World Mental Health Day (October 10) has lots of parents wondering how to help with their kids’ mental health, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. How are kids dealing with isolation from friends? What is it like to experience a pandemic but not fully understand it? How can family members support each other with current challenges?
While there are no easy answers or one-size-fits-all solutions, families can take small steps to make a huge impact on kids’ mental health. These five tips will help you connect with your child and help them thrive emotionally even during the most challenging times.
- Recognize signs of mental health struggles. Moods or actions that we might first label as surly might actually be symptoms of stress, sadness, or frustration. Low energy, irritability, and emotional outbursts are classic examples, but mental health struggles can also manifest in other ways. In addition, keep an eye out for excessive or undirected energy, social withdrawal, clinginess, and changes in your child’s eating or sleeping habits. If you acknowledge these tendencies as signs of stress instead of as lapses in character or behavior, you’ll be better able to support your child.
- Provide unconditional love and support. While this may seem like a no-brainer for many parents, it becomes difficult in practice once you factor in your own struggles plus any behavior changes in your child. “Tough love” may be a tempting tactic when we know that the outside world won’t always be as forgiving as our parenting. That said, the real world is pretty tough right now as it is. Your compassion will go a long way with your child, so don’t forget to remind them that you’re there for them.
- Boost self-confidence and self-esteem. An unpredictable environment can make kids feel like they’ve lost control over part of their lives. To counter this, help them increase their self-confidence. Give them tasks that they can achieve at a high level, and provide positive reinforcement when they complete them. For example, try asking them for help with meaningful household projects like cooking dinner or cleaning out the garage. They’ll be even more enthusiastic if they’re making their favorite meal or if the newly-made space in the garage can be used to store a new bike. If you own your house or have your landlord’s permission, letting them repaint their room can be a fun and rewarding task!
- Learn active coping strategies. Have you ever heard of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems? Your sympathetic nervous system promotes fight-or-flight responses, while your parasympathetic nervous system controls rest-and-digest functions. Each of these can be triggered with sensory input. In other words, you and your child can “cheat” your way into certain feelings by seeking out certain sensory experiences! To energize your child out of sadness or lethargy, try citrus scents, cold drinks, and some light movement (like active stretching or a brisk walk). To relax out of an anxious or agitated state, have your child try lavender scents, a warm foot bath, or lying on their back while breathing deeply.
- Play! Finally, never ever underestimate the power of play. Play gives your child the space to create, learn, and socialize in an organic, spontaneous way. Join your child in games or activities that they already enjoy—they’ll probably jump at the chance to introduce you to their favorite hobby! Whether it’s a trading card game, home handicrafts, or creating TikTok videos, you’ll have an opportunity to bond with your child and help them establish comfort in normalcy. If you think you child might enjoy some DIY science projects, be sure to subscribe to our FREE newsletter! The IDEA Lab Kids’ STEAM @ Home newsletter delivers fun activities to your inbox once a week, which means you’ll never run out of opportunities for your child to play.