Most parents are really concerned with keeping their families safe from Covid-19 and preventing its spread. But there is another aspect of this crisis that you should not ignore — its effect on your family’s mental health, especially during this lockdown scenario.
Constant news reports of the covid situation around our country, the scary reality of the effects of contracting the virus, and changes in routine – including the online class scenario – are just a few reasons you and your children may be feeling heightened stress and anxiety during this unprecedented crisis. It’s a very natural reaction to an unnatural situation. What matters most is how you react to and manage these feelings for both you and the family.
Below, experts in child health offer some tips to help you and your kids cope with COVID-19-related anxiety in a healthy way.
Your kids may have questions relating to covid or feel unsettled by the changes in their routine. This may be particularly challenging for kids who have experienced significant changes to the school, their friends, team sports, summer holiday, visits to grandparents, and other social activities. Here are ways to make this time more manageable.
1. Talk to your children about Covid-19
Talking to your child about the coronavirus is one of the simplest effective ways you can help kids manage their anxiety. Take time to provide age-appropriate information to your child. Clarify the information they bring to you, dispel myths and explain realistic ways your family can stay safe while preventing the spread of the virus.
“More than anything parents can just initiate conversations with their kids to understand what it is they might be worried about and be able to answer their questions,” says a child psychologist. This is especially important for kids heading back to school or other in-person activities. They may have questions or be anxious about something you haven’t even thought of.
For younger children, make sure you explain why you should wear masks, keep 6 feet between you and others and wash your hands frequently. If your child knows why you’re asking them to do something they’re more likely to do it.
Remember, too, that like any other serious or potentially stressful topic, talking to your kids about COVID-19 shouldn’t be just done once but it is important to keep the conversation going and to have open communication with your kids, no matter what their age is.
2. Limit TV and Screen Time
Spending more time being active and less time in front of a screen can boost your child’s mood (and yours). This is very important because of classes being online and time at home in front of phones, social media, and tv. Getting your family outside will help improve your mood, reset your mindset and improve your ability to keep a balanced mind.
Avoiding a constant stream of COVID-19 news can also reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Set specific times of the day when you check in on the news but try to avoid it once you feel you are properly informed.
Connect with others
Think of social distancing more as physical distancing. Try to maintain connections with loved ones even when you can’t see them in person. With your children, write emails or letters to friends, make videos to share, and call your family. If you have younger kids, work with other parents to set up calls and online playdates.
It is very important to not forget about your need to connect. Take time to get your own support from those who provide you with encouragement and happiness. In order to care for your child’s needs, you need to care for your own first.
Remember to show gratitude and humor
This is a time of adjustment for everyone and will likely bring some worry and discomfort. That means it’s even more important to engage in healthy coping behaviors as a family. Some ideas are:
- Finding humor and fun wherever you can through the day
- Creating a family game or joke of the day
- Allowing yourself to be silly with your children
- Writing letters or sending care packages to friends and family members
- Finding ways to help your community or others who are having a difficult time
This is a time of increased stress and changing routines, but it can also be a time to find joy if you make it a priority to look for it.
What are the warning signs that my child is struggling from stress, depression, or anxiety?
If you begin to see changes in your child’s behaviors and they don’t improve after several days, be sure to check in on them and consider professional help. Early signs that your child may be struggling include:
- Being irritable and tearful
- Acting out or throwing tantrums
- Seeking constant reassurance
- Changes to sleeping or eating habits
- Isolating more
- Feeling less motivated or not being able to get things done, like schoolwork or regular housework
- Not enjoying the activities they would normally
Times are tough, and the stress and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have been prolonged. On top of it all, many of the coping strategies we normally turn to – like visiting with friends – have shifted drastically. There is no shame in asking for help, for you or your child. Parents or friends who are worried about young adults, adolescents, or even younger children should check in on them and ask how they’re doing. Asking about depression, mental health, or suicide does not create or intensify the problem. Stay safe.