This interview is with Nicole Beurkens, PhD, about the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and “quarantine life” on children with different types of behavioral, emotional, and neurodevelopmental challenges. Families may be understandably worried that the stress of lockdown may aggravate their child’s struggles. Yet, we hear some parents say the situation has changed their child for the better. Why might that be?
A unique combination of psychologist, nutritionist, and special educator, Dr. Nicole Beurkens has more than 20 years of experience supporting children, young adults, and families. She is an expert in evaluating and treating a wide range of learning, mood, and behavior challenges. Dr. Beurkens holds a doctorate in clinical psychology, master’s degrees in special education and nutrition, and is a Board-Certified Nutrition Specialist. She is the founder and director of Horizons Developmental Resource Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she leads a multidisciplinary team dedicated to exceptional evaluation and integrative treatment services, research on innovative treatment protocols, and professional training on best practices.
Dr. Beurkens is a highly sought-after international consultant and speaker, award-winning therapist, published researcher, and best-selling author. Her work has been highlighted in numerous publications, and she is an expert media source. When she isn’t working, Dr. Beurkens enjoys spending time with her husband and four children.
- Her background as a holistic therapist helping children with severe behavioral and emotional problems, which combines training and experience in special education, psychology, and nutrition. She integrates these skills to uncover and address the physical, social, and/or environmental “root causes” underlying her patients’ symptoms, which often include dietary, sleep, immune, and other previously undiagnosed issues.
- How “sheltering in place” slows down and simplifies life, which can benefit kids with neurodevelopmental, mental health and other challenges by reducing the usual heavy demands of school, therapies, and activities; allowing them to take the time they need to accomplish things; and letting them get more sleep.
- That schools tend to focus on academic achievement at the expense of developing other important skills such as planning, time management, and interpersonal relations. Being home offers parents an opportunity to focus on nurturing these life skills through planned and spontaneous family activities.
- How parents can leverage the plusses of staying at home and minimize the minuses. Lowering stress levels and activity overload is key: Parents should not only limit their expectations of their kids, but of themselves. That said, this is an opportunity for adult-child collaboration on household chores and decision-making, especially with older kids.
- The importance of maintaining balance between learning activities, personal development, play, creative pursuits, and exercise or movement, tailored to your child’s and family’s needs. These need not be structured to be valuable; some kids learn best through self-directed activity. Boredom and doing nothing can also be valuable; parents should not feel compelled to entertain or teach their children all day long.
- Specific strategies to support children with different types of challenges during this quieter period. For example, those typically given an ADHD diagnosis, whatever the underlying cause, struggle with planning, organizing, and follow-through. Now we can help them practice these skills and become more independent by developing their own goals and schedules for the things they want and need to do.
- The opportunities the pandemic offers children with anxiety to face their fears and “build resilience.” These include developing coping strategies with a parent or tele-therapist, such as practicing talking back to negative, scary thoughts, or inventing their own. It’s also important for parents not to dwell on dangers and worries in front of frightened kids and to limit kids’ exposure to the news media.
- How Dr. Beurkens is balancing her own personal and professional lives, including doing telehealth sessions while having all four kids and her husband around the house. She emphasizes that constant communication and renegotiating priorities are key, and advocates finding a daily structure that works for your job and your
- The importance of parents’ own self-care, including finding new ways to exercise and relax so you can be your best for your family. The need to “focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t.”