Covid, quarantining, social distancing, and mask wearing have been challenges for both kids and adults. The current state caused by the pandemic can stir up emotional responses in everyone. Karah Molesevich and Suzanne Presley, School Psychologists, provide some tips for parents to deal with the emotional difficulties that their children may be experiencing during the pandemic and offer advice about how to help kids to cope.
Anxiety is the fear of the unknown and with the pandemic, we have many new unknowns in our world. Classic symptoms of anxiety in children and adolescents include worry, racing thoughts, nervousness, fear, irritability, restlessness, feeling on edge, eating or sleeping too much or too little, muscle tension, concentration difficulties, isolation, and stomach upset.
Depression is another common condition that many people have developed over the pandemic. Depression is a mood disorder characterized by symptoms of saddens and loss. In youth, signs of depression can include change in appetite or sleep patterns, anger or irritability, fatigue, lack of interest in once enjoyed activities, isolation, sadness, or sudden fluctuations in mood.
If you notice these symptoms in your children or an increase in these symptoms since the pandemic, talk to them! Ask your kids about their feelings every day. How can you do this? It’s simple! Ask them, “How are you feeling?” Provide your children with reassurance and validate their emotions. Remember feelings aren’t right or wrong, they are states that come and go. Do not judge or criticize your child for their feelings, they are their reality and very powerful to them. Let your children know that you are sorry that they are feeling sad or anxious and that you know how uncomfortable those feelings are. Ask them what you can do to help, and then really listen.
Help them to identify if their fears are rational. With anxiety, it is easy to catastrophize or accept the worst-case scenario as your reality. Ask your children to consider the likely outcome of the situation that is causing them distress. You can also ask them to consider the best and worst-case scenarios and what they would do or feel if those possibilities actually developed. Help them to identify probable outcomes and to focus on those. Help foster positive thinking at home. Avoid statements like, “The pandemic is going to last forever.” and try to say things like, “This is all going to be over soon!”
During the pandemic, it is important that kids have at least one caring adult to talk to about their feelings. This does not have to be mom or dad. A child may feel more comfortable confiding in his or her aunt, uncle, older cousin, grandparent or neighbor. Ask if your child would like to connect with another family member or close adult friend and help facilitate that conversation.
Exercise is a great remedy for anxiety, depression and stress. A brisk 20-minute walk can do wonders for your mental health. Ask your child if they would like to go for a walk with you or take the dog for a stroll. Take advantage of the cold! A change in temperature can help you to focus on the moment, calm down, and ground you. Encourage your child to go outside and at least take some deep breaths or take in some sunshine. If you are stuck inside due to weather, you can dance together in the living room or find a free online yoga or aerobic video on YouTube. Try to structure active family exercise time but respect if your child prefers to exercise alone. If exercise isn’t your thing, that’s okay, maybe try to cook together or play a board game. Drawing, art projects, and making crafts are creative ways to express emotions during this time too. Spending time with your child will help them to feel supported and not alone. Take advantage of technology and Zoom or FaceTime with your child’s family and friends.
Try to set aside a half hour each day for some family emotional self-care time. Make a list of options that each member of your family can independently do during this time. Some ideas include reading, journaling, knitting, meditating, playing basketball, painting your nails, taking deep breaths, enjoying a hot bubble bath, stretching, playing with the cat, or whatever is relaxing to you!
Try to make mental health a normal topic of conversation at home, check in with each other about feelings, and try to plan time for individual and group self-care activities. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. There are many supports at school and in the community for both you and your child to deal with this tough time. Don’t be afraid to take care of yourself too! Just like on the airplane, you have to put your oxygen mask on first before you can help someone else with his or her mask. Stay safe and be well everyone!