For children and teens attending school is a developmentally appropriate form of socialization. It also provides structure in kids’ lives. With new social distancing restrictions, kids are missing their friends, their teachers, and their routines. Most parents are also now at home working and trying to balance work, economic hardships, finding necessary supplies, etc. They are also now having to help their children learn from home through new technology or simply trying to figure out the work that has been sent. Parents also enjoy socialization in the workplace as well as out in the community. So, they are also missing out on that! It can be overwhelming for parents to try and balance everything. As parents and caregivers we have a responsibility and opportunity to support our children through this difficult time.

Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. Children and teens may not talk to parents about their fear and anxiety. Usually, they will either 1) internalize their feelings, or, 2) act out on feelings and behaviors. There are some signs to watch for regarding your child’s mental health. These are signs that your child might be overwhelmed and stressed.

• Extreme worry or sadness

• Poor school performance or avoidance of e-learning

• Excessive irritation or crying in younger children

• Unexplained body pain or headaches

• Avoidance of previously enjoyable activities

• Unhealthy and/or change in sleeping or eating habits

• Easily irritable and “acting out” behaviors in teens

• Struggling with concentration and attention

• Regressive behaviors such as toileting accidents, bedwetting or thumb sucking

As parents, it is important to model positive coping with the stress we are currently experiencing. Try to be calm and confident in working through daily situations that are new and or upsetting. Here are some tips for parents to support the mental health of your child or teenager.

1.) Take time to talk with your child or teen about the COVID-19 outbreak. Provide age-appropriate information on how they can stay safe, and how others are doing their best to keep them and others safe.

2.) Soothe fears by assuring your child or teen that they are safe. Allow space for difficult feelings, and explore ways to cope with them. Talk to kids about their feelings. If they won’t talk, you might create a “worry box” for them to put their feelings in. Help them name their feelings and help them understand that it is normal to feel that way. Find ways for kids to express their emotions. Art activities, listening to music, getting outdoors and moving, breathing, relaxation and grounding exercises are all good ways for kids to cope. It is also important to talk about those in our community who are helping and find ways to communicate gratitude to them. You might have your kids create a journal and have them include daily things they are thankful for.

3.) Limit your family’s exposure to the 24/7 news cycle, including social media. Children may misconstrue what they hear and become scared about something they do not comprehend. Children do not have the same cognitive processing abilities that adults do, so it is important to limit what they hear and see. They may also become “overloaded” with information. The same is true for parents!

4.) Stick to a manageable routine. This is important. Have your child develop his/her own routine – one that works for them (within reason – set some boundaries about work, chores, etc.). Teens will want to withdraw to their bedrooms…and stay there. It is okay to spend some time there, but come up with ways to draw them out and engage with the rest of the family.

5.) Remember that you are their role model. Parents need to stay calm, address concerns, and offer reassurance to their children when needed. More than ever, it’s crucial for parents to serve as role models by providing hope, strength, unity and positivity. Use this time as an opportunity to truly bond as a family. Try some family activities you have not tried before. Validating the challenges for teens is important. The “losses” of proms, sports, activities, jobs, etc., are very real.

6.) Extend compassion to your children and yourself! Start with yourself – you cannot pour out of an empty cup. Parents can begin by giving themselves permission to feel unsure or scared or overwhelmed. Reach out for help by contacting a friend, a family member or a counselor. Take a time out when you need it. Go for a drive, a walk, just find a space and time for yourself. It is okay! In doing so, you can model this behavior for your child. Hold your child’s hand, hug them, talk to them about how they feel. Take time out of your schedule to sit down and play with them, interact with them. Allow them to find a place where they can escape. Create a sensory corner with fluffy blankets, scarves, manipulatives and other sensory objects where they can retreat.

7.) Be mindful of your child’s mental health. This is important! Be aware of behavior changes in your child. Read through the list earlier in this article. If you have concerns, reach out to a professional. There are many counselors now available through telehealth services. These are some resources you might call if you or your child needs mental health help: The SAMHSA Disaster Distress Hotline, 800-985-5990; Coastal Plains Crisis Hotline, 800-841-6467; NAMI Helpline, 800-950-6264; and Crisis textline,Text TALK to 741741.

Good websites for resources, help and more information include: Childmind.org, NAMI.org, CDC.gov, Mhanational.org, Americanbar.org, Who.int, www.sprc.org/news, Ama-assn.org. and Healthychildren.org.

Take good care of yourselves! Hang in there and reach out for help if you need it. Be safe and be healthy.

Some of the contents of this article were taken from www.thriveglobal.com.

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