Exceptional Lives Team
July 23, 2020

Kitchen Conversation, Summer Style: Supporting mental health during summer fun

Marcela Mota Aversa is a Clinician & Early Education Mental Health Consultant at The Home For Little Wanderers and a Gallery Educator at the Museum of Fine Arts.


Follow up questions

How can I connect with my child who prefers to be alone?

How can I help my child to not spend so much time on screens?

View Slides


OK, we’ll get started here. Hi, everyone. Good morning or good afternoon, depending on where you’re joining us from. Today we are in our second session of our second series– Kitchen Conversations. So this series is looking at, how do we integrate these therapies into our daily lives now that we are at home during summer? Still trying to enjoy our summer days with our kids, while not losing track of what we’re working on in our different therapies.

So today we have Marcela joining us from The Home for Little Wanderers, in Dorchester, MA, to speak with us about mental health, which is on all of our minds over the summer as we are getting to know our kids even more than we knew them before. And also thinking about what things will look like next year. So I think we all have a bit of stress on our backs right now. So we’re thinking about mental health for ourselves and for our children. So I’m looking forward to hearing from Marcela with some tips.

Marcela, you can put your video on if you want to join us here so people can get to see you there. There you go. There we are.

So we’ll start with housekeeping, just a few things. This session will be recorded, but your audio will be muted during the session so that we can get through all of the content we need to get through in our 30 minutes. Everybody should be familiar with the chat function. If you could click on the chat function there to say hello, that would be fantastic. If you have any thoughts or comments as we go today, then please feel free to add that into the chat box while we have our 30 minutes here.

In addition, please click on the Q&A icon. That will bring up that window. And as you have questions, please post them in there. We will be keeping track of them, and we’re saving time at the end so we can be sure to answer your questions. If there are any questions that are not answered during our time, Marcela has graciously offered her time to reply to those questions. And we will post those on our website and through social media.

So a bit about Exceptional Lives. I encourage you to go to our website and poke around if you haven’t done so already. We provide disability information for families that need it. So we do that in the form of guides [Louisiana Guides/Massachusetts Guides], a resource directory [Louisiana/Massachusetts] that’s searchable, as well as blogs [English/Spanish]. And we have some specific resources for these times during COVID. So please check that out, and let us know what you think.

My name is Julie, first of all. I write for Exceptional Lives, and I’m proud to be a part of this organization. And I have three boys, as you can see here. And we are involved in a few different therapies for my children. And this photo is here because for us, mental health this summer is finding water at every chance we can. And so, I love this photo because their smiles on all their faces, and it is not like that all of the time. So we’ll find that solace when we can, and we all soak that in.

So without further here– we have a poll. I’m going to sit here for a minute, and I think we have a poll that we’re going to be asking you about your– here we go. So please tell us your experience supporting your child’s mental health this summer. So you can choose whichever speaks to you. And then we’ll move on to Marcela.

OK, we have quite a bit of providers looking for strategies to support clients and families– welcome. And all of the above. So I think that makes sense with what we were expecting. And I think that your presentation is well-suited to that, Marcela. So we will move forward. And just let me know when to move to the next slide.


So thank you so much for inviting me, for having me. I’m a provider. I’m not raising any children right now, and I don’t have any grandchildren. But I absolutely adore young families with children.

I think I’m going to start by bringing a little bit of compassion and patience to everybody, to us. Because right now, the way that things are, if we’re alive, we’re doing something well. So preserving our physical life is something that we don’t say out loud because we’re so busy with providing services, but the very first thing that we’re doing right is that we’re alive. And we need to keep that up in front– how to stay alive, first, as we keep remembering that we are still in that pandemic of things, and we’re raising our children.

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I live in the inner city, and I am violently allergic to light and ocean. So unlike the previous speaker, I don’t like sun. I don’t do water very well, except that of an indoor swimming pool.

So my summer is tailored by that image, and most of my clients are inner city children that don’t have access to beaches or lakes or ponds or anything. So that’s my perspective right now. My clients are here. I live in Dorchester which is in Boston.

