Life is full of uncertainty, and the public health concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic have increased stress and anxiety levels in children and adults in an unprecedented way. Our communities, leaders, friends, and family members are reacting intensely, which increases our distress. Whether you believe the world is overreacting or underreacting, try to remember that these reactions are based on fear and worry. Be kind. Be compassionate. Be understanding.
Now is the time to do all we can to protect our mental health and the mental health of those we love. Children, teens, and young adults are particularly affected by intensified uncertainty, and those who have already experienced mental health challenges will most likely struggle the most. It is vital that we come together, as parents, to offer each other support, without judgement. Our children need us now more than ever.
With that in mind, we would like to offer suggestions and resources for managing the mental health of your children.
- Give children a chance to express and feel their feelings. Children have their own way of expressing upsetting feelings; sometimes they become withdrawn, irritable, or angry. Help children find ways to express disturbing feelings, such as fear and sadness. Reassure them that these feelings are appropriate under the circumstances. According to World Health Organization (WHO), “children feel relieved if they can express and communicate their disturbing feelings in a safe and supportive environment.”
- Children feel the most safe when they are with family and caregivers. If separation is necessary, ensure that regular communication is maintained, such as phone or video calls and other age appropriate communications
- Maintain as many familiar routines in daily life as possible. Children do better when they know what to expect. Structure and routine help children feel safe.
- It is common for children to seek more attention and feel more attached during times of stress and crisis. This is a time for reassurance, so take the time to comfort your children when they seem demanding.
- Be honest, but provide facts. Give your children age-appropriate information about the virus and address their concerns.
- Children will pick up on the emotions and cues of adults around them. Pay attention to what your children are hearing around them. Talk about it honestly and avoid dismissing what they may have heard.
- Monitor your children’s social media and screen time. Constantly checking for updates on the coronavirus can increase anxiety. Instead, engage your kids in fun activities, such as playing games or reading.
- Put your oxygen mask on first. Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your own stress levels. Exercise, eat properly, drink plenty of water, and keep regular sleep routines.
The constant stream of news reports about COVID-19 can cause anyone to feel anxious or distressed. Seek out accurate information and practical guidance and avoid listening to or following rumors. Here are some excellent resources:
- The World Health Organization (WHO) has dedicated a section of their website to COVID-19 with daily updates based on facts.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a webpage dedicated to information on COVID-19 and guidance on managing mental health and coping for children and caregivers.
- The JED Foundation has fantastic tips for teens and young adults on practicing self-care.
- McLean Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, has written an excellent blog on how to care for mental health during this challenging time.
- The National Association of School Psychologists has prepared this guide as a resource for talking to your children about the virus.
- The American Psychological Association has written tips for keeping the news in perspective: 5 Ways to View Coverage of the Coronavirus.
- At The Youth Mental Health Project, we have a free, downloadable guide for Talking With Kids about Emotions and Feelings, which is a great place to start when the world becomes a scary place.
As always, if you are concerned or have questions about your mental health or the mental health of your children, contact your mental health provider or clinician. To reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 1-800-273-TALK 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Text “START” to 741-741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.
At The Youth Mental Health Project, we have made the difficult decision to cease in-person parent support meetings of The Parent Support Network for the months of March and April. Our first priority is to protect the health and safety of our volunteers and the parents and caregivers who are supported by our programs.
We have, however, prepared a contingency plan that will enable us to continue to provide vital support to parents and caregivers during this stressful time. We will be providing virtual parent support meetings that will be open to all communities, as well as open virtual support meetings for any parent not associated with an affiliate. If you are interested in being on the email list to learn more about these meetings, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.