How to care for your child’s mental health during the pandemic

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      The pandemic has upended the lives of all, replacing routine with uncertainty. Even though children aren’t expected to contribute financially or provide emotional support for others in the family, they can also feel anxiety and stress during this time.

      For parents staying safe at home with their children or hormonal tweens, registered psychotherapist Karen Skinulis has some insightful advice. (Skinulis is available for an e-consultation through the Tia Health website for parent coaching and counseling services.)

      Create a new routine with your child

      Children need structure, even if they’re spending the day at home with no social or extracurricular commitments. “Many families have created new daily routines that children have embraced,” Skinulis says. “They post their updated schedules on the fridge and kids can keep track of it themselves, which nurtures independence and cooperation.”

      If your child is eager to help in the kitchen or with cleaning, incorporate similar activities into their daily routine. This can make them feel important and needed. For those who aren’t blessed with a chore-seeking child, schedule family activities for bonding and connection—a game of flag football or Watch Ya’ Mouth can really lift dampened spirits.

      “This is a unique opportunity to connect in ways that we simply couldn’t before when we were rushing home from work and then right to soccer practice,” Skinulis says. “Some families are even questioning whether they ever want to return to such a hectic schedule once this is over.”

      Keep the lines of communication open

      “Be prepared to answer any questions honestly and directly but filter news and information depending upon your child’s age and maturity,” Skinulis says. “Many news stories are upsetting and difficult for younger children to understand, which can become a source of worry.”

      If your child wants to share their feelings, Skinulis suggests using passive listening. This requires your undivided attention and nodding your head to show understanding—this can also work when your spouse asks if you’ve washed the dishes.

      Parents should also practise active listening, which includes asking questions and repeating what your child has expressed. “Once your child has articulated their feelings, provide reassurance and bring perspective to their worries,” Skinulis says. “Combat fear through understanding and knowledge.”

      Know the warning signs of anxiety or depression

      As a parent, you need to be aware of warning signs so you can intervene if needed. Although your child or teen may feel comfortable verbally expressing their worries, Skinulis notes that there are silent signs you can watch for:

      • Changes in your child’s sleep patterns, appetite, or energy levels. Be sure to check with a doctor first before assuming emotional factors are at play.
      • Younger children may experience regression or toilet issues.
      • Increase in misbehavior, which includes angry outbursts, frustration, and crying. Emotional children may also seek more attention.
      • Withdrawal from family.

      If you notice that your child’s anxiety is keeping them from functioning normally on a daily basis, you need to seek professional help. “If a tween or teen is engaged in self-harm or indicates feelings of hopelessness, parents should get involved,” Skinulis says. “Many teens and tweens wait for someone to notice their distress and are relieved when someone initiates a conversation.”

      Let them entertain themselves

      Hobbies, DIY projects, and physical activity have been a godsend for people of all ages during this pandemic. “For the most part, encourage your child to be responsible for entertaining themselves,” Skinulis says. “Provide materials for them to be creative, and allow them to experience occasional boredom, as it is an effective motivator that helps children discover their interests.

      “Don’t assume that you’re responsible for keeping them busy all day,” Skinulis adds. By trusting your children to play by themselves, their self-esteem will be strengthened.

      Help your child deal with their worries

      Like adults, children and teens are less likely to focus on their worries if they are kept busy doing things that they enjoy. “Remind them that worrying is not productive, and if they’re doing everything they can to be safe, they can give themselves permission to stop thinking about getting sick,” Skinulis notes.

      Skinulis also suggests encouraging your child to write down their thoughts in a journal each day or to set aside a specific time that is designated for worrying. “If they find themselves worrying at other times, they can remind themselves to stop and wait until it’s the proper time to worry,” Skinulis says. “This helps them learn that they have some control over their thinking and can postpone worrying.”

      Spending time outdoors, taking a bath, listening to calming music, meditating, and dancing can also help bring a sense of calmness to your child.

      Canadians can e-meet with Karen Skinulis by scheduling an online or phone appointment through the telehealth platform .

      Follow Tia Health on , , and for updates.