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Local counsellor highlights COVID-19's impact on children: 'Their normal has been taken away'

Kelsey Dugas suggests keeping some kind of routine with children to maintain a sense of normalcy during this disruption to their lives

Kelsey Dugas has some basic advice for coping with life in the time of COVID-19.

“My general message is always the same and that’s we’ve got to bring some compassion to ourselves,” said the local counsellor.

She emphasizes the importance of focusing on what we can do to feel better when our normal routine is turned on its head.

Often, what we need is a step back from the crush of information we are getting on COVID-19. It can be overwhelming especially for those who are already facing issues of anxiety.

She suggests limiting the amount of information we consume and “make it only certain parts of the day.”

Spending time with the family, getting fresh air when possible and hanging out with friends by using things like Zoom and Facebook are all helpful tools.

“Try to maintain some of the routine that’s been taken away from us,” she said.

Dugas opened her own counselling business in January 2018.

The registered social worker specializes in supporting and assisting youth. Her focus is on people in the LGBTQ community, though she works with all youth throughout the Algoma District. “Childhood is a crucial time in a person’s life – it can make or break them,” she said in a SooToday story about her business launch.

“If people open up and talk about their issues, they can work through them and a positive difference can be made.”

Since opening, things went very well, she said. “When I started, I definitely had a fair amount of kids. Now, I probably tripled the amount of kids I was seeing back then … It shows there was a need.”

A lack of services for the LGBTQ community, which faces heightened risks, was something Dugas saw as particularly important. “I felt the need to provide some filler to that gap,” she said.

The COVID-19 situation has affected the way Dugas conducts business. She works mostly from home using video technology. She has her own work space and is able to maintain the required confidentiality.

It’s also changed the focus of what is being discussed with clients.

“It’s created so much anxiety in so many people,” she said. “The topics we are having now are not necessarily the topics we had a month or two ago.”

Most of the people Dugas works with are in school. “Their routine is completely flipped upside-down.” A young person’s sleep patterns are off, their eating patterns are off and this all affects mental health.

Dugas said that as adults we fear the health aspects of COVID-19, whereas children are more worried about the disruption to life. “Their normal has been taken away.”

It’s important for parents to try their best to maintain a sense of normalcy and some routine.

One silver lining is that the situation has provided an opportunity for more family time and it’s encouraged people to reach out. She said we’re all experiencing similar emotions and want to come together.

Young people may have an advantage over their parents because of their experience with technology and social media.

“I think we put so much emphasis on our kids not having screen time and I appreciate that … But at this time, I think it’s great they do have this technology,” Dugas said.

The situation also highlights what we are missing.

“For kids, I don’t think they realize how much fun they have with their peers when they are actually together,” said Dugas.

Though she’s thought about it a lot, Dugas isn’t sure how COVID-19 will affect society and relationships in the future.

She believes that families are getting together more, but at the same time, it will be a challenge for everybody to quickly go out and be their social selves. The longer the distancing lasts, the harder it will be.

“It’s not normal for anybody. I just work primarily with children, but this is a huge shift for our entire world.”