Ways parents can support kids' mental health

More than a year into the pandemic -- we know that it has had a drastic impact on mental health, especially in kids.  

Child development expert -- Jessica Lahner with Carroll University's Behavioral Health Psychology program FOX6 WakeUp with some ways parents can support kids' mental health. 

6 tips to support kids’ mental health one year into the COVID-19 pandemic

It’s not news that the pandemic has impacted kids’ mental health

- The last decade has seen increases in youth’s depression symptoms, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide

- The social isolation and uncertainty associated with the pandemic has exacerbated these already alarming numbers.

So, what can we do to support kids’ mental health as we wrap up the school year and enter the summer months?  

Talk about the pandemic and related feelings

- Fact-based, succinct answers to their questions. Short and sweet is the rule with kids.  

- All feelings are valid. "It makes sense you would feel worried, anxious, left out …"

o Because we don’t like to see our kids’ pain, we respond with "You shouldn’t feel that way" or "It’s not that bad" in attempts to take away their discomfort.  

 Invalidates their experiences. Confusing.

o What Color is Today and Covid-19 Helpers can support the conversation.  

 https://globalhealth.emory.edu/_includes/documents/sections/ebook-competition/what-color-is-today.pdf

 https://globalhealth.emory.edu/_includes/documents/sections/programs/covid-19_helpers_bacon_lee_eghi.pdf

 Talk about what they "felt" when now and throughout the pandemic to help process and validate that experience.

Be active

- People who are more active and do things that they enjoy and are important to them experience fewer depressive symptoms and, in general, report greater life satisfaction.

- Doesn’t have to be elaborate: Walks, play catch, wash the car together

- Do one enjoyable activity every day

Support social opportunities  

- Find families approaching the current situation in ways that align with your choices

o Arrange play dates, cookout, meet at the park

Make milestone events special

o Studies show that missing birthdays/special events has contributed to kids’ struggle

o Doesn’t have to be expensive – decorating the house the night before; gathering personalized notes from loved ones near and far

Create structure

- Kids thrive when things are predictable.  

- Maintain consistency in your day (wake up, meals, and bedtimes).  

- You aren’t taking the fun out of summer. You are increasing kids sense of security during a year when that’s been challenged.

Model healthy behavior

- Kids learn how to handle adversity by watching us

- Exercise, healthy sleep, healthy eating

- Modulate your emotions when talking about hot-button issues (masks, vaccines)

- Seek counseling for own depression/anxiety/relationship struggles

o Kids whose families have experience increased discord during pandemic have fared worse

Seek additional support for the following signs: (create a slide but don’t spend time talking through)

• Social withdrawal

• Decreased interest in activities once enjoyed

• Difficulty managing strong emotions; excessive crying/irritability

• Regressive behaviors (bedwetting)

• Increase in unexplained physical health complaints

• Eating or sleeping too little or too much

• Talking about wanting to die

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255