Families are facing major disruptions in their lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without more than a moment’s notice, schools closed, many parents were forced to shift to work from home schedules and some vital support structures have been affected by or temporarily halted to comply with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) social distancing recommendation.
While we are all used to dealing with disruptions like seasonal snowstorms, power outages, etc., this is different. We do not know how the situation will last, nor how it might evolve. There are many unknowns, which catalyzes stress and anxiety in most people, especially children. These feelings can lead to significant hostility within the family, and even more so during a time when people are quarantined at home together for an extended period.
Despite these challenges, we all have the capacity to nurture our mental health and find ways to cope. Here are some steps you can take to reduce the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, or any crisis, on you and your children’s mental health:
- Take Care of Yourself. We have all been trained to focus on our children first. They are, of course, so very important. However, just as the airline personnel remind us to put on our masks before helping our children, you must prioritize self-care. Exercise, eat well and take advantage of good weather to go outside and soak up the sun. If you feel good, you will be better equipped to help your children and family. As you talk with your children, if you find yourself getting anxious, take a breath, drink fluids and work on getting your anxiety under control. Children will feed off the energy they are sensing from adults. They will be calmer and feel safer when their parents and guardians stay composed.
- Create Routine. Humans crave structure and routine. It’s hard when those routines are disrupted and can cause stress among parents and children. Create plans that work for your family by assessing all the things that need to happen in a day. What does happiness and success look like to you? Typical tasks might include: schoolwork, exercise, mealtime, breaks, recess and fun activities. There are many free, accessible learning resources available online during this crisis, and your local community may be providing resources as well. The state and local parks remain open for now. While social distancing is crucial to flattening the curve of COVID-19, you may still engage in park visits while staying away from crowds and other people. Planning field trips, and using caution while doing so, can help break up the day and allow your children to burn some energy.
- Stay Connected. You are not alone. Your friends and family members are dealing with the same thing. Talk to them by using Skype, Facetime or other video options like Zoom, and communicate via text and email so you can feel connected despite being separated. Check in on your neighbors – virtually, of course – and offer to help vulnerable or elderly friends who may need resources.
- Engage Your Children. Use this as an opportunity to do something different. Plan with your children and involve them in some decisions throughout the day. Encourage them to talk openly with you about their feelings, listen intently and talk to them honestly so they will listen with the same respect. Look for signs that your children are feeling anxious and teach self-soothing behaviors.
- Be Honest. Do not be afraid to talk about the virus. Answer your children’s questions. You do not need to go into detail beyond what they are asking. The older the child, the more detail you can provide. For older children, they will most likely be searching the web for information. Monitor their activity and engage them in conversations about what they are reading, hearing and seeing.
- Stay in the Present. We do not know how long this crisis situation will last. Despite the unknowns, we have to adjust and continue to live our lives under the new reality. Focus on what you can control and teach your children to do the same.
- Connect with Resources. We have rounded up some online resources, and Astor is available to help with crisis. If your child is struggling with their mental health, please call us at our toll-free hotline: 1-866-ASTOR01. You will be prompted to leave a message, and a member of our support staff will contact you to help. You can also visit https://www.astorservices.org/covid_19/.
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