Research is beginning to show the impact of the current COVID-19 pandemic on children. In fact, two-thirds of children in a recent study felt burdened by the pandemic, with a lower health-related quality of life, more mental health issues and higher anxiety levels.1 Experts also suggest the pandemic now qualifies as an adverse childhood experience (ACE) which can increase stress and lead to cardiovascular disease, depression and other conditions later in life.2 However, research on preventative measures like providing support or opportunities for children to learn how to effectively address mental health issues, reveals a reduction of the impact of ACEs on children, allowing them to react more positively and efficiently to those issues.3
Healthy Ways Families Can Cope
These ten tips can help you and your family reduce stress during difficult times.
1. Be flexible – Lower your expectations, especially when things don’t go smoothly. Though you can’t always avoid conflict, seek to resolve disagreements peacefully. Respond rather than react. For example, you may talk things out more—try asking your child why he or she yelled at you rather than sending them to their room immediately.
2. Build structure – Setting routines may make everyone feel more secure and less stressed. You don’t need to plan your day down to the hour or the minute, but set goals for meals, bedtimes and other important activities. Your child can do things that require concentration, such as homework, in short time blocks of 15 to 45 minutes. Offer rewards, such as more storytime after dinner, for completing tasks to reinforce positive behaviors.
3. Do something new – Keep life interesting by doing a variety of different things. For instance, you or your family can learn how to knit a scarf, play a new game, or do something else not done before. You could even make it a regular family activity.
4. “Check-in” regularly – Ask how your child is doing and listen without judgment. This can help them open up to you. If they don’t want to talk, don’t push them. Adolescents may feel more comfortable texting or writing down their thoughts. Younger children may be able to express themselves through artwork or playing. Keep the lines of communication flowing to strengthen your bond.
5. Stay social – Interact often with family and friends, and support your family members in doing the same. Keep in touch by video, phone calls, text, social media or writing letters. Connecting to other families with children to see how they’re doing, and offering them support, can help everyone build closeness and a sense of belonging.
6. Take care – Make a list of things you and your family like to do and make time for them. Let the children decide on what everyone can do together. But, also give your child time alone and take time for yourself, too. Even short rest breaks can help you parent better.
7. Challenge negativity – News reports tend to focus on the negative and generate fear. Instead, seek inspiring stories, such as those about people helping others, which can boost moods. If your child complains about life not getting better, ask them why they think that way. Find out how you can help make it more bearable for them. Listen to understand and empathize with them while you also challenge them to adopt a healthier mindset. Think about what there is to be grateful about and share that with your family.
8. Coping strategies – Teach your child stress-relieving techniques, such as mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation, breathing and guided imagery.4 Breathing from your belly involves inhaling air through the nose and then exhaling slowly through the mouth at a rate of three seconds in, three seconds out for ten breaths per minute. It can help your child feel settled and more under control.
9. Foster a sense of purpose – Get your kids to help with volunteering, or even with chores around the house. For instance, have them help with volunteer activities like writing letters to senior citizens or donating items to charities. These activities can help children feel like they’re making a difference, while they stay productive.
10. Show love – During difficult times, hug your child and tell them you love them even more often. Compliment them more and give them more rewards for meeting goals. Tell them how proud you are of them.
Following any or all of these tips regularly can help bring sunshine on cloudy days. Sometimes, however, despite your best efforts, your child may have more than an occasional bout of the blues.
When It’s Something More Serious
Children can react to ACEs differently. Some may feel that a disturbing experience was traumatic, while others may brush it off. How they react also depends on their level of exposure to the event. For instance, if your child or a loved one has become seriously ill or someone your child knows has died, they may be at higher risk for trauma.5 In more extreme cases, they can show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or an adjustment disorder.
Symptoms of a serious condition include changes in eating or sleeping patterns, unexplained irritability and anger, excessive worry or anxiety, and problems focusing. If your child shows these or other unusual signs that don’t fade over time, seek help. We offer a variety of treatments that help with these issues, including tele-mental health services. Contact us today.