plant a few fun surprises or games throughout the day to incentivize learning in younger kids. It can be difficult for young kids to sit in front of a screen and learn for eight hours a day. In addition to building in breaks for physical activity and to get outside, you should offer your children a few surprises to keep learning fun. For example, have your child search for a specific word over the course of the day, like a scavenger hunt. When they find it, reward them with something they find meaningful, whether that’s one-on-one time with mom and dad, or a walk to get ice cream.
  7. Be sure kids interact with their peers, even if it’s virtually. One of the most difficult elements of virtual school, especially in younger children, is they don’t have nuanced relationships with peers that allows them to feel connected with friends. Be sure to provide them a chance to connect with those friends in a safe way, whether they get to play together with masks or chat over Zoom after school to talk about their days. That kind of interaction helps ground them and make school feel more connected and social.
  8. Accept that there is going to be some sense of grief and loss. It is not your job to protect your children from heartbreak, loss, or disappointment, no matter how much you want to. Instead, you must be ready to listen and acknowledge frustration, sadness, and accept that there's going to be grief this year. Parents who sit beside their child and acknowledge how it might feel and are curious about how they're feeling demonstrate they are confident in their child’s ability to handle these difficult days. Parents can reassure them that eventually we’ll get our balance back and will feel delight and joy and curiosity again.
  9. Talk with children about what physical environment will help them learn. Is it a comfortable chair? Is it being set up outside where there’s some sun and fresh air? Is it about having mom and dad nearby or far away? Find out from them what they think might be helpful for their learning, and let them have some control over their own day.
  10. Parents need to take care of themselves, too. It is critically important that you working parents take good care of yourselves by being thoughtful about relaxing and recharging. It can feel indulgent to think about relaxing while working, directing a home school, and running a household. Ensure you’re getting enough good sleep, exercising, having time with other adults.

Dr. Swick

Meet Dr. Swick

Dr. Susan Swick is physician in chief of Ohana, a program for child and adolescent behavioral health at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. Dr. Swick joined Community Hospital in 2018 after serving as the chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Newton Wellesley Hospital for five years. She was an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and at Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Swick graduated from medical school at Columbia University in New York, where she completed an internship and residency. She completed fellowships at Harvard Medical School and New York University. She is board-certified in psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, and forensic psychiatry.


What is Ohana?

Ohana focuses on child and adolescent behavioral health. The program will include crisis stabilization and outpatient treatment, as well as education and wellness programming in partnership with community institutions. Ohana will be a resource for families in Monterey County and will include Ohana House, a welcoming and healing space, tentatively scheduled for completion in the fall of 2022. Ohana House will feature 16 psychiatric hospital beds for youths experiencing a psychological crisis, a mental health clinic to treat issues before they turn into crises, healing gardens, and a gym. Ohana is being created with the support of a landmark nearly $106-million gift from donor Bertie Bialek Elliott. To learn more about Ohana, go to

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From Dr. Swick

"There will be some loss and disappointments this year. As parents, we can't fix it even though we wish we could. But you can sit next to your kid and validate how sad it is and how you wish it wasn't so, and how you also know that in five, 10 or 20 years, you'll be talking about this incredibly difficult, crazy year and maybe marveling about the really interesting and exciting things that came out of it for them.” —Dr. Susan Swick

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