As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, the weight of the mental health burden on children is becoming more clear. In most cases, the initial stress response has given way to lingering anxiety and uncertainty about the future.
Surveys suggest that children are absorbing the same grown-up worries and stress that are driving a surge of anxiety or depression among U.S. adults, while the normal outlets for defusing those tensions have evaporated. - Laura Santhanam, PBS
Parents and caregivers have reported feeling "ill-equipped" to deal with new signs of depression and pandemic-related anxieties from their children and students. The diverse changes to our work, play and home lives are becoming increasingly difficult to navigate without clear timelines for returning to "normalcy".
Yet researchers suggest simple coping strategies can make a difference. Telling jokes, using meditation or yoga to relax and even encouraging optimism can ease a child’s anxiety and nurture resilience, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.
Parents can rely on the three R’s — reassurance, routine and regulation — to help them help their kids, Bartlett said. That can include:
Reassure them about their safety. Younger children want to know grown-ups are working really hard to protect everyone. Older kids have probably heard stories or rumors about the virus and may be ready for more age-appropriate conversations about what’s happening and what’s being done to help their household and community get through this pandemic.
Stick to a routine. There’s a time to sleep, a time to wake, a time to learn and a time to play. Preserve those schedules as much as possible. And when things do change and there’s any notice, let the child know so they can mentally prepare. Even a small heads-up can help a child navigate uncertain times.
Regulate. Different coping mechanisms work for different kids — exercise, deep breathing, movement, quiet time. Whichever strategy works can improve a child’s capacity to deal with big feelings, their ability to learn and relate to other people.
It’s also important for parents to model good behavior for their kids, and part of that is by taking care of themselves. When you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, take a bath, drink a cup of tea, call a friend, move around or go outside for a walk, if you can do so safely. It will revive you, she said, because “if we don’t take care of ourselves, it’s hard to take care of others.”
Things won’t always go as they’re supposed to — 2020 has clearly offered a master course in that concept. The study says parents should try to keep their children at the center of what they are doing and thinking, without losing sight of or shortchanging their own needs. “You almost can’t go wrong if you do that,” she said. “Even if you feel as a parent that you’re not doing the best job in the universe, you’re doing the best you can and your kids know that and they’ll be okay.” - PBS
Philip Fisher, a psychologist and child development expert at the University of Oregon, said in July that many people say they are “finding more comfort in their young children,” and emotional support networks have become more hyperlocal, shifting away from friends and workplaces to grandparents and neighbors. Research shows, Fisher said, those emotional supports offset stressors.
As much as parents are straining, Fisher said, they are also showing incredible resilience themselves, and their children are learning from those tiny moments scattered across so many months. During Zoom calls for his work, he said his colleagues are “juggling these impossible tasks” — work, kids and life. “Parents are the true heroes of this pandemic,” he said.
While we're still learning about the long-term educational and mental health effects of COVID-19, there are small steps we can take day by day to build resilience in kids and buffer the long term effects of trauma and pandemic-related stress.
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