With each passing day during this pandemic, it can be hard to maintain a positive outlook. Our desire to return to a ‘normal’ life gets questioned and hope and faith become challenged. To varying degrees, isolation, fear, and loneliness have become a greater part of our lives. It is simply part of the struggle we are all facing. Without a doubt, our kids are facing that too.
Prior to this pandemic, our youth were experiencing the highest rates of anxiety and clinical depression ever. According to the National Institutes of Health, anxiety disorders in adolescents increased 20 percent from 2007 to 2012. Today, 1 in 3 teens will experience an anxiety disorder. The percentage of teens who experienced at least one major depressive episode increased rapidly at about this same time. Today, 1 out of about every 5 girls reports experiencing symptoms. Startalingly, the suicide rate for young people ages 15 to 19 increased by 76 percent from 2007 to 2017 and nearly tripled for adolescents ages 10 to 14.
Covid-19 has further provided reason for anxiety and depression among our youth, setting the stage for an even worse epidemic of compromised mental health. An April survey of nearly 3,300 high school students taken by Active Minds, found that roughly 20 percent say their mental health significantly worsened under COVID-19, and 8 in 10 students overall are struggling with focus on school and work.
We must as communities, as families, and as individuals, focus our attention to our children and youth with a greater degree of concern and purpose. The one thing we all need right now more than ever is connectedness. The sense of belonging, of being part of strong healthy relationships with one another is absolutely essential. It is what our children are craving from us and those around them. We’ve compiled a list of 5 things we as parents can do to support our kids and provide them with a foundation to stay healthy during these troubling times.
Let Your Kids Talk it Out
Every day should involve opportunities to connect with your child and allow for them to express themselves. Some kids open up easily and others don’t give us but a word or two. So prompt them with questions like, “Tell me about your day. What was your favorite part and what didn’t you like?” or “It’s pretty scary at times. Tell me about what you’re scared about most.” At overnight camp, we complete every day with ‘Apples and Onions’. Taking turns, each camper tells everyone something great about their day (an apple). Then each describes a negative experience or feeling (the onion). Campers are encouraged to listen fully to their peers and then offer productive comments or suggestions. Kids open up, kids share their feelings, and in doing so create a more healthy and confident perspective for themselves.
A Healthy Body Provides for a Healthy Mind
We’ve all learned that the extra time at home during the pandemic can either motivate us to care for ourselves physically or binge Netflix way too much. The former not only provides a healthier situation for our body, but aids in putting our mind in a better place. When we are eating well and exercising, we typically feel better about ourselves, which then provides us with the confidence to tackle those mental challenges. This is particularly true for our kids. Stay active, get outside, and shut down the screens. There is nothing more destructive than not allowing children to play and move their body. Creating regular opportunities for being healthy will pay huge dividends for a healthy mind.
Take Care of You, Because it Takes Care of Them
Focusing on caring for your kids and ignoring your personal health is just not sustainable for them or you. Your child looks to you first for an example and is the most powerful tool for teaching your child. So care for yourself. Take time to relax, meditate, exercise, and maintain your own social bonds. Doing so will make you happier and more productive when it comes to supporting your child.
Seek Professional Help When They Need It
Unfortunately, most children don’t get mental health services from professionals. Be an advocate for your child. If they are experiencing repeated nightmares, showing signs of persistent anxiety, demonstrating aggression, disruptive behaviors, or regressive behaviors that are not normal, then seek help.
Seek Positive Relationships and Connectedness
The absence of physical interaction and connection with friends and family has a long-term impact on our kids. They, like us, are social beings. Their validation comes first and foremost from other humans in close contact with one another. For most, the pandemic has drastically reduced those opportunities. So seek opportunities to connect with a variety of people. Create social distancing get-togethers in the front yard, Facetime the cousins each week, or schedule a watch party with the grandparents. These opportunities for connection don’t come readily right now, so plan them. The more opportunities you create, the more your child will feel part of the lives of others.
Being a parent in ‘normal’ times can be one the most challenging jobs. In a pandemic like this, it can be overwhelming. All the more reason for coming together and refocusing our attention where it matters most. Take the time to try out these 5 things. I am confident they will go a long way in helping your child see through the fog of uncertainty and fear, and in doing so will clarify your vision for the future and improve your own mental health in the process. Hang in there.
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