A recent study conducted by Parents Together after speaking with hundreds of families found that 70% of children reported feeling more sad, anxious or overwhelmed six months into the pandemic. As a parent you may also be concerned with your child’s mental health and are wondering, “What can I do to help my child maintain a healthy mental state?” “What signs do I look for if I think my child may be struggling with processing or expressing their feelings?” Let's talk about 5 tips that can help you take care of your child's mental health as the pandemic continues.
1) Be Honest with Your Children
When discussing the pandemic, present your child with age-appropriate facts and information. Empowering them with information can help them feel as if they have some autonomy over their situation and can relieve anxiety. Providing your child with information can also help them understand why you may be implementing certain rules or restrictions (ex. frequent handwashing or limiting visits to their favorite inside events). Gauge when to give them more information and when to scale back, but stay in regular communication with them about how they are feeling.
Not talking with your child about the pandemic for fear of scaring them may make things worse. Talk with them and give them a chance to express their feelings and have it validated by someone they trust. Be transparent about your own feelings to give them permission to do the same.
2) Reduce Screen Time
According to a study recently published by The Journal of Preventive Medicine, adolescents who spend two hours or less in front of a screen after school and more time with extracurricular activities have better mental health. The study found this outcome was especially impactful for young girls, the more screen time, the worse their mental health. Less screen time was associated with higher levels of satisfaction with their life and less anxiety. The results of this study are especially relevant now due to restrictions that prevent young adults from being able to do their regular outside activities and the increased screen time during the school day due to virtual learning.
3) Help Your Child Stay Connected
Social time and connection are a big part of every life stage for children. They may be struggling with not being able to spend time with their friends and family. To help them not feel so disconnected, allow them to video chat with friends and family frequently. Check with your child's school for any virtual check-ins or groups your child can be a part of. Follow up with any neighborhood recreation or community centers that may be offering online classes that your child can participate in.
4) Know Your Child's Behavior
Look for unusual changes in your child's behavior or mood, as it may signal the need for intervention.
- Change in their sleeping or eating habits
- New pains or discomfort not linked to a previous illness
- Increased irritability
- Decreased performance in school
- Acting more withdrawn or anxious than usual
- Talking obsessively about their fears
- Exhibiting obsessive-compulsive behavior as a means of coping
If you are noticing these behaviors in your child, schedule a virtual visit with your child's primary care physician and ask for a referral to a child therapist if you don't already have one.
5) Foster a Safe Environment
Don't be afraid to ask your child outright about their mental health and feelings. Asking will make them feel better and you will signal to your child that you are willing to talk. Help them understand that anxiety, frustration and sadness are valid feelings during this time. Normalizing their feelings will also help your child feel comfortable with expressing them and not feel alone.
Come up with a signal or a word your child can use with you when they are feeling overwhelmed and need to talk. Consider designating a space in your home for them to go to when they need time to decompress or meditate. Provide them with emotional support. If you are self-assured and ok, you child will follow your lead. Model coping skills they can turn to for channeling their anxiety or sadness, such as writing in a journal, yoga or deep breathing exercises.
During this difficult time, give your child reassurance that this is a temporary situation. Help them to feel secure that this will not last forever. Talk to them about future plans and ask them what they look forward to doing once the pandemic is over to help them focus on the good things to come. Remember, luckily kids are resilient. With support and care, they will successfully get through these pandemic challenges.
For additional information about keeping your child mentally healthy during the pandemic, check out this great collaboration between Scholastic and The Yale Child Study Center.
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