The past few months of life with COVID-19 in our midst has given new meaning to the word “challenging.”
Adjusting to isolation and all the changes we are experiencing has not been easy for most of us, but particularly impacted are those most important to us, our children. COVID-19 increases stress, mood disturbances, and fears in children and adolescents. The stay at home order results in increased sleep disturbance, appetite changes, low mood, physical ailments, and low energy amongst our youth. Cognitively, children report increased difficulties with concentration and staying present. During adolescent development, young people require social interactions to develop interpersonal skills, which are crucial as they transition to adulthood.
May 7th, 2020, is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, a perfect time to address and focus on the mental health needs of our children at this time in our history. There are several steps we can take to help our loved ones adjust to isolation while caring for their mental health.
First of all, spend time with your child, listen to their concerns, and validate their emotions. Children and adolescents have similar worries that adults experience, including fears of infection, frustrations with the unknown, and boredom due to isolation. Allow space for them to grieve the loss of their high school prom, middle school science fair, or graduation ceremony. It’s important to answer their questions as best we can, even if the answer is “I don’t know.” What children and adolescents need most from families is to feel heard, supported, and safe. In life, we don’t have all the answers; but we can teach our children that even when we don’t know, we can survive and thrive.
Second, spend time together as a family. Think of it as a chance to enjoy family meals, play games, have a family talent show, a movie night, or complete a project. Time with our loved ones is a great distraction, a way to lighten our moods, and provides a sense of belonging and togetherness. Even with all the stress caused by the pandemic, time with loved ones is a priceless gift. A sense of belonging and connection will long outlive a pandemic.
Third, add structure and routine to your child’s day. Structure is good for all of us. Try to have regular meals and snacks, daily exercise, chores, relaxation time, and a bedtime routine. Structure gives us a sense of control in our lives and can lead to a healthy lifestyle.
Last of all, seek outside help as needed. Be aware of any changes in your child or adolescent’s mood or behaviors and reach out to your medical provider or therapist for assistance. Mental health clinics offer telehealth sessions, which are a great way to continue self-care and add support. There are many advantages to having individual, family, or group therapy that provide skills and a safe place to work through mental health concerns.
Awareness of mental health is an essential reminder for all of us during this challenging time in our history. Jean Berger, Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union director, described the pandemic as “like we’re in the middle of a hurdle race. Just when you get over one hurdle, you have another one in front of you, and you have to keep going over these hurdles until you get to the finish line.” We all face hurdles and “pandemic challenges”; we just need to get over each one.
National Children’s Mental Health Day is a way to remind ourselves of a significant hurdle – helping our youth know they are safe and resilient. We will get through this, and we will be stronger. See you at the finish line.
– Lisa Stevenson, LPCC, Child/Adolescent Clinical Director
If you’re finding yourself in a place where you or a loved one need help, please reach out. We’re here to help in any way we can.