Guidance for Parents & Caregivers in Supporting the Mental Health of Children During COVID-19
1. Try to keep a predictable routine: Keeping bedtimes, wake up times, and mealtimes fairly consistent can create a sense of routine and predictability. Older children may help you develop a schedule so they have a sense of agency in these uncertain times.
2. Talk about feelings: It may be helpful for children if you normalize feelings of anxiety, fear, sadness, confusion, etc. Saying things such as, “It’s normal to feel scared. We have never experienced anything like this before.” Or, “It’s okay that you are sad that you may not be able to go to school for a while.” Some conversation starters may be helpful to facilitate these discussions, e.g., “What scares you the most?”, “How were you brave today?”, “What was the best thing about today?”
3. Limit media exposure: Talk to children about what they have heard about COVID-19 and attempt to correction misperceptions. Attached you will find a social story that explains COVID-19 for children and may serve as a coloring book. Perhaps choosing one media source to share with older children and teens can help them feel informed. This may also be a good time to check social media accounts to make sure older children/teens are not receiving false or sensationalized information about the pandemic.
4. Monitor your own behavior: Children rely on their parents and caregivers for a sense of safety and stability. If you are over-sharing anxieties about the pandemic in front of your children or engaging in uncharacteristic behaviors such as excessive drinking, use of profanity, etc., children may pick up on these cues and this could increase their own anxieties. Take time to address your own mental health concerns.
5. Provide activities and sources of stimulation: This may be a good time to pull out the puzzles, board games, sidewalk chalk, crafting supplies, costumes for dress up. Baking, riding bikes, going for walks, praying, dying Easter eggs, saying the rosary, meditating, may be fun activities to help pass the time and provide opportunities for enrichment. Even video games may be a source of stimulation during this time of isolation. Don’t fret over days children go over the time limit for video games and online viewing. We all need breaks!
6. Keep in contact with others: While playdates and sleepovers are not recommended, it may be a good time to connect with others virtually. Phone calls and apps such as Skype, Facetime, Google Duo, Zoom, etc., can allow you to maintain contact with friends and extended family members during this time of isolation.
7. Get outside!: Go for a family walk, ride bikes, go on an outdoor scavenger hunt, find leaves to make rubbings, walk the dog, go on a hike, fly a drone, look at the stars, plant a garden, pull weeds, do yoga in the driveway. We all need fresh air and vitamin D, so get outside!
8. When to seek help: While some symptoms of depression and anxiety may be a normal reaction to this unprecedented situation, it is important to monitor symptoms. Signs of depression and anxiety in children may include: changes in sleep, changes in appetite/weight loss or weight gain, irritability, fatigue/low energy, feelings of worthlessness & guilt, diminished ability to concentrate, fear of being away from caregivers, thoughts of death or suicide. If your child’s symptoms should escalate, you may consider seeking professional help. Feel free to contact Dr. Julie Sell-Smith, clinical psychologist at Saint Thomas Catholic School for a list of mental health resources.
Dr. Julie Sell-Smith