The post below was written by Michele Palk.
The Eastwood Psychologists team remain committed to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of our clients and community as we face COVID-19. Now more than ever, parents may wonder how best to support their children and youth deal with uncertainty, strong emotions like anxiety and sadness, and isolation from regular supports and social opportunities like school, recreation, respite, spiritual, community and other gatherings.
Given the next while will be a period of transition for us all, we want to provide some suggestions that may be helpful for your children and family:
1) Help children learn how to accept uncertainty: At times it is difficult for all of us to accept that many things are actually outside of our control. Now is an excellent time to teach children the difference between what they can, and is within, their control (i.e. choices, behaviour, attitude), and what is beyond their control (i.e. how long social distancing will be needed, how long schools will be closed).
2) Be available to listen: Although parents often want to help by fixing whatever is going wrong for their children, it is often more helpful to sit back, listen closely, and tell your children you love them. Helping your children by giving them the language to talk about, and name, challenging and intense feelings will also be helpful. Instead of waiting for your children to come to you, consider regularly checking in with them, and asking directly about how they are feeling at that particular moment.
3) See social media as social support and connection: The majority of children and youth are already connected to one another via various social media and gaming platforms; now is the time to let your children show you all they know, become involved in their online worlds, and encourage ongoing connection with friends and loved ones. This is also a natural way to monitor your children’s television and gaming routines. Consider things like scheduling times to be online with other families for gaming competitions, watching movies and television shows “together” at the same time, learning how to cook and bake that vegetarian lasagne your child’s friend always brings to potlucks by watching their uncle make it “live,” learning how to make kinetic sand from scratch, amongst others. These are just some of the many things your children, family and social connections can do “together” during the next while using available technology.
4) Promote a healthy, consistent routine with healthy options: During times of stress, often the first things we sacrifice are the very things that are most helpful: sleep, exercise, nutritious foods, hydration, meditation, mindfulness, laughter, amongst others. Help your children by modelling, scheduling, and encouraging healthy choices each day. Keep a regular bedtime routine, schedule in daily exercise/movement, tell jokes, remember funny stories, and eat your fruit and vegetables. Reminders and modelling about hand hygiene, greetings using elbow pumps, coughing and sneezing with a tissue or using the crooks of their elbows, social distancing, and letting you know as soon as they begin experiencing any symptoms of fever, cough, and cold will go a long way to supporting both your family and our larger community.
5) Help our community: When children and adults alike experience stress, anxiety, depression and other strong emotions, the desire to withdraw into, and focus on ourselves becomes very enticing. While on the one hand that focus is important to (re)establish and practice healthy routines like those mentioned above (regular sleep, exercise, health eating), helping others is another important way children and adults alike can support their mental health. During this time, connecting with you and your child’s friends, parents/caregivers, neighbours, and extended families and determining what kinds of support are needed, and who can provide them, will show your children they can help others even when they are experiencing stress and other challenging feelings.
Our world is currently going through rapid changes, so it makes sense to feel confused about the best ways to support our children and families. Being honest, available and open, creating healthy routines and choices, maintaining social connections and offering social support are important ways to help foster the skills our children, families, and communities need to help manage the current, as well as future trying times, and prosper thereafter.