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Advice offered for Montana families struggling during the stay-at-home order

Posted at 2:48 PM, Apr 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-09 16:48:57-04

Montana's school closure was recently extended until April 24 and behavioral specialists say parents may begin noticing a change in their children's behavior.

"I would expect some behavioral changes from kids," said child psychiatrist Todd Rutherford. "Kids tend to respond really well to structure, and what have they really lost at this time is really all their structure."

While social distancing is necessary, Rutherford explained to MTN News that being stuck inside in social isolation could trigger depression and other behavioral changes.

"If they stop seeking out time with their friends. If they stop spending time with family completely, in a way they weren't before," Rutherford noted.

"If they're not getting their work done, if they're not getting out of bed, if they're having difficulty sleeping, those are all warning signs of depression," he added.

Kalispell Middle School counselor Susan Sherman said that she's seen evidence of this already.

"We're starting to see at school some of the kids that are disconnecting from classrooms," said Sherman. "So, that's feeling like a red flag to us also."

"And so, we're going to start reaching out to those parents and those kids," she added. "And what we're really going to focus on is how they're doing emotionally."

Sherman said the school district already contacted 13 families to figure out how to better help them, whether that's providing better technological or emotional support.

Rutherford told MTN News that a difficult part for parents is taking on multiple roles of family member, disciplinarian and teacher.

"I think it's important for adults to take care of themselves at the same time," he advised.

"Make sure you're getting enough sleep, not only is that going to help your immune system, but it's going to help you be more patient and alert with kids."

Rutherford says in families with two parents, parents should switch off duties and distribute them equally.

Meanwhile, Sherman says the Kalispell school district is constantly working to identify family's and student's needs and address those as soon as possible.