Mental Health for the Whole Family During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Written by Dr. Sharon Arbel, Ph.D. on .

Mental Health for the Whole Family During the COVID-19 Pandemic
March 4, 7-8:30 PM

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Dr. Sharon Arbel is a Clinical Psychologist with over 20 years of experience helping children and families.  She owns and operates a private practice in Tarzana (which is currently online) where she sees her own clients and also supervises and trains interns in their clinical work.  She is a former university instructor for graduate level psychology students and is the mother of three children.  Dr. Arbel will be giving a virtual workshop to the WHPS community on March 4th about "Mental Health for the Whole Family During the COVID-19 Pandemic."  She will also be contributing monthly to our newsletter via a Q/A section for the remainder of this school year. 

This Month's Q & A With Dr. Arbel

Q. My child is constantly telling me that he is bored. With extracurricular activities cancelled and far less social interactions, how can I help him feel less bored?

A. First off, boredom is nothing to be worried about.  Boredom is actually a pretty wonderful experience, which children in today's day and age do not have enough of. Boredom leads us to feel more comfortable with ourselves and find creative ways to entertain ourselves as well as give ourselves permission to simply rest.  When your child complains of boredom, rather than presenting him with various options of entertainment or jumping in to entertain him yourself, you can simply reply with, "that's great, I want you to feel bored at times because that it healthy for your development."

Secondly, I will say that I am seeing a great deal of kids recently who are not interested in some of the things that were previously very enjoyable to them.  This is a mood-related symptom and thus "bored" can often be a synonym to "sad/empty."  Be sure that you are attuned to how your child is using the word.  If you have a hunch that it comes from a place of feeling sad or empty, your leaning in and helping him to cultivate that language and self expression to tell you what is really going on will be very important.  Our presence as parents is truly key during this very challenging time in our lives.

Q. My children fight often. They have been spending so much time together during the pandemic that they can't stop bickering.

A. This pandemic certainly has blurred boundaries between siblings.  In some families, the sibling relationship has been a saving grace during this time of social isolation, while in other families, it has been a significant stressor due to the constant bickering.  Everyone needs boundaries and time alone.  See if you can prescribe time alone for your children every day.  It would help if they also had a safe space where they could go and unwind or read or just be alone. Furthermore, see if you can integrate quality time with a parent (1:1) every week. Finally, pay attention to the ways in which you deal with the bickering.  Do you jump in to meditate or reprimand? Sibling rivalry is very commonly about parental attention so the more that you can stay out of the picture, the better for everyone. 

Q. My children have so much screen time these days. What is the time limit that I should be implementing?

A. This is a question I get asked daily by parents in my practice, and it's a very legitimate one.  Between learning, socializing, playing, and exercising online, kids are getting screen time well beyond the recommended amounts.  The key here is to pay attention to the quality and purpose of the screen time.  In other words, what goal is it serving and how important is that goal?

Outside of the school day (whether online or in person), children need to be getting exercise and outside play, as well as socialization.  They need to practice social skills, be a contributing member of their household, interact with peers their age, and interact with their parents.  They need a proper sleep and meal routine.  If after all of these things there is time left over for playing video games, then there is no harm from time to time. Just pay attention to the order of priority of the important daily tasks that come before playing video games and watching tv.  If you are clear with your child about their responsibilities, screen time becomes less of a battle.

Processing the January 6 Events in our Capitol

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

Many of us woke up this morning still processing the insurrection that took place in our nation’s capitol yesterday. It’s difficult to make sense of the confusing, frightening scenes or imagine explaining the situation to our children. What is important to remember and to impress upon our kids is that the brave people who are helping will eventually bring order and peace. We can also assure children that the majority of Americans are joining together to support justice and democracy and that the dangerous and unlawful people we saw in the nation’s capitol yesterday will not be successful in hurting our country.

