Return plan for Maine schools still unclear, but families' mental preparation should start now

NEWS CENTER Maine spoke with a mental health expert at Northern Light Acadia Hospital to find out what parents and kids can be doing now to manage stress while awaiting schools' decisions -- and prepare for what the next season could look like.

Chris McLaughlin, associate vice president of Community and Pediatric Services at Northern Light Acadia Hospital, says it's an important time for families to try to be as united as possible, despite their personal feelings about the matter. Parents should set an example for kids by practicing flexibility and teaching them to release frustration and let people know what they're feeling or thinking ahead of time. 

McLaughlin says that if reopening of schools does happen, the summer is a great opportunity for families to prepare. They can do so by setting up hula-hoops for their kids to show what six feet apart looks like and have their kids wear masks for 10 to up to 30 minutes a day to build tolerance. Parents should also try to ease some of their stress now, too, by communicating with employers and a support system to figure out childcare issues and any other barriers.

Above all, McLaughlin says it's important for people to remember they are not alone -- and to connect with others, if they can.

"Recognize that you're in it together -- that everyone has this shared experience right now of going through this unknown," McLaughlin told NEWS CENTER Maine. "You know, I think there's something magical almost in taking stock with other families, extended families, and sharing -- 'How have you managed?'"

McLaughlin says he does think it's important for kids of certain ages to be on-site and learning in person but stresses that safety is the top priority. He is confident, though, that procedures will look better than the spring semester, no matter what happens.

"The advantage is we’ve all lived through it once, so to be able to re-create that to the best of our ability -- I think we can be more upfront and honest about what that would look like," McLaughlin expressed.