“It’s been a rocky road,” says Julia “Mickey” Wilson. “I just keep thinking positive and being positive for my grandkids. It’s all about that PMA— positive mental attitude.”
Mickey has eight children of her own and 18 grandchildren — five of whom are in her care. Mickey takes the risks of COVID-19 very seriously. But her grandkids — ages 3, 5, 7, 8, and 10 — each have their own level of understanding.
It’s been difficult adjusting, but Mickey has been able to utilize resources through Children’s Wisconsin. From their pediatrician at Children’s Wisconsin Delafield Pediatrics to their child and family therapist, Mickey has found a great deal of support to help her grandchildren stay healthy, both physically and mentally.
“Above all, wear a mask,” says Yolanda Reese, MD, a pediatrician at Children’s Wisconsin Good Hope Pediatrics. “Every child over the age of 2, with some medical exceptions, should wear a mask whenever they’re out in public and social distancing of at least 6 feet isn’t possible.”
That is often easier said than done. Every parent and grandparent knows how difficult it can be to get a kid to wear a mask. But Mickey turned it into a game. Anytime she goes out in public with her grandchildren, it becomes a contest to see who can wear the mask the longest. The winner gets a small treat.
“Even my three-year-old grandson kept it on,” says Mickey. “It worked!”
Dr. Reese also stresses the importance of keeping up on your grandkids’ regular wellness visits, vaccination schedule, and, of course, washing hands regularly.
“Use warm, soapy water and scrub for at least 20 seconds,” says Dr. Reese.
For use throughout the school day, Dr. Reese recommends getting a small bottle of hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol that your grandchild can clip to their backpack. That should be used whenever they touch any commonly used objects such as doorknobs or school materials.
Lakiesha Russell, LPC, a child, and family therapist at Children’s Wisconsin, points out that younger kids learn by watching. “If you have a range of ages in the household, you can empower the older kids to act as role models.” When it came to mask-wearing or washing hands, Mickey started by focusing on her older grandchildren. As they practiced and demonstrated safe behaviors, the younger kids followed suit.
To help keep some sense of normalcy, Mickey got creative. Before COVID-19, the kids were in Tae Kwon Do. When everything shut down as the pandemic spread, they were upset and confused as to why they could no longer participate. So, Mickey turned her home into a makeshift studio. She pulled up instructional videos on YouTube and had her grandchild practicing their punches and kicks in the living room. The kids loved it.
Exercise not only has physical benefits but many mental and behavioral benefits, too. And those are equally as important.
“With them being so young, they don’t really understand, and that’s the hard part,” says Mickey. “They ask me why, why this and why that, and I don’t really have answers for them.”
This is all too common, says Russell. In the kids she sees, she’s been seeing increased levels of anxiety and depression. It can be difficult for grandparents to know how to manage those feelings.
“Sometimes grandparents are old school. From a cultural perspective, in the Black community, we don’t talk about how we feel, especially kids,” says Russell. “I encourage grandparents to engage in conversation, allow the child to express those feelings and anxieties, and acknowledge and validate them. It’s about creating a safe space.”
That’s important, but Mickey has even more simple advice. “Stay strong and keep the faith,” she says. “Keep loving on your grandchildren because that’s what they need.”