In these trying times, it is easy to assume that children are managing just fine. As I write this, many schools have just gone virtual, and we have only been in school a few weeks. In fact, my school is one that is now remote learning or virtual.
Having been down this road last year, we are better prepared this time around. We are better prepared to push out digital content to our students. We are better prepared to meet them where they are concerning their emotional and mental health needs. While data is still being collected in this area of children’s overall health, we do have a good grasp on what children need from the adults in their lives to be healthy socially, emotionally and mentally in the midst of a pandemic.
Because children of all ages look to the adults in their lives to provide a safe environment, reassuring them that you are there for them and that you will get through this together as a family, is vital. As autonomous as teenagers can appear, they still need reassurance.
Sometimes providing a safe place for your teenager to talk about their thoughts and feelings is what is needed. If ever there is a time to hone in on listening skills, the time is now. Engage in listening by looking at your teenager (or younger child), make eye contact, and make sure that your body language says, “I care about what you have to say.”
Answer Questions Honestly
In our world today, there is enough misinformation without adding to this pool of wrong information. When answering your child’s questions, answer them as honestly as possible, framing your answers in a way that they can understand. As much as is possible, limit the amount of news to which your child is exposed. Often the news inflates the seriousness of the story being reported in order to grab our attention.
While we can understand that the news media uses this tactic and, as adults, can filter the information, our children can not understand the reason behind the inflated information. They also do not always possess the skill to filter misinformation from the facts. It is alright to say that we do not have the answers yet, but that scientists are working hard to figure out how to help people who get sick, how to prevent it, and that things will get better.
As much as possible, remain calm. Our children are watching us. They are watching how we react to information, the latest COVID data, the news about a co-worker being diagnosed with COVID, that their school will go virtual or that their whole class is being quarantined.
Often, if we get upset, our children will reflect that emotion and will also get upset. If ever there is a time for adults, especially those in charge of children, to take care of themselves, now is that time. Happy adults equate to happy children! Discover what is healthy for you and incorporate your children or teenagers into that practice. For example, if you enjoy walking, ask your children to join you in your walk. Talk about how walking helps you to remain calm and gives you time to process your day. Model for the children in your home how you process stress and an unsure future by taking care of yourself and finding positive activities to engage in.
One of the biggest concerns seen during our remote learning or virtual education is the need for students to maintain a structured routine. Find simple ways to help your child by writing out the schedule for the day, including breaks within the schedule. One student told me that she made her own schedule because she did not want her mother to do one for her. She then ran it by her mother, they tweaked it together and landed on a good schedule for her. She said she likes having a schedule because it lets her know what her day will be like.
There is comfort in having a schedule. Some school districts provide an augmented schedule once a school goes virtual. Be sure to check with your child’s teacher to see if there is already a schedule for their remote learning. For younger children, making a poster of the schedule where he can see it works best.
It is important to notice any changes in your child’s behavior. These differences could be a change in appetite, sleeplessness, having nightmares, agitation, excessive worrying, an overall absence of joy or happiness, a sense of fear or dread, and not wanting to do those things she used to enjoy.
If any, or several, of these descriptions are present, reach out to your child’s Pediatrician. If the pediatrician feels that additional mental health support is needed, they can refer you to a counselor or child psychiatrist, and help you navigate getting your child the appropriate mental health support. If your child needs help while at school, seek out the school counselor. School counselors are a wonderful resource and can be a great source of support for your child while they are at school. Most school websites have the contact information for the school counselor. You can also call the front office and ask to be connected with the counselor.