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TOPEKA — Tabbetha Meggison and the five young boys in her care have found a way to beat the loneliness of being isolated at home all day, every day.
They stay busy, and upbeat.
“We have what we call dance parties, where we turn on music really loud and we just dance like fools,” she said.
The Topeka woman and her husband have three children of their own, plus a couple of foster kids. The boys range from 2 to 9 years old.
The Kansas Department of Corrections announced Saturday that an inmate and another staff member have tested positive at the state-run prison in Lansing, bringing the total of cases there to five.
Health officials want Kansans to shelter in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In addition to the statewide stay-at-home order, Kelly closed public schools for the rest of the semester.
For Meggison, that means helping with classwork and putting together a new schedule for the boys.
Everybody gets up at the same time and eats breakfast. The older kids get on their iPads, where they will find daily and weekly lessons loaded by their school teachers.
The lessons cover all the usual subjects, such as math, English and even physical education. For the latter, students have to turn in a video that shows them doing push-ups or jumping jacks.
"It was really fun,“ Meggison said, ”because the 2-year-old and the 6-year-old were getting in there, and they had no idea how to do jumping jacks, and it was priceless. Absolutely priceless."
When the family needs something, the mother calls on Shayne Johnson, a foster family worker for KVC Kansas.
Meggison recently needed formula for one of the young children, but grocery stores were cleared out. Johnson put out a call to arms on a Facebook group for foster parents, and support rolled in.
For other families, Johnson has delivered iPads needed for schools. The devices also allow foster kids to video chat with biological parents while everyone is isolated at homes.
Johnson also will sit down and show families how to download software and use the device.
"I love this job,“ Johnson said. ”The kids are what makes it rewarding for me. I definitely love it. I've been doing this for seven years, and it makes me come back.“
Capitol Insider podcast
Chad Anderson, chief clinical officer for child welfare provider KVC Health Systems, says uncertainty involved with the coronavirus generates feelings of anxiety.
When can we leave our houses? When will the virus be eradicated? What is that going to look like?
For now, we don’t know the answers.
"It's the finality, right? It's when is this going to be over?“ Anderson said during an episode of Capitol Insider podcast. ”We as human beings want a beginning and an end.“
If you or someone you know are struggling with the loneliness of isolation, the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255.
Anderson has a lot of advice for coping during these unprecedented times, such as building a mental health toolkit to help with relaxation and distraction. He keeps four applications on his cellphone for this purpose.
An app called Headspace helps him deal with stress and sleep. Pandora offers soothing music.
He plays Clash of Clans, a video game that involves building and attacking castles, for 5 minutes after he gets done with work in order to calm down. The app won’t teach you how to relax, he said, but it is fun.
Netflix or other TV streaming services could be more soothing for you, Anderson said, but be careful about extremes.
The final component of his toolkit is Tripadvisor, which gives him hope for the future by thinking about where he could go on vacation.
"Each of us needs to have a coping toolkit in order to have our own space," Anderson said.
For children, Anderson recommends a literal box with things like a fidget spinner and Uno cards. Parents also should talk to kids about how they de-stress and overcome fears. Allow them to have fun and do things they want to do.
Anderson said children will pick up on anxiety. Parents should notice if kids are behaving normally. The failure to perform basic skills, like getting up in the morning, brushing teeth and dressing themselves, could be warning signs.
If children are withdrawn, showing a lack of interest in things they used to find joy in, or changing sleep and eating patterns, they might need professional help.
"We have to find ways to overcome what we're experiencing, and I really do see amazing things happening around,“ Anderson said. ”People are waving, they're engaging, even at a distance, and people are donating and caring for each other.
“We really want our parents and families to focus in on the wonderful things that are occurring within the world, and really spending some time focused on optimism and positivity."
Parents of teenagers should be frank about what is happening, said Pam Cornwell, clinical director at child welfare provider Saint Francis Ministries.
She said parents of teens should provide factual information, answer questions and be prepared to talk with their kids if someone in the family gets sick.
“Sometimes conversations about hard subjects are difficult for teens,” Cornwell said. “Be patient, listen and be ready to talk when they are.”
Cornwell recommends planning activities for teens. They could start a podcast to share with friends and family, or create a cooking show in which they try to make a new dish.
Separation from friends can provoke anxiety. Facebook groups and video chats can help them stay connected with social supports.
And when teens get upset, Cornwell said, don’t it personally.
“While teen emotional outbursts tend to be aimed at parents and siblings, this probably isn’t about you at all,” she said. “They simply are having a difficult time expressing their frustration and anxiety in less eruptive ways.”