Keeping your kids mentally healthy – 2020 has been the most challenging year as parents for my husband and me so far. Not only because there is a pandemic forcing us to isolate from others but there are worries about our financial situation, education, health, and now riots in the street because of racism. It seems like every time we can take a relaxing breath something else happens. Our kids are in the midst of all trying to cope with what our world has become. And they struggle.
How do you explain to your child what is going on without scaring them? How do you get through months of social distancing without going crazy? And what happens when things are supposed to go back to normal but you don’t know what “normal” is any longer?
At first everything was fine
The first couple of weeks with no school were fun. We stayed mostly at home, and enjoyed the time off together. I started an emergency stockpile and learned how to hunt down precious toilet paper and make hand sanitizer. Since schools were closed I was unemployed and money was going to be tight for a while until everything went back to normal. We talked about the Coronavirus and proper handwashing techniques with the kids, they stayed home when I had to go to the grocery store and that was just fine with them.
And then the “Stay at home” order came and with it school cancelations until the summer, no more extracurricular activities, no more playdates or playgrounds. And that was when the mood in this house changed. My kids were frustrated, frightened that something might happen to friends or loved ones, were afraid to go outside or talk to the neighbors, even from a safe distance. Something needed to happen to keep the kids mentally healthy.
Keeping your kids mentally healthy in uncertain times – Dealing with Fear and Isolation
My kids are elementary students. They hear and see a lot from friends, on TV and computer. They understand about the virus but they are too young to fully comprehend what is going on and to decide which information is correct and which is totally blown out of proportion. And it is scaring them.
Now, I am not a mental health professional. Yes, I was a nurse for a long time, but I am nowhere qualified to tell you what you should and shouldn’t do. All I can offer is some of my own opinions and techniques on what our family is doing and how we are trying to cope.
Here is what you can do to ease the fear:
- The first thing we did was turn off the News in this house when the kids were around. When I caught my son staring in horror at reports from New York we decided to filter the information they would receive. Keep them informed about what is going on in the world but do it at a pace that is right for them.
- Answer questions. It is important that they know they can come to you for answers. This way they won’t need to turn to the media and their frightening reports. Inform yourself and talk to them to ease their fears your way and at your discretion. Where there moments I was in a panic? Sure! But I very rarely let them see that. Showing concern or worry is one thing, but don’t transfer your fears onto them.
- Money is tight but thankfully my husband is an essential worker and his job is safe. I started looking around for cheap entertainment ideas to keep them busy. We started to follow zoos and craft events on the internet, read, and played a lot.
- Find a new routine and stick with it. The first couple weeks we were all over the place, slept until noon, ate whenever, pajamas all day. That didn’t help any one of us. After Spring Break was officially over and it was clear we were going to have to homeschool I came up with a daily routine to get some structure into our lives. Kids need structure. Especially my son, who is very sensitive, needed to know what was going on every day.
- Go outside and soak up some sunlight. Get fresh air and enjoy nature. The sunlight is good against depression and your kids can blow off some steam.
- Thankfully we live in times where we can connect via our gadgets. Have your kids play games online with their friends, Facetime, Skype, or group meetings on Zoom. Especially my daughter enjoyed staying in touch with her friends. It makes them feel less isolated to be able to communicate with others. They even started writing letters and sending them to each other in the mail.
In an Emergency
- Get help if you need help! Isolation from others and worries about the future can cause minor issues to erupt and turn into real problems all of a sudden. I talked to two child psychologists over the past weeks and was informed that a lot more parents are seeking help for their children than usual since the pandemic started. If you think your kid needs professional help, don’t hesitate to call a professional. You can find free and confidential information and help at the National Helpline 24/7 right here.
Coming out of your Shell
Three months have passed and Tennessee is slowly opening up again. Thankfully we were not hit as bad as other States. We are physically healthy but I see major changes in my children’s behavior.
My son is on hyper overdrive. If he was active before, he is now bouncing off the walls. He is constantly asking for activities but is also afraid to go places or touch anything. My daughter built a huge fort in her room and lives the life of a hermit crab. She does not like being surrounded by people any longer and she used to be very outgoing. This pandemic didn’t only kill countless people, destroyed people’s livelihood, but also damaged our children. It is going to take a while to adapt to this new life.
How to find a new normal
It is probably going to take months to get back to normal. At this point, we do not know if and how school will start-up in the Fall. There is also talk of a second wave of illness eventually coming our way. But I do know it is time for us to get back out there because we need to make sure our kids don’t live in fear of the outside world. At this point, they need their friends more than quarantine.
Also, we need to be in contact with germs to keep our immune system working and healthy. If you are living in a sterilized house with no outside contact for several months your immune system will weaken.
It is time to re-introduce society to my kids.
You can do this only if you are not immune-compromised or have been in contact with COVID-19. Also, I can only speak for our area as I know every county has different regulations on how to reopen towns.
- Go out there. Take your kids to the park, ride bikes, go for a drive, get some ice cream, and watch people. Keep your safe distance but be around people.
- Here are a few ideas from this website you might like: Scavenger Hunt, Water Toys, Bug Hunt
- Meet up with selected friends that have been social distancing and play preferably outside. Start slow if your kids haven’t seen anyone in months not to overwhelm them.
- Go on vacation. Not to a huge city or area that is still under quarantine but a beach condo or a cabin in the mountains, even camping. Be self-sufficient, relax and spend time with your family. A different scenery can do wonders.
- Enroll them in a class or camp. There are summer camps and classes open this summer. They have reduced the number of participants and it would be ideal to learn to be in a group setting again.
- If you have to wear masks or follow certain new rules explain everything and don’t make a big to-do about it. If they see you being fine with it, they will most likely be okay with it, too.
- And last: be patient! This is an extraordinary time that nobody has ever encountered before. Give them love and assurance and the rest will fall into place eventually.
Stay safe and healthy and don’t forget to take care of your own needs.