SPRINGFIELD — Parents in local communities are facing a common conundrum during the COVID-19 pandemic: how can they manage their children’s emotional and social needs while maintaining responsible social distancing practices?
Mental Health Recovery Board of Clark, Greene & Madison Counties (MHRB) recommends parents focus on building resiliency in their children.
“Our children’s mental health is also being impacted because our daily lives have changed drastically during the pandemic, but for their physical safety we must continue to observe social distancing measures. For parents, that can feel like an impossible situation, especially with warmer weather and young people wanting to spend time with friends or playing sports,” said Greta Mayer, CEO of MHRB. “We know that children feel stress and take their emotional cues from adults. Without a way to talk about it and manage it in healthy ways, childhood stress can negatively impact a person’s health and mental well-being well into adulthood. But fortunately, learning how to be resilient from an early age can do the opposite: promote both physical and mental health now and in the future.”
Mayer shared these actionable ways parents and guardians can help their children become more resilient while staying at home:
1. Build strong emotional connections
Having a strong social network can help support your children through their inevitable disappointments and hurts. It’s important to promote both the development of new relationships (like making friends) and strengthening of existing ones (as with parents and relatives). Encourage kids to reach out to a classmate they don’t know very well, maybe to play a video game together or chat. While it is stressful to manage both work and family from home, putting down the smart devices occasionally and interacting one-on-one releases feel-good chemicals in the brain and helps us feel more connected.
2. Be a helper
Just like adults, children can feel empowered by helping others. Ask them for assistance with a task they can master or have them brainstorm ways they can help a friend or neighbor while observing social distancing — like delivering cookies on a rainy day or mailing a happy note.
3. Stick to a regular routine
Maintaining a daily routine can be comforting for young people and families which creates consistency and feels reassuring. But too rigid of a schedule can be stressful too, so it’s OK to teach kids to step away when things get overwhelming, like taking a break from a challenging task to go outside, do something creative or physical.
4. Demonstrate self-care and mindfulness
Remembering to eat, drink water, exercise, and sleep is tough enough for adults, but it’s no secret that children learn by example. Parents can improve their own mental health while helping their kids learn the importance of self-care by making time to eat together, play outside and relax. Practicing and teaching mindfulness, such as deep breathing and grounding exercises, can also help children cope with bouts of anxiety or stress.
5. Encourage healthy risk-taking and self-discovery
A healthy risk pushes a child to go outside of their comfort zone but results in very little harm if they are unsuccessful. Taking a healthy risk at home — like trying a new hobby — can help kids discover new interests and embrace their strengths. Embrace the moments that don’t go well, too — learning to see their mistakes as a learning experience helps kids develop a growth mindset.
6. Teach problem-solving skills
Your child should know that it’s OK to ask for help, and that they have help when they need it. But parents can help their child gain a sense of self-confidence during stressful times by engaging in the process of solving problems, such as brainstorming possibilities and exploring the pros and cons of different solutions.
7. Always maintain hope
It’s OK to acknowledge the negative feelings your child might be experiencing. Noticing when your child seems distressed, being a careful listener to find out what has led to these feelings, and by talking about it, helps children begin to recognize their own feelings and learn how to express negative emotions in a healthy way. But parents can nurture optimism in their child by helping them view the situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective.
“Change can be scary, even for grown-ups, and it’s important for children to know that,” said Mayer. “But it’s also important for children to see that change is a normal part of life and that there are healthy ways to cope, such as setting new goals when old ones become unattainable.”
For more information about mental health and substance use resources in Clark, Greene and Madison counties, visit the MHRB website at www.mhrb.org.