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Fact Checked

10 Ways to Protect Your Child’s Mental Health During COVID-19

As we head into our first summer of life during coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), many parents are keenly aware of the toll this pandemic is taking on their children’s mental and emotional health.

Mental health disorders are the most common diseases of childhood, with most beginning in early childhood. Therefore, mental health needs must be discovered early and treated during this sensitive time in child development. You can get more facts here.

Anxiety is the most common anxiety disorder and affects 25% of children between 13 and 18 years old. According to an article published recently in JAMA Pediatrics, the COVID-19 pandemic “may worsen existing mental health problems and lead to more cases among children and adolescents because of the unique combination of the public health crisis, social isolation, and economic recession.” This information was gathered at a time BEFORE the global pandemic.

Keep in mind that the need for mental health awareness and help is going to be much higher in the future.

How do we protect the mental health of our future generation? The best way is to educate yourself and to know where to get help.

Keep reading and explore 10 ways you can help create some sense of calm amidst the coronavirus.

1) Take Care of Yourself

The first step is to take care of YOUR needs. The direction of how to cope during a crisis comes from the parent. Strive to model “calm,” even though you may not always feel that way.

2) Talk to Your Children

Facts can alleviate fear. They also create a sense of trust with your child or teenager. Take time to answer any questions, dispel any misinformation, and educate your child on the WHY we are “doing things differently.” Here is a great resource to help you supply age-appropriate information to your children.

3) The Importance of Creating a Routine

Children thrive on consistency and routine. With the onset of the pandemic, everything that was “normal” quickly shifted into a new “abnormal." You can help your child cope by sticking to a simple routine. Going to bed at the same each night; getting plenty of sleep will make things seem more tolerable.

Aim to serve three meals per day, around the same time. This can be an excellent time to bond together as a family. Include everyone in the meal preparation, so it does not fall on one person.

Also, it can be tempting to lounge around in pajamas - “What is the POINT of getting dressed if we aren’t going anywhere, Mom?”- seems a logical thing to think for a school-age child. There is a mindset change that comes with getting dressed, brushing your teeth, and combing your hair (it does not have to be done perfectly though- see #5).

4) Get Outside

Getting outside several times a day is an effective way to burn off energy and clear your children’s minds. It also gives them a chance to break away from staring at a screen.

 “Vitamin N” (a.k.a. nature) is a wonderous healer- bonus points for those who take “science lessons” outside the classroom!

5) Pick Your Battles

Feelings of helplessness or loss of control is a huge driving factor for what causes negative behavior in children. You can help combat this by letting some things go. If your child wants to wear her Halloween costume the entire day- let her! Humor is a wonderful way to counter sadness and worry. Use this time to make memories that will become lasting stories for your family.

6) Creative Solutions

Your child is going to be mourning the loss of seeing their peer group daily. Get creative and schedule virtual playdates. Help them connect by writing letters to family members or friends. Take a walk around your neighborhood and leave messages on driveways with sidewalk chalk. These small gestures will help them still feel part of their social circle.

7) Find Time Each Day for Mindfulness

One of the most valuable lessons you can pass on to your child is the power of a mindset change. Pick a time each day to create a gratitude list. Find things that you are thankful for and focus on those when things get tough.

Take a break to put on relaxing music, journal (or draw pictures if your child cannot write yet).

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8) Expect Acting Out

Your child may not have the intellectual development to communicate what is going on in their heads. Their distress may manifest as temper tantrums, fighting with each other, and talking back. Please recognize that this is a challenging time for everyone and take the time to validate their feelings. Extend grace to each other as much as possible- this includes giving yourself a break as well.

9) Be on the Lookout for Reoccurring Behaviors

Children who were already struggling with mental health difficulties before COVID-19 are now at even higher risk during COVID-19. Keep a close eye on any repeating behaviors that indicate a need for seeking further help such as isolation, poor sleep, and perpetual misbehavior.

10) Seek Out Professional Help When Needed  

Contact your child’s doctor with any concerns or see the following list for further help

· Warning Signs of Depression and Suicide from COVID-19 Fatigue

· American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP)

· National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Published June 17th, 2020 by Dr. Betsy Hoida, PharmD, BCPS
Fact Checked by Brittany

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