If 2020 was a beverage, it would be a colonoscopy prep. Amiright? Nothing, and I mean nothing, about this year has been easy. The pandemic. The build-up to the election. The fact that Schitt’s Creek has ended. It’s too much for even the strongest among us to endure. And I for one am over it. Over COVID, over Zoom-schooling, over wearing sweatpants, over this country’s inability to end racism, over not being able to visit my parents and over not knowing what the future holds for me and my family.
But as bad as things are for us adults, we have to remember to check in on our kids. Because while our patience is wearing thin—so is theirs! As grownups, we have our life experience and a hard-earned perspective to help us cope. Our children, on the other hand, they’re going through this totally blind, with nothing to compare it to and nothing ahead to look forward to.
The missed graduations, called-off vacations, cancelled summer camps, ruined birthday parties, and don’t even get me started on Halloween. All the occasions that are meant to signify a passage of time have virtually vanished from our kids’ lives... leaving an endlessly long haul of frustration and dread. It’s like watching society collapse in real time. And I’m not even trying to be dramatic. Things really are that bad.
The reality is we’re living in unprecedented times. With all the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and what it means for this new school year, you might, like me, start to notice some changes in your child's mental health. Our kids are under a ridiculous amount of conflicting emotions and feelings like fear, boredom, anxiety and grief (again, Schitt’s Creek ending). They want their normal, pre-pandemic lives back. Checking in with your kids on a regular basis can help you anticipate when they might need a little extra support during all this chaos.
Here’s are some tips on how you can check in on your kids’ mental health:
* Please note: these are just my opinions, I am not a licensed therapist… yet.
Focus on your own mental health first
You know that airplane rule about putting your oxygen mask on before you help your kids with theirs—this is one of those times. The most important thing you can do to keep your child mentally healthy is to take care of your own mental health first. Not only will you be modeling the positive habits that improve mental health, but you'll also be creating a healthier environment for your child. Remember, your kids learn by watching you. So make sure you set a positive example on how to deal with stressful situations and maintain good mental health.
Encourage kids to talk about their emotions
The best way to address stress and anxiety is to encourage your children to talk to you about what’s troubling them. When kids aren’t able to verbally express what they’re feeling—particularly young children—they might act out, throw tantrums or withdraw from everyday activities they previously enjoyed. If your child appears upset or overwhelmed, check in, help them calm down, and put a name to their emotions. You can ask them questions like: Is anything worrying you? Is something making you scared? How is your body feeling? Are you having any trouble sleeping? Be sure to listen without judgement and try to validate their feelings. Sometimes expressing their feelings is all a child needs to feel better.
Keep an eye out for regression
Have you noticed that your child has difficulty sleeping, have their eating habits changed, do they cry more than normal, and seem more irritable? Experts say that stress and fear is known to cause regression in a variety of behaviors. Additionally, children’s stress may cause physical symptoms like fatigue, stomach issues and headaches. If these symptoms start getting in the way with daily life, or last more than a few weeks, it might be a good idea to talk to a professional about potential treatment.
Stay connected with friends and family
We’re all trying to keep our social interactions limited, which inevitably means spending a lot of time at home. Experts say it’s important for your kids to interact virtually with their friends and family. While it’s obviously not as satisfying as real-human contact, it shows them that we’re all going through this together, and that they are not alone. I’ve noticed that when my son is struggling with loneliness, a quick Facetime chat with his cousins on the East Coast cheers him up. He also loves to play games with his friends via the free Houseparty App… which can also be fun for us adults. Check it out!
A family that plays together slays together! In order to stay physically and mentally fit, it’s important for kids to have ample playtime. Truthfully, adults need play, too. So be sure to put aside work, household chores, and other commitments and focus solely on some much-needed playtime with your family. Numerous articles state that engaging in healthy play increases kids' chances of being happy, while decreasing their risk of depression.
Get the Help You Need When You Need It
When our kids complain of a physical ailment, our first instinct is to take them to the doctor to identify what’s wrong and treat them so they can get better quickly. Well, mental health is just as—if not more—important than a bruised knee or sore throat. As parents, we should be looking at mental health and physical illness as one in the same. They both need our attention before things get worse—early intervention is key. So be proactive about keeping your child as mentally healthy as possible.
In these uncertain times, we’re all doing our best to balance everything: our careers, childcare, home-schooling, the list goes on. With so many pressure-cookers, it’s easy to let some things slip through the cracks, but addressing the signs of mental-health issues should not be one of them. With everything going on in the world today, it’s never been a more important time to check in on yourself, and more importantly, your kids.
Show of hands, who’s ready for 2020 to sashay away?
I’m right there with you. But until this dreadful year is officially cancelled, we gotta stay strong for our kiddos. Just remember, if we were able to get through these past six months, we can get through just about anything. And if all else fails, there’s an awkward Zoom happy hour with your name on it.
Remember when you used to say “once this is all over” and genuinely believe it would be all over one day? I feel ya, bruh—2020 owes us all a full refund.