There is a lot to unpack in understanding how something like this could happen. Talking about this with children can feel like opening Pandora’s box. But, not talking about it is a missed opportunity to talk about racism, white supremacy, oppression and disenfranchisement, which has led to this reckoning. As we all contend with our own feelings, we will be uncomfortable, and it’s okay to sit in our discomfort over what this nation has allowed to happen. Talking about this with children, in a reassuring and developmentally appropriate way, can be yet another means to help our children become even better human beings than we are.  

Advice we shared with teachers:

  • Preschool and kindergarten students may not have heard much about the situation and would benefit most from consistent routines and the understanding that their family members may be more stressed right now, leading to potentially some different or challenging behavior. If children do bring up the events, correct any misinformation and reassure them that this happened far away and that they are safe. 

  • 1st grade and up (but for sure 2nd and up) kids may have more knowledge about what happened. We encouraged teachers to ask at Morning Meeting, "What have you heard about the events that happened yesterday?" Don't go far beyond what they already know, and model a calm and reassuring tone. 

Advice for parents and teachers:

  • Young children, up to age 6, need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurance that their school and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them. If they’re afraid about their safety at school, give simple examples of school safety like reminding them about doors/gates being locked, teachers always with them on the playground, and emergency drills practiced during the school day. 

  • Older children may probe with deeper questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done to keep them safe. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Talk about how school and community leaders make schools and communities safe. 

To help extend the conversation, here are a few resources that you may find useful. 


Adapted from resources shared by:

The Child Mind Institute

The National Education Association

Columbia University Teachers College & Lucy Calkins

Elementary Division FAQs - 2020-2021

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

We have summarized some of the common parent questions about what to expect this year in "COVID times." While of course we are subject to any new orders from government and health officials, here are some FAQs based on what we know at this time. We hope it will answer many of your questions.

Q. Is school open for in person instruction?

  • TK-5th grade is open in person for regular school, 5 full days/week.
  • Some families in TK-5th grade have chosen to remain on distance learning with a dedicated distance learning specialist teacher. 

Q. How are we keeping students, families and staff safe at school?

This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some key safety guidelines:

    • Class Family Groups - A static group of no more than 16 students with one teacher. The children in each group will learn, eat, play and have specialist classes together but may not physically mingle with others on campus. 
    • Outdoor Learning Spaces - COVID-19 is much less likely to spread outdoors. We have added additional sheltered outdoor learning spaces with clear partitions between students and new portable classrooms that are heated/cooled and can be open-air on nice days. 
    • Visitor Restrictions - Health officials currently recommend that parents use rolling drop off and do not get out of their vehicles at school. 
    • Physical Distancing - Enforced through Interactive Modeling and gentle reminders.
    • Scheduled Hand Washing (and of course as needed)
    • Temperature & Symptom Screening - Anyone coming on campus will be screened for a fever or symptoms. 
    • Sick Policy - Anyone coming on campus must be symptom free (fever, diarrhea, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, runny nose) for 24 hours without medication. Out of an abundance of caution, staff/students will need to go home immediately and get a test to rule our COVID-19 if symptoms occur at school. 
    • COVID-19 Testing - All families and students must get tested before returning to school and to follow all public health guidelines. Elementary students and staff must get tested weekly (using our free on-site saliva swab test or an outside testing program of their choice).
    • "The COVID Times" - We share a weekly community update every Friday with updates to the guidelines and restrictions. All families and staff must follow these in order to attend school in person. 

Q. Are all the special area classes (Spanish, Music, Art, PE, Science/Social Studies, Animal & Nature Studies, Tech-Lab) still happening? 

Yes. Specialist classes are happening, but students may not go to the Art Studio, Computer Lab, etc. This is to avoid having multiple Class Family Groups cycle through a shared learning space. Most specialist classes are being taught outdoors. We have also expanded 1:1 devices for every student in grades 1-5 so each student has a dedicated device (laptop, Chromebook, iPad, depending on grade). Some special area classes may be taught through Zoom - into the classrooms.

