Tara Dale, LISW-S
May is Mental Health Awareness Month which makes this the perfect time to talk about mental wellness and self-care as the COVID-19 pandemic has created the necessity of social distancing guidelines. Caregivers and students across the state of Ohio recently received news that schools will remain closed for in-person learning for the remainder of the academic year . The prolonged social distancing guidelines are a prudent measure for the safety of Ohio residents although may heighten stress, anxiety and sadness for many kids and teens. For many, this will feel like a tremendous loss with many academic, social, and athletic events cancelled that kids and teens often look forward to. To help your child cope with their grief over these losses, it is important to first recognize the signs and symptoms that they may be struggling. Anxiety and depression can present in a variety of ways although some common ways include: major changes in sleep and appetite, increased feelings of worry or dread, thoughts of hopelessness, loss of energy or motivation to complete tasks or engage in activities, increased agitation or feeling jumpy, increased heart rate or shortness of breath. If you recognize significant changes in your child’s emotional and behavioral well-being, you can begin to provide support yourself.
Talk to them about their feelings and yours. Help your child maintain positive peer connects and balance socialization with personal responsibilities.
It is important to acknowledge the tremendous loss of daily peer interaction and support. Talk with your child about how to maintain positive peer supports and balancing those interactions with life at home. Encourage social interaction utilizing a variety of methods (phone calls, video chat, email and possibly sending letters through the mail). Talk about daily expectations and help them to identify time requirements and limits for academic work and social interactions so they can better plan their day.
Help your child identify their strengths and interests to develop healthy coping skills. Brainstorm ideas for future activities or events to give them something to look forward to.
Students have lost many outlets for social support and physical activity. Help them to reconnect to previous interests and help them identify new hobbies. Encourage them to consider their strengths and how those can be used for new activities in and around the home. Sunlight and fresh air help promote overall well-being including emotional health. Physical activity helps reduce feelings of anxiety and depression and should be encouraged daily. Weather permitting, encourage outdoor activity such as reading a book outside, going for walks and hikes, going for a jog, riding a bike, creating sidewalk art or planting a garden. Indoor activities can include puzzles, card or board games with family, baking, writing, dancing and creating art. Also, talk to your child about their future hopes and plans. Where is the first place they want to visit when social distancing measures are lifted? Have them create a collage of pictures to visualize their future goals.
Maintain healthy habits and seek help when needed.
It is also important to help them maintain healthy overall eating habits (snacking is easy to do when home all day) and hydration. Help them to identify a variety of nutritious foods and snacks to help maintain energy and focus during the day. Encourage them to keep a water bottle with them to stay hydrated throughout the day. Quality sleep is a priority for maintaining overall health so encourage regular sleep schedules.
Lastly, if you have any concerns about your child or teen’s mental health or safety, you can contact Cincinnati Children’s Psychiatric Intake Response Center at (513)636-4121, call 911 or go to your nearest ER. For more information about mental health, you can visit The National Alliance on Mental Illness’s website at nami.org.