As parents, our greatest hopes and desires lie in the well-being and happiness of our children. These days those desires are complicated as we grapple with how to navigate working, distance learning, the pandemic, and social justice issues amidst growing concerns about our children’s education and mental health.
Our kids are feeling overwhelmed.
Some schools remain on distance learning, while others are returning to school on a hybrid model. Teachers across the nation are working to make their lessons engaging, interactive, and stimulating. But the amount of screen time, the lack of sitting next to their peers and being in a classroom environment is creating feelings of isolation and frustration. Our kids are feeling overwhelmed.
We are not back to normal, and that causes a level of fear, worry, and anxiety for both children and parents. But you can support your child’s emotional well-being with the following tips.
1. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.
When putting together a plan to support your children, don’t forget about yourself. (Remember: We’re instructed to put our air mask on first when we are on an airplane.)The main three areas to take care of are your nutrition, exercise, and sleep.
Nutrition: Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. One of our most common mistakes is to not eat breakfast. As you feed the kids breakfast, be sure to take time to eat as well. Select vitamins or supplements that can help provide for any gaps in your nutritional needs.
Exercise: Pick a form of exercise that you enjoy. It may be bike riding, dancing, or a simple walk in the park. Exercise has been linked to improving mental health—and it’s also something you can do with your kids.
Sleep: It’s harder to completely relax before bed these days. If you enjoy essential oils or candles, get them out right before bed to create a restful environment. Using meditation apps such as Calm or Headspace can also be helpful for relaxation.
2. LOOK AT YOUR CHILD HOLISTICALLY.
Caring for your children’s mental health means considering the whole child: Their gifts, interest, and needs should be your guiding light when finding support.
If your child loves to sing, plan a family karaoke night to lift their spirits. Children who have a gift for art can find joy creating it and feel pride in seeing it displayed in their home.
Offering them opportunities to engage in the things they love is good for their mental health.
3. CONSIDER COMMUNITY RESOURCES.
Virtual counseling and tutoring can be among the most helpful resources due to the concerns with mental health and distance learning.
Virtual counseling or teletherapy: One-on-one therapy with a licensed therapist using a HIPPA approved private platform can be helpful if you notice your child’s anxiety, worry, and fear are at a worrying level. Some other signs to look out for:
- mood changes,
- change in sleep patterns (e.g. waking up in the night or sleeping more than normal),
- changes in appetite,
- body pains (e.g. headaches, increased stomach aches, feelings of tenseness/muscle tightness), and
- being fidgety.
If it didn’t happen before the pandemic, keep an eye out for it and address it.
Many health insurance companies and your local department of mental health have a list of available therapists. (Editor’s note: Here are the state department of mental health for our top five states to get you started: New York, California, Texas, Georgia, and Florida.)
While schools are closed, your school district’s office can put you in contact with the school counselor or psychologist at your child’s school.
Virtual Tutoring: Some schools, libraries, and community organizations are offering virtual tutoring. Receiving instructruction over the computer during distance learning and staying focused is causing a lot of concerns regarding learning and making academic progress. Virtual tutoring can be part of the solution for children who may be having difficulty.
Art, cooking, and other fun classes are being offered virtually, which can help with keeping your child positively occupied and connected. Many museums are offering free virtual tours. These fun resources can be shared with family and friends.
4. BUILD A COMMUNITY.
Finding a small group of like-minded people to pair your family up with to create a community can be helpful. A community can foster connections with others which is what our kids are missing by not being in school.
Building a community decreases feelings of loneliness and increases social connectedness, increasing feelings of happiness and joy. The kids will have other children to connect with whether you decide to connect virtually or in very small groups.
Our current times have opened up opportunities for parents to become creative with building a community. Parents are starting learning pods for their children, where two to three families hire one teacher to come into a designated home to teach their children. Careful consideration should be taken if you decide to utilize a learning pod as part of your plan. You will want to make sure that all CDC safety guidelines are adhered to.
5. START THE DAY WITH POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS.
You may already be familiar with positive affirmations, but they’re just as valuable to kids as they are to adults.
Affirmations are “I am” statements that can attune and align our mind, body, and heart towards being open to all that is set out for us to accomplish for the day. For example…
- “I am healthy and strong,”
- “I am loved,”
- “I am safe,”
- “I am smart,” and
- “I am creative and capable”
When positive affirmations are said out loud and repeated, they can bring forth an energized feeling that is best described as a bundle of joy. It creates a high level of energy and confidence, which is very helpful for children to experience and can increase their level of cheerfulness.
Make it a part of your daily routine by using affirmation cards for kids every morning.
6. CREATE A SCHEDULE ATTUNED TO YOUR CHILD’S FEELINGS.
Designing your family’s day is a key element in helping your children cope with their feelings about distance learning. It is also essential for working parents to accomplish their tasks as well.
When creating a schedule, get as much input from your family, friends, and children’s teachers as you can so that everything—and everyone—is included. Add in activities that the entire family can look forward to taking part in.
Allow time within the day for connecting with you, other family members, and your child’s friends. Maybe schedule a dance break to get everyone moving and connected with one another. Dance helps to reduce stress and can make you happy. Schedule a family game night where you invite your community to join you virtually.
Post your family schedule in a format that your family can see. This will help everyone flow through the day with ease, aware of all that the day entails. Following a schedule helps to create structure and routines; structure and routines helps every one feel more secure and decreases levels of anxiety.
7. TALK ABOUT FEELINGS OPENLY IN YOUR HOME.
“How should I talk about feelings with my kids?” is a common question. The answer: Openly. Talking about feelings keeps them from being bottled up. Taking time each day to do a daily mood check with each other—utilizing empathetic communication and learning coping skills together as a family—fosters positive mental health.
Practicing mindfulness techniques also gets us in touch with our feelings.
However, there are times that it is hard to express our feelings. One way to work through difficult emotions is to use breathing exercises where you take deep breaths in and out. A common breathing strategy for kids is to pretend you are smelling a flower and then slowly blowing out birthday candles.
Practicing mindfulness techniques also gets us in touch with our feelings. Mindfulness helps us to be in the moment, to take notice of what our mind is doing, and allows for a level of focus.
Many parents have heartfelt concerns about their children’s mental well-being. The confusion around the pandemic and this new back-to-school season are rightfully sounding many alarms in our homes. But these tips can allow you to parent in an empathetic manner as you support your children in these unprecedented times.