So the first thing that came to my mind is that when I tell my parents and my service providers and the families that I work with, how can we support our children’s mental health during the summer, and trying to keep our sanity– I’m ready for the next slide. Thank you.

So, of course, when we approach mental sanity, we absolutely need to have some kind of anchor in time and space. Because we have lost so much of our mental anchors, we need to create one in the shape of routine. So most of my families just naturally transition after the attempts of school, remote school were done, were over to sleep more, sleep late.

So children are waking up very late, like the young children wake up between 9:00 and 10:00. If you have a teenager or you’re waking with families with teenagers, those can wake all the way until noon. So rather than get so anxious about when it’s feeding time or when do we really start our day as a family, just establish a late brunch. So that’s just the way it is. Your routine has to change, so just let it be.

It’s late. It’s summer time. So wake up very late, on a lazy summer morning. It’s OK if it’s close to lunch. Everybody slows down.

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We know, as service providers and parents that work with young children, that we know that children grow in summertime. So let them grow. And wake up late, and you just let people– your teenager, your children, brunch will be served by 11:30. So that’s a good anchor. So instead of having breakfast, lunch, and dinner, just have brunch and have dinner. And that’s a way to anchor routine during summer time.

So back to staying alive first. My experience in working with the community that I serve is that COVID-19 and deaths related to COVID-19 complications are getting closer to my experience– people that I know and they care for– and also, younger in age. Like at the very beginning, you only knew about people that were 65 years and older that were passing to this disease. And now I’m hearing people that are way younger that not only get infected, but also don’t recover.

So we have to remain alive. That’s what we have to do. And we know now, because it’s been drilling into our brains, that we have to wash our hands, wash our hands, wash our hands.

So this is not my idea. I work with this incredible group of teachers so they had ice cubes with trays, and they put different kinds of soap. Because we know that we need to wash hands, wash hands, wash hands. But to make it attractive and fun for the family, for your children, for your clients, they put shaving cream, shampoo, dishwasher, like little different– like a little bit of food coloring and make little foam.

And then every– it’s just like a game. And you make sure that you’re washing hands and rinsing, washing hands and rinsing. So that is a sensory input. And it can be a game. It can be like I used to trick my children when I was in the classroom to scrub everything in the classroom with shaving cream and different kinds of soap. So not only hands, but also surfaces can remain very, very clean with this kind of game.

And in order to not make a puddle of slippery soap, you use the soap, and then you have a towel. So you can keep– you’re drying the soap, as opposed to rinsing it. And then it’s a lot easier to take it off completely. So the worst thing that could happen to you is that the surfaces are sticky, but they still will be clean, for the most part, in terms of the virus.

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So some of my sites have opened already– some of the sites that I serve and I work with. So I haven’t been there physically because we’re not supposed to visit our sites right now, but I work with them remotely through Zoom and other tools. And I was very surprised to hear that the most difficulty that some teachers are having is to remember themselves, as adults, don’t stand too close. We need them the 6 feet apart. And that has been very, very difficult to remember for everybody– for children and for teachers.

So teachers just run to each other and hug and kiss and cough on top of each other. And even teachers say, whoops, I forgot, again. And I’m here, like, speaking into your face. Still with masks, but still getting too close.

So part of what we need to remember, we need to retrain our brains, which is kind of unnatural, frankly. It is very counter-intuitive. Because we want to get close to one another. So we need to develop narratives and games in which we can reassure that we can still love one another, and that we can still convey the fact that I still love you. I still care for you. Eventually, we’ll hug again and kiss again.

All adults– parents and service providers and teachers– we need to lead by example. You’re like extending hands and saying this is the way I keep you safe. It’s not about me, as we’ve been drilling. This is the way I keep you safe. This is the distance– this is the living space, the life-affirming space. Not out of fear, but this is the way I take care of you and that I show you that I love you.

