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Calgary entertainer helps with children’s COVID-19 mental health issues

Children are facing new problems with mental health as they struggle with the social isolation from COVID-19. A children’s entertainer is working to ease some of those concerns. 

The closures of schools, playgrounds and other facilities are impacting the mental health and well being of children, said Calgary psychologist Brent MacDonald. 

“They’re not able to play with their friends and be in contact with one another so that’s one of the bigger [issues],” said MacDonald. 

He said that most of the problems he’s seen in his office involve lack of social contact with friends and frustration with online schooling. 

“They’re not used to working independently […] It’s frustrating for them because they want to have physical contact.” 

Using music to cope with the emotions

Raymond Van Gobel — better known as Mr. Rayz — is a Calgary-based children’s entertainer with a background in trauma informed child care counselling. He has also seen the impacts from his interactions with kids. 

“They’re feeling very alone, isolated, depressed,” he said.

As a children’s entertainer, Van Gobel’s primary focus in his work is children’s mental health, with the main function being emotional intelligence. 

Van Gobel with his cuddle buddies. / CONTRIBUTED. 

“My mission is to help bring stress relief to kids by helping them to connect to a song emotionally,” he said, which can help them cope when they’re feeling angry or sad.

He said that children feel abandoned or punished, and they don’t know how to express those feelings verbally. 

“Our biggest struggle is that children don’t know how to emotionally self regulate,” he said. 

He said that music is an emotional trigger that we build into kids now so they can establish that self regulation. 

“I’ve got dozens of songs I’ve written about emotional exercise for kids and I’ve come out with a whole bunch of COVID songs trying to give language to kids,” Van Gobel said.

Music helps with some of the isolation and abandonment that children may be feeling and lessen some of that frustration. 

“The thing about music is that you can make a sense of belonging anywhere,” he said. 

“Until you process your emotions you don’t have peace. Music can be a type of therapy to get it out.” 

The importance of exercise

Exercise especially is difficult to get for children since many of the facilities are closed and there are restrictions with public spaces such as parks.

“The mind and the body are connected,” said MacDonald. 

“So doing what kids can do to stay physically active is very important.”

Van Gobel tries to mitigate that by offering a virtual living room dance party for children and mentions that it can help with negative feelings.

“Kids don’t have words, they have body language,” said Van Gobel 

He said that when kids dance for 10 or 15 minutes and get all that energy out, it helps them improve their feelings and mental health. 

“If we don’t get our feelings out by using our bodies there’s no way to release that energy,” he said.

Support as a primary factor

MacDonald said for performance and overall well being, mental health can have more of an impact than physical health. 

“There’s little differentiation between physical health and mental health,” he said.

“Our brains are physical so if we have mental health issues we also have physical health issues.”

For children, it’s essential for them to be communicative with people and have that social interaction. 

“It’s important to have a support network of other human beings, the need to talk to other people, it could be family or friends,” said MacDonald. 

“Just having someone else to communicate with is probably one of the biggest protective factors for strong mental health.” 

Van Gobel highlights that communication through his music and interactions with kids. 

“They don’t feel alone and they get to have their feelings operated more in a healthy way,” said Van Gobel 

“Kids should just be able to play and have fun and I try to provide that.”