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Before you had your child, you may have felt like you knew what was coming. Late-night feedings, diaper changes, and making your way through those challenging teen years are all par for the course when it comes to parenting.
While you might have felt ready to handle anything parenting could throw your way, you may not have anticipated being tasked with guiding children through a global pandemic. Parenting right now is more challenging than ever before.
Currently, children are facing a huge amount of stress, and an increasing number of them require help for mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Seeing your child struggle emotionally is painful, but you can take some steps to help them learn how to deal with the changes COVID-19 has brought and is bringing into their life.
How is COVID-19 impacting children’s lives?
Before the pandemic, you aimed to do everything you could to make sure your child had a stable home and lifestyle. But you can’t control what the pandemic brings into their life.
Children have had to deal with many challenges during the pandemic. Many children have faced significant stress when their schools shut down or move online, and such educational disruptions may be occurring today or in the future.
Your child may also be struggling because of limited social opportunities, changes relating to extracurricular activities, or cancellations of life events such as friend-filled birthday parties or school dances. They might have even lost a loved one and are dealing with grief.
What are some signs of stress in children?
Even young children are showing signs of stress. Between the months of March and October in 2020, mental health emergencies among children between the ages of five and 11 rose by nearly 24%. While this age group sometimes avoids major stress from other types of life situations, it has been impossible to completely protect them from feeling pandemic-related strain.
Younger children sometimes indicate that they’re experiencing stress through physical complaints such as saying that they have stomach pain or headache. Your child might also seem clingy or cry more frequently. Older children and teens may withdraw from family members or earn lower grades at school. If you notice that something seems off about your child, you might want to explore whether or not stress is to blame.
How is the pandemic affecting parents?
In a recent study, 71.1% of parents reported having significant COVID-related stress. Although you may do your best to avoid passing down your stress to your child, children are perceptive and may be aware of your emotional strain.
When you’re looking to help your child deal with their stress and isolation, you’ll want to pay attention to your own mental health. Such attention can help you find ways to help your whole family stay emotionally well.
Why should you take care of your own mental health?
There’s some truth to the advice that flight attendants give passengers on airplanes: you need to put on your own oxygen mask first before you can help someone else. Children thrive when their parents are emotionally well, and it is possible that stress from the pandemic has led to you to struggle with mental health conditions such as depression.
In addition to depression, addiction is another common issue that could occur if you have unaddressed stress. Healing yourself first helps you strengthen your mind and body so you’re in a better position to help your children navigate an uncertain future.
Why is it important to create an open atmosphere?
As a parent, you’re the primary person that your child depends upon to help them shape their view of the world.
Right now, one of the best things that you can do is establish an open atmosphere that makes your child feel safe asking you questions and voicing their fears. Encouraging your child to talk to you when they are upset helps you to know where to direct your attention and helps them learn how to cope with the pandemic and other challenges.
Why should you limit your child’s exposure to news coverage?
There’s no doubt that media outlets frequently mention the pandemic, and it’s good to keep children informed about current events. But there comes a point where your child could face an overload of negative information.
Try to minimize how much screen time your child experiences each day, and try to avoid talking about what you see on the news to other adults when your child is within earshot.
What’s the importance of sticking to a routine?
Children do best when they know what to expect, and isolation procedures and school disruptions have upended many students’ lives. You might not be able to control when your child might be sent home for being exposed to COVID-19 or for showing symptoms of illnesses, but you do have the ability to maintain consistency where you can.
For instance, you can make sure that they go to bed at the same time every day, and you can create family rituals such as hosting a game night on the weekends.
How can spending time together help reduce pandemic stress?
Speaking of family time, making meaningful family memories together is still possible, even when your child needs to quarantine. In fact, you can make quarantine pleasant by planning a few fun activities that help your child to accept spending time away from their friends.
From creating a family painting to hang on the walls to playing indoor games of hide-and-seek, you can keep your child entertained while helping them learn how to be resilient in the face of adversity.
Although it might not feel like it right now, the worst of the pandemic will eventually end. You are also doing the best that you can, and no one has a roadmap to help them through these current challenges.
You are also not alone. When helping your child feels overwhelming, reach out to other people. Talking to other parents and mental health professionals can give you strength to help your child (and you) feel safe and secure during times of uncertainty.
nimh.nih.gov – Supporting Kids’ Mental Health During COVID-19
cdc.gov – COVID-19 Parental Resources Kit
healthychildren.org – Mental Health During COVID-19: Signs Your Child May Need More Support
ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Parents Are Stressed! Patterns of Parent Stress Across COVID-19
sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – Holistic Healing Treatment in Huntington Beach, CA
cdc.gov – Helping Children Cope