Oh, the YMCA at Queens. So the YMCA at Queens, New York, never closed. Immediately after the pandemic, it turned into a child care emergency center. And so they have been open all the time, mixed stage. And they haven’t had one single COVID-19 case. And the way that they’re doing  that is they’re checking temperature every day at drop-off.

Everybody wears a mask– everybody, all day. Children and teachers and caretakers, every– it’s a game. It’s the way it is. It’s decorated. It’s a fashion statement. Everybody wears a mask all day long.

And everybody washes hands. I’ve got the tune of a song at every transition. So we know it works. Who wants to wear a mask when you’re a young child? But it can be done, and it works, and we know that it works.

So yeah. Teach and convey young model physical distance while washing, washing hands, and also modeling wearing the masks. And I do a lot of mask-wearing at school, especially with young children. It’s almost like playing peek-a-boo. The younger the child that needs right. So I have my collection of masks, and I wear them, and I show them. And I have dolls with little mask, and I say, this is my doll. She’s going out to play. That’s why she’s wearing her mask. So I model. 

OK, so if we have a late brunch, so we woke up late, and we had our meal very late, close to noon time. And then maybe we played a little with soap, or we took a shower or we played a video game or whatever, whatever it is that that your family or your children do. And then we still need quiet time. We keep quiet time alive. And children, I never believed it until I really started trying it with young children.

3-year-old children can meditate in silence. They can. The only thing that you’ll need is a timer. And if you begin with 30 seconds of quiet nothing, and, actually, those assignments that are there, like criss-cross applesauce, with certain [INAUDIBLE] or hands on your heart or covering your eyes like this, count to 30 seconds. You start with 30 seconds, quiet, quiet, quiet. And they slowly, gradually, grow.

And then, after a quieting, one of my teachers says, let’s reset our brains. And the way that we reset the computer in the brain is by covering eyes, and they count very, very slowly to 30. And then 30 seconds of silence. And then they wake up, and they stretch like waking up, and then it’s quiet time. 10 minutes to read a book or you can play with Legos or you can do whatever you want to do, but it’s quiet time.

It really works. It takes less than a week to establish quiet time for your family. And you can model as well. It can be tough for some. I’ve done it. 

Summer 2020. Who would have thought? Why when we were in New Year’s Eve, we say, 2020, oh I know that game. Well, guess what? Has everybody tried to reset the whole decade because it is not looking very good. The summer, it seems like in summer 2021, it’s starting to begin to look like maybe we’ll have one or three vaccinations that might work. So things will be closer to normal.

This summer it’s like a lifetime experience. It will never, ever, ever happen again like this one. It is like being alive in the sinking Titanic or, better than that, a little better than that, we are on the surviving boats with life savers around us. We’re waiting for the big rescue, but we’re alive. We didn’t die. We’re not sinking. Thank you, universe. We’re still alive.

And by 2021, we can maybe say that we’re survivors. But by 2025, when our children are maybe 8 or 10 or 15 or whatever age they are going to be, they are going to claim I am a survivor of summer 2020. It was not only the pandemic. It was also all the racial tensions that everybody’s enduring regardless of your color and your background. And the super high-intensity of getting closer and closer to the elections.

Next summer, we’ll have a new president. God help us right. Well, it’ll be done and over. This is the summer of high intensity. So we need to document these days because we, if we get lucky, may it be the will of the universe and the source of light, we are going to survive. We’re going to be the survivors of summer 2020. We need to document this.

There is super collectivity in the MFA. MFA play dates. So that’s me. And it is an activity inspired in a piece of art that is displayed in the Museum of Fine Arts when it’s open. And it’s for the whole entire family. You don’t need to know how to write in order to keep a journal of summer 2020.

And I’ve done it with children as young as 2.6, 2.7. And adults can sit down and journal the feelings and the thoughts and everything that is going on right now. And then you can color. The only thing that you need is some paper, like an old notebook, and drawing materials. And so there’s that activity, that play date.

The Museum of Fine Arts has other play dates that we’re doing while the museum is closed right now. And, yes, so keep a journal. We are going to be the survivors of these intense, intense period. And that conveys like optimism. We’re going to get out of this eventually.

