COVID-19 has turned our lives upside down, and for children this also means school closures, canceling playdates, and upending their regular routines. Just as parents are focused on maintaining some normalcy and activity in their everyday lives, they must also work to develop environments that nurture the well-being of their kids.
Basing our research on psychology and parenting experts, we have created a list of ways that parents can support their child’s mental health in these uncertain times.
Recognize the Signs
According to Mental Health America, there are some common signs for parents to watch out for that may signal that your child is struggling with their mental health. Of course, you know your child better than anyone, and seeing behaviors that are extremely out-of-character (but that do not appear on the list below) can also be a sign for help. Common symptoms of a mental health problem in children:
- Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Extreme anxiety
- Frequent nightmares
- Avoidance of people
- Drastic changes in eating or sleeping
- Lack of interest in things they once liked
Mental Health America also has a Parent Test and Youth Test if you are trying to determine if your child’s emotions or behaviors may signal a problem.
Love & Support
Showing your child that you love them often takes more than saying the words ‘I love you’ (although that is always important), giving your kids lots of hugs and recognizing the things that they are doing well every day are also ways to show you care.
Spend dedicated time with your children without any distractions (such as electronics or work) to demonstrate your focus on them.
Just as your child knows what to expect at daycare or school each day, developing at-home routines for virtual schooling and activities will help them feel more secure in uncertain times. Talk to your child about what their regular days involve and write down (or draw) a schedule that will work for you both. Be realistic about your goals for yourself and your kids, so you ensure the routine is maintainable for the long-term.
Talk It Out
When children see their parents in a state of anxiety, they are more likely to experience anxiety themselves. Brigit Katz from Child Mind recommends finding stress management techniques that work for you and modeling those to your child.
Katz also suggests that parents discuss anxieties in a rational, calm way with their children. Discussions like these give kids the tools and language to talk about things that they find stressful and to normalize feelings of concern.
Physical health has an impact on mental health, and a lack of sleep or proper nutrition can make issues worse. Create schedules for your child that allow them to get enough restful sleep every night and encourage them to take time during the day to relax and wind-down.
Apps such as HeadSpace offer mindfulness exercises and videos that are tailored to young minds.
It seems so simple and obvious, but we often forget that playing is an integral part of letting kids learn, grow, and get creative. Outdoor and active play have benefits towards anxiety and self-esteem while also “enhancing the parent-child relationship.”
Create playful moments in your day and get outside for a walk or to pass a ball. These activities will benefit both you and your child.
As discussed in our article Explaining COVID-19 to Your Kids, it’s important to keep up a conversation about what is going on in the world with your children. Share the information that you have, such as when they can expect to go back to school or what their birthday may look like this year.
Remember to Reach Out
While parents are responsible for the well-being of their children, they do not have to do it alone. Friends, family members, and mental health professionals are all great resources for parents to reach out to for
Even though schools are closed, school counselors and psychologists remain available to help parents navigate these times with their children as well. Additionally, parents can take moments to focus on their own mental health through different self-care activities.
As a co-parent, your other parent is your primary resource in gaining insight into your child’s moods and behaviors. Using a co-parenting communication service like Talking Parents can allow you to communicate to your co-parent your child's needs in high-anxiety situations more easily.