How can we help our kids cope with the mental health impact of COVID-19?

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK and with the current environment we find ourselves in, mental health has been a pressing issue for many. Our kids are not spared by the pandemic's mental health impact so, today, we'll be diving into some tips on how parents can help them manage their feelings. 

covid-19 mental health impact on kids: how can parents help mitigate it?

As adults, we may be managing stress about the pandemic, financial insecurity, working from home, while also trying to ensure our children continue to get the education they need during school closures.The latest data shows 1.5 billion children are out of school around the world, showing the extent to which parents are affected by the current situation.

While so far all of us have been focusing on keeping our kids learning while schools are closed, it’s important to move the spotlight onto their mental health. In a recent study by ParentKind, 35% of UK parents mentioned children’s mental health and their child not socialising with peers (48%) as 2 of the biggest concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. 

Kids know this is not normal. When we experience fear, uncertainty, anxiety, and sadness, they experience it too. Even kids that are too young to voice their feelings (or understand them just yet) will react to & be affected by their environment

As adults, we are better equipped with stress responses and coping mechanisms that help us deal with challenging situations.. However, it’s essential to consider how our children might be handling this in the absence of pre-existing coping mechanisms.

So, how do we help our kids cope with this stressful situation?

1. Maintaining structure and consistency.

For children especially, the biggest stressor to their mental health is the change to their daily structure. As Jena Lee, medical doctor of pediatric consultation and emergency psychiatry at David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles, recently said in an interview for Healio Psychiatry: 

“Daily structure is important to everyone, but particularly to children in their psychological and emotional development. The consistency of schedules, predictable rules and consequences, and set expectations teach children how to behave, develop self-discipline and impulse control and, importantly, a sense of safety and control. Clinically, we often see an exacerbation of behavioural problems in our pediatric patients when their routine or structure is disturbed.”

Children’s emotions, including anxiety, are well regulated by the structure in their lives.

Speaking to UNICEF about this subject, Dr Lisa Damour, an adolescent psychologist in the US, said that it is really important for kids to have a schedule for the day.  She also said that kids need as much predictability as parents can offer them. 

 

So, try to get a schedule that includes play-time (screen and no-screen), school and times to help with chores if the kids are older. If you’ve already been doing schedules as part of your stay at home time, amazing!

2. Talk to them! Simple as that. 

For a lot of kids, this will be the first time they are experiencing any feeling of uncertainty or anxiety. Having an open conversation with them about their feelings and ensuring they know it is safe for them to open up to you will encourage them to do so in the future. Here are some tips on how to do so from mental health charity, Young Minds: 

  • Talk to them about what’s going on. Find out how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking about, let them know it’s okay to feel scared or unsure and try to answer their questions and reassure them in an age-appropriate manner. Remember, you do not need to know all the answers, but talking things through can help them feel calmer.
  • Help them to reflect on how they’re feeling and encourage them to think about the things they can do to make them feel safer and less worried.
  • Reassure them that this will pass, you’re there for them, and you will get through this together.
  • Spend time doing a positive activity with your child (such as reading, playing, painting or cooking) to help reassure them and reduce their anxiety. This is also a great way of providing a space for them to talk through their concerns, without having a ‘big chat’.

3. Look after yourself too! 

For your own well being as well as your child’s, it’s important that you take time to look after yourself 

Psychologists have pointed out that kids take emotional cues from us and recognise stress and worry in the adults (and older children) they live with. So, in looking after yourself, so that you can remain as calm and balanced as possible, you are also looking after those who are important to you.

4. Practice mindfulness and mental health management exercises

Mindfulness, meditation and other mental health exercises are a great (and potentially fun) way to help kids – and you manage your stress and anxiety levels. We’ve dug around the wondrous internet and here are some of our favourites so you don’t have to look: 

5. Organise virtual play-dates. 

Socialising and being with their friends and peers is one of the thinks kids are missing out on right now. Social relationships are critical to the maintenance of mental health, and a lack of them often correlates with feelings of loneliness. Loneliness, in turn, has been linked to higher levels of stress.

While our kids can’t go visit their friends or meet up in parks for play-dates just yet as we have to respect social distancing rules, there is one thing parents can do to help them get this much-needed interaction. And while having play-dates over video call is not the same as the real deal, making sure kids still get this valuable playtime and socialising with their friends is important! For older kids, another great way to have them socialising with their peers are video games. If you are worried about them spending time playing video games that have no educational value, check out this guide to video games with educational video games for more than one player that are perfect for kids to play together from the comfort of their home!

If your child has been struggling with mental health issues prior to the pandemic, researchers have found that their anxiety, stress levels and depression can be heightened by the uncertainty and overall stressfulness of the current time. If that is the case, we strongly recommend getting in touch with a professional pediatric psychologist (if you haven’t done so yet) and ask for their help directly.

We hope you’ve found this useful, and remember to take it one day at a time, and that you are doing your best and your best is more than enough! 

We’d love to know what you thought about these tips or if there are any other coping exercises you’ve tried with your child at home. Let us know on our social media channels at @techwillsaveus or by joining the conversation on our Facebook group, #StayHome: Ideas for Parents & Kids.