Kids and families have been through a lot during the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenges of school, isolation from friends, and the unfortunate loss of loved ones are taking a toll on their mental health. During the first wave of the pandemic, widespread anxiety and depression was found in kids and teens ages 19 and younger, according to a recent study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
To help families and give them tips to support their child’s mental health and well-being, we talked with Dr. Sarah Jerstad, clinical director of psychological services at Children’s Minnesota.
Tips to support kids’ mental health and well-being
Ask and listen
The first and most important step Dr. Jerstad recommends parents do is to validate and listen to their child. Parents should dedicate time to hear what concerns their child may have, because if kids feel heard and validated, it’s going to help them look forward. This will give your child a little more confidence in how they handle what’s happening today and knowledge that they can come to you tomorrow too.
“You should also let them know you are there to find professional help for them if they need it. Let them know many people struggle, and seeking help is normal,” said Dr. Jerstad.
Parents can also be vulnerable and let their kids know that adults struggle too. When a parent talks about their anxieties, kids will feel like their parent is really relating to them and can help them get through it together.
One of the best ways might also be one of the simplest – get active!
When kids spend time outside in nature, they had less anger and aggression. Plus, it also improves impulse control. This might be especially important when normal routines have changed for children. Anxiety and depression are also lower for kids and grown-ups who spend time in nature.
Routines and plans
One of the best things for our mental health is to be able to plan something. Kids, teens and grown-ups appreciate looking forward to something.
“When kids have been thinking, ‘This is going to be a school year when I’m in-person all year and with my friends,’ but then that gets taken away, that uncertainty is really, really difficult for kids,” said Dr. Jerstad.
Even amid the uncertainty of the pandemic, Dr. Jerstad encourages families to find routine and plan events. Routines such as normal bedtimes and mealtimes will help kids’ mental health during this time.
By following effective public health guidelines – vaccination, testing and masking – small family gatherings, weekend trips and playdates with neighbors are possible.
“Fostering connection with important people in our lives, in any way possible, is critical to good mental health,” remarked Dr. Jerstad.
Another important step parents can take is helping their child learn skills to calm themselves and manage their emotions when they get upset or angry. This can include the following relaxation techniques:
- Belly breathing.
- Yoga poses.
- Tensing and releasing muscles.
When practiced regularly, kids and caregivers can build skills that promote self-regulation and greater awareness of their feelings and the feelings of others that last long beyond the pandemic.
Dr. Jerstad on WCCO Mid-Morning
Dr. Jerstad also spoke about this topic on WCCO Mid-Morning, watch her interview below.