Thank you, Marcela. And I just want to let everyone know, Marisa may have done this already, or she’s going to, put the link to the MFA site on there, so that you can access the art journals that Marcela was talking about, the kids activities. Or adult activities.

It is a family. Yeah, it is a family activity. It works very well with a group of people. And then children love it. You will be so surprised if you start this activity. Your 3-year-old child will tell you, where’s my journal at six or before going to bed.

Questions & Answers

I love that. All right. We have a couple of questions here, Marcela. So the first is:

Question: My child is doing well with summer activities, but when we even start talking about school, he gets incredibly anxious and shuts down. How do I open the conversation?

Answer: Don’t call it school. Who says that it’s school? It’s just super fun game that it’s fashionable and all the moms are doing. Why do we need to call it school? It’s just a super fun game. Yeah. That’s what comes to my mind. Reframe it. Reframe the activity. I have this mom that was supposed to do flash cards with her kid, developing language because he’s in speech therapy, and she’s a little behind.

So what she did was to play the flash cards with her husband first right in front of the kid until the kid came and they say, what are you guys doing? Said we’re playing this super, super fun game, which the flash cards to ELA said language. Of course she wants to play. Children want to be in always. No exceptions.

[I wonder, I don’t know, but I wonder if this person is speaking more to the fact that some kids are going back physically to school.]

I see, I see, I see. Well, we need to tell our children the truth. I think that we need to tell the children the truth and we say, well, yeah, yes, you’re right. There is COVID-19. This is going to happen, but there are many, many adults that are in charge of taking care of you. And these are the adults that are making sure that you’re going to be safe.

Mention the teachers and the caretakers. I am also making sure that your school is safe, and you’re going to see your friends. You won’t be alone. There were other friends with you. It won’t be the same. It won’t be the same. Your classroom will look different. You’ll have new friends and old friends. But adults are in charge, and we’re making sure that you’re going to be safe.

Yes. And the next question is similar. 

Question: My 13-year-old said, put it– well, actually, this resonates with me, my 13-year-old said putting on her mask makes her feel immediately anxious about COVID, and she starts thinking about the people she loves getting sick. And then she feels like she can’t breathe. I don’t know what to do.

Answer: I know. I know. Yes, yes, yes. I don’t have any other bright idea as to practice. Practice wearing the mask little by little. The way that I teach very young children to wear their mask is, again, with a timer. Make sure that the mask is bearable in texture. I’ve also dropped some essential oil in certain mask. That seems to help a lot to a lot of people.

And then just practice. Maybe wear the mask, if it’s hurting your soul, wear the mask, and record a YouTube of quiet meditation, a relaxing meditation, and try to just stay for 1 second, 2 seconds, 3 seconds, 3 minutes, four minutes. Associate the feeling of having the mask with a calming relaxing meditation. I don’t see any other way out as to patiently teach your child that a mask is a good thing. It’s like protection. It’s care. It’s love. Yeah. It takes time.

I think your point also about being honest and truthful and saying these are the things we know help us to stay safe, to kind of reframe that a little bit too, because that may remind him that this is going on. I know for me, sometimes, I’m in my bubble at home, and it seems normal-ish. But then you go out, and you’re reminded when you see the mask, say, oh, yeah, right, this is what’s happening. And that can be overwhelming. So I like your idea about being honest also, and that we’re doing this to stay safe.

I’ve also heard comparisons of wearing your mask is like a buckle, the security belt. So it’s just something to keep you safe. Or wearing your helmet when you’re doing your bike ride. Right?


Yep. Yes. Yeah. Well, that is our time here. So we are going to move on here and say, thank you, Marcela, for joining us for our second round. It was lovely to have you. And thank you all for being here with us today and taking some time out of your day. We really appreciate it.

So you can let us know here with this poll, how we did so that we can continue to evolve and grow our webinar series here. And we will look forward to seeing you on social media and check out our website. Thank you. Bye bye, Marcela.

Bye bye.


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