Staying home from school would seem like a vacation for most teens but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought more stress than happiness to many students. Parents without the skills and training in education have turned into substitute teachers and kids are trying to cope without traditional classroom strategies and extracurricular outlets.
Tammy Tucker, PsyD, a psychologist and associate administrator at Memorial Healthcare System, says, “Kids already struggling with mental health issues are dealing with the added stress of not having an emotional outlet. Teenagers often times don’t get along with siblings or parents and are stuck inside their home and need a break.”
What Are Kids Feeling?
With so many families learning how to cope with the unknown of the pandemic and adjusting to this new normal, kids are dealing with many different emotions.
Kids are feeling lonely and isolated, they may have the traditional technology to talk or text with friends, but not having the physicality of being with friends is depressing to many. They are also experiencing a sense of loss when missing out on milestones and rites of passage like dating, going to parties, hanging out with friends, prom, graduation, special recognition events, sports, there’s no way to mark time with the traditional milestones. Kids feel they are “missing out on life” with no way to measure these significant moments.
How Can Parents Help?
Here are eight strategies parents can use to boost the mental well-being of their children.
- Parents need to recognize their own mental health struggles. If a parents has anxiety for example, kids will feel it. It’s important for parents to take care of themselves and refill their emotional bank so they can take care of their children’s emotional needs.
- Acknowledge children’s feelings. Parents need to make time and listen to kids talk about how they are feeling. Don’t dismiss their emotions, acknowledge that this is difficult.
- Provide routine and structure. Set up a schedule especially during the weekdays for your child/children to wake up, shower, participate in their school schedule, exercise, recreational time etc. to provide a sense of normality. This will also be helpful when kids can back to school and they will be better prepared to deal with routine and structure.
- Find new and creative ways to celebrate milestones. We are seeing this all over the country with drive by birthday parties and parking lot graduation ceremonies. It’s vital to create memories in non-traditional ways.
- Encourage creative ways for kids to safely socialize. This could be through Zoom, FaceTime, or even supervised physically distanced in-person gatherings outdoors.
- Give kids some control. With so much taken away from our children, their school, friends and even proms and graduation, it helps to allow them some choices. Allow kids to choose the family’s meals, pick what movie you watch, or even the game on game night.
- Encourage exercise over screen time. With so many children forced on laptops or other devices for distance learning, it can become tiresome staring at a screen all day. Get adolescents and teens moving, this is helpful for their bodies but more importantly for their minds.
While these coping mechanisms may help boost a child’s mood, these do not take the place of the treatment of a mental health professional. If your child is struggling or needs professional help, please reach out for an appointment with one of our specialists.
You can also find help by visiting the National Alliance for Mental Health; you are never alone.