Q. What about after school classes like Mandarin, Team Sports, Robotics, Art, Drama, Cooking, Speech & Debate, etc.?

These classes are temporarily on hold. Because the current guidelines and best practices suggest keeping students in static groups and not mixing, after school classes are temporarily suspended until we are able to mix or combine groups. We plan to bring these classes back as soon as it's safe. 

Q. I saw that when WHPS reopened in June, campus is now open 8am-5pm. Will you go back to 7am-6pm in the fall?

We know families rely on us for childcare, and we will do everything we can to get back to 7-6 as soon as possible. The reduced hours are primarily because of the strict cohorting requirements (we can't mix students from different Class Family Groups). We will resume normal hours when the cohorting requirement is lifted.     

Q. If we ever need to switch to distance learning in the future, what is the schedule?

If there is ever a class closure/quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure, the daily schedule  includes LIVE daily instruction throughout the morning in SEL, Math, Reading & Writing. In the afternoon, specialist classes are also taught live: Spanish, Music, PE, Technology, Art, Animal & Nature Studies.

Here is an example of the elementary distance learning schedule (all BLUE classes are taught live).

Semi-Virtual Graduation

Written by Seth Pozzi on .

If you have never been to graduation at WHPS, you are missing out. I have not seen an elementary school experience quite like it. We feel very strongly that every student's voice matters and that they have something important to say that we all need to hear. If we don’t give students that opportunity now (in elementary school), how can we expect them to speak out as they get older? As we reminded our graduates last night, the older they get, the more serious the consequences can be if they don’t speak up when something doesn’t seem right. 

It's impossible not to think about the world these young people are going into and the current local and global events we are all facing together. What I do know about this outstanding group of students is that they fill us with hope for a brighter future. These students: Are passionate in many different areas, they know that their voice matters, they are goal oriented, and they speak up for other people when something isn’t right. We love and admire these graduates, and we are honored to have been an integral part of their development

Meet the Graduates

If you have ever wondered what a WHPS student is all about, I encourage you to check out this year's speeches. 

The Drone

We hosted this year's event semi-virtually.  We were all live in the school parking lot, but due to physical distancing requirements, students each gave their speeches on the big video screen (see speeches above). For non-touch diploma delivery, we flew each student their diploma on a drone. Check out one of the diplomas taking off, en route to a graduate.

Teaching Kids to Confront Racism

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

This has been a heavy-hearted and difficult time in our city and across the country. We stand in solidarity with peaceful protesters and the fight for equality, and we unequivocally denounce the senseless killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and many others as a result of the persistent structural racism against African Americans in our country. It is a gut-wrenching but important time to be talking with children about racism (anti-racism), bias and advocacy.

Some tips for talking to children about the recent events:

  • First and foremost, a rule of thumb for parents and teachers when discussing any mature topic, whether it has to do with racism, school safety or puberty, is to follow the child’s lead.

  • Don’t avoid talking to your child about what happened. If you avoid the topic, your child may find the event even more threatening or think it is simply too horrible to speak about (and even if it is, we NEED to talk about it in order to confront it).

  • Invite your child to tell you how s/he feels, but avoid leading questions, such as “Are you worried about ______________?”

  • Answer the questions they’re asking honestly but reassuringly, but don’t delve deeper into the topic than they take it. Give children the facts they need to know now, but avoid discussing your fears or anxiety.

  • Correct any inaccurate information: If your child has misconceptions or inaccurate information, correct them in a simple age-appropriate way.

  • Reinforcing safety is important with very young children.

  • Stay calm and use “emotional self-control” when talking about this topic. The emotions you express will influence your child’s feelings.

  • Focus on ways your child/family can take positive social action.

Below are just a few resources parents may find helpful. Let us be clear, we are not sharing these links and resources to point out how much we have already done, but rather to acknowledge the amount of work that likely won’t be finished in our own lifetime. We are committed to advancing anti-bias education and working with our community to address inequities that have persisted in our country for far too long.

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