Creative Child

Protecting Your Child’s Mental Health During the Pandemic

by Rebecca Eanes

Our children’s lives have been upended for the last several weeks and are still living with the uncertainty of when things will return to normal. Many kids are reported elevated levels of mental distress, anxiety, depression, fear, and loneliness. It’s crucial that we do all we can to protect our children’s mental health during this crisis. If nothing else, this pandemic will show our kids their own resilience and teach them critical coping skills that will serve them the rest of their lives. We can draw some positives from this if we are willing to look for the silver linings. Here are six things we can do as parents to help protect our children’s mental health (and our own).

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Create new routines that provide a sense of connection, safety, and stability.

Routines provide kids with a sense of belonging and stability. Parents know that a good bedtime routine and general daily rhythm helps keep kids on track, so it makes sense to add in a little something extra fun to help offset the anxiety kids are feeling. Since the pandemic began, my family has taken to outdoor movie nights in our backyard and long drives on country roads, milkshakes in hand, for a nice change of scenery. Add something special to the mix in your family that you can do together on a regular basis. That could be family art events, game nights, movie nights, trips out for ice cream, read alouds, hikes, or whatever you know soothes your children and helps them feel connected. Doing so will infuse a positive, happy memory into this crisis that they’ll look back on. One day, they’ll tell their kids, “I remember during the pandemic when we had to stay home for weeks, my parents took us twice a week for sundaes and hiking. We had such a good time together.”

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Acknowledge their feelings.

Parents are dealing with a vast array of our own emotions right now, and in comparison to some of the problems this crisis has made us face, our kids’ problems can feel like small potatoes. Remember, though, that their problems are big in their world, and we should listen to and validate all emotions they are having. There are no right or wrong feelings about what they are experiencing. They’ve lost a big part of their school year, sports seasons, parties, proms, graduations, sports games, dances, and daily face-to-face connections with their friends. In addition, they’ve had to try to adjust to online learning, new schedules, and fears they haven’t known before. It’s important to practice active listening skills and be empathetic. Tell your kids that all emotions are okay, that you hear and understand, and that you’re there for them. Most often, kids aren’t looking for you to fix all their problems as much as they just want to feel seen and heard.

Model self care.

You can’t give your best to your kids if you aren’t taking care of yourself. Make sure you’re getting adequate sleep, exercise, and nutrition. Turn off the news and take time away from your screens to recharge. Now possibly more than ever (because they’re with us so much more now), our kids are watching how we are handling ourselves during this crisis. When they see you taking care of yourself, they will know it’s an important part of protecting mental health and will be more likely to practice self-care themselves. 

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