Supporting Our Children and Adolescents
It’s no secret that adults are not the only ones suffering the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Our children and teens are struggling, sometimes under the radar with the ongoing uncertainty related to the coronavirus. Our children and adolescents who are doing online schooling have now been facing social isolation for almost a year and those who have been able to return to school are facing unique challenges and changes to their normal school environment. Several studies have indicated an increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety directly related to uncertainty and loneliness. Other research has shown that extended social isolation can impact mental health outcomes for almost a decade. All of that to say, the mental health of our children now is crucial to their success and wellness later.
A year into the pandemic, it is more important than ever to look for signs of anxiety and depression: social withdrawal, sleep issues, appetite changes, emotional mood swings, and loss of pleasure in preferred activities. and get your child the support they may need. For children who are struggling in more mild ways, there are plenty of ways you can continue to support their mental health.
This one goes even outside of the pandemic. Often, all our children want is to be heard. Practice listening to your child with the goal of validating and acknowledging difficult emotions they might be carrying, rather than offering advice or suggestions to “fix” the problem.
Use phrases like “I’m sorry you’re feeling so _______ today”, or “Wow, that stinks. It sounds really hard." Allow them space to share their emotions without putting your own emotions into the mix.
Continue or Adjust Routines
Our children rely on us for routines, and routines often equate to feeling safe. If our routines are off, so are theirs. Reassess your routine and see what changes you can make moving into the last few months of the school year. Try making a poster with a general outline of the day, especially if your kids are doing school from home. Build time for snacks, movement, reading, relaxing, chores and screens. Stick to the routine as best you can each day to foster that sense of safety and predictability that we are all lacking right now.
It’s hard to battle with our kids after a long day of work and school (especially if school itself was a battle), but work with your children to come up with a list of activities that include movement, creativity, nature, and socializing. Build these activities into your routine and allow your child to pick whatever they may be feeling that day.
Ideas for movement could include a family walk, a dance party, an online karate or yoga class, or riding a bike. Creative activities could include something as basic as coloring (even for adolescents) or as complex as painting a “mural” on a piece of butcher paper on the patio. Collaging and mood boards are great too due to the self-soothing results of using fine motor movements. Younger children can perform a silly play or dress up in different characters to help fuel their imaginations.
Even children and adolescents can benefit from mindfulness and they are actually really good at it! You can start with activities that involve their bodies.
Finger Tracing- Have your child sit in a comfortable position and hold their hand in front of them. Sit with them and begin to trace the outline of your hands using your index finger. When you trace up one finger, slowly breath in. When you trace down the finger, slowly breath out. Do this with each hand, and repeat as needed.
Color Breath- A take on mindful breathing, color breathing involves assigning a color to inhales and a different color to exhales. Practice taking big deep “green” breaths with your child, and blowing out big “blue” breaths. Let your child assign the colors.
Calming Jars- Do a quick Google to find directions for making a “calming jar” or a “glitter jar” (or dig out a Christmas snow globe). The contents of the jar create a type of snow globe effect where glitter and sequins slowly settle after being shaken. Sit with your child and practice watching the glitter float and settle while breathing. This activity can be done to help calm a kiddo who is stressed or can be a good activity before going to bed.
If your child is showing serious signs of anxiety and depression, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Georgetown Counseling & Wellness for a consultation with one of our clinicians.