How to help your kids with Covid from your friendly neighbourhood Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist #Parenting

Understanding anxiety:

Anxiety is a normal response to a perceived threat of some kind. It causes the body to be on higher alert which both creates a feeling of stress inside the body, but also uses up more energy.
Some people have anxiety disorders, which means they feel much more anxiety than the average person in some situations. It isn’t their fault, but is due to genetics and early life experiences.
Many people with anxiety disorders are struggling since Covid started and some are doing a bit better.
Some people who didn’t have an anxiety disorder before are now learning what it might feel like.

Check your own stress and anxiety:

Ignoring your own mental health for the sake of the kids is probably what you were doing before Covid hit, but now it is mandatory that you manage your stress and anxiety first, prior to supporting your kids through this pandemic.
Ensure you are trying your best to support your partner because a pandemic can test even the best of relationships. Domestic violence and substance abuse are starting to increase in some homes because of the financial hardships, fear and uncertainty.
Kids will focus on how their parents are doing much more than the nice words their parents’ say. The medium is the message so you need to be in as good a place as possible, if you want to be as helpful as possible.

Get your story straight about what you want the kids to know:

Try to be clear with yourself (and partner) about what you think is important for the kids to know and NOT know about Covid.
It is totally okay to let your kids know that you don’t know everything about the virus (or their math homework). This is a great opportunity to teach your children that you don’t need to know everything to be okay or safe.
But take their questions seriously and arrange a way to have a follow up conversation about important things that aren’t clear. Assign them the task to learn more about it, or read about it yourself and talk to them about it the next day.

Validate the ways things seem ‘weird’ or different now:

It is important that your child hears you talk about all the things that have changed because kids find it incredibly validating and reassuring to be on the same page with their parents and family. Validating your child will deflate most intense emotions within seconds to minutes and creates an emotional environment for deeper and more meaningful conversations.
It is equally important to talk about all the things that have stayed the same because familiarity helps kids maintain perspective and provides reassurance, which cuts through anxiety like a heated utensil through margarine.
Making a list with your child of all the pros and cons of the new normal can be a great way to discuss Covid creatively and with less stress. It can also normalize some of what is happening and remind kids that their family isn’t the only one going through this. Plus there may actually be some upsides!
Look for and try to correct any exaggerations your child may be having about Covid. This is really common because of all the ‘information’ about Covid that is in the news, social media and rumor mills. Don’t blame 5G or Bill Gates yet.

Try to create a reasonable and regular schedule:

It takes the average person at least a few weeks to adjust to a new normal. Those with medical or mental health issues may take longer, so be patient and remember that these changes are harder for them.
The daily regular schedule can be simple and visual. You may wish to only focus on wake and sleep times, meals, school and homework for now. This is helpful because consistency consistently reduces anxiety.
Give yourself and your kids a chance to establish new routines and schedules by keeping reasonable and realistic expectations. Don’t put pressure on kids to be perfect already, or actually ever. Teach them to live sustainably always, but especially during major hardships and life changes. Keep tweaking things over time by ‘meeting in the middle’, where and when possible.

Schedule a check in time with your kid daily:

Whether your kid is a dandelion or an orchid, it is very important with all the uncertainty to both maintain a regular schedule and have a daily check in.
During this time, turn off all distractions and give your child your full attention to see what they are thinking, how they are feeling and what they are doing.
If they are doing fine, this can be very brief!

Teach them general ways to deal with stress and anxiety:

One of the most important jobs of parenting is teaching your children how to handle typical daily life stresses. Give them specific suggestions that are helpful and be willing to join them in the activity or invite them to join you.
There are specific techniques to reduce anxiety and stress, such as progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing. I wouldn’t recommend teaching these to your kids unless you are already familiar and comfortable using them. It is actually possible to encourage hyperventilation by accident, which can sometimes lead to panic attacks.
Better to choose something fun or silly or help distract your child in a way that is typical for you, than attempt to teach a coping style that you don’t really use yourself.
Remember- you can’t panic and laugh at the same time!

Encourage lots of fun and interactive activities:

Encourage more family time, games, movies, exercise, competitions, scavenger hunts, magic tricks, snowball fights (it’s Winnipeg), outdoor activities, Knock On Ginger, make meals together, clean up together, talent shows, lip syncing contest, marathon dance parties and hot dog eating contests (Stand By Me).
Ensure you are helping your children connect with their friends online or in other ways, every single day if possible.

Create a stress-busting laughter-inducing COPING KIT:

Fill a rubbermaid container or cardboard box full of fidget tools, puzzles, games, sensory gadgets, healthy snacks and treats, books, comics, music, magazines, graphic novels, cards, crosswords, Sudoku, that your child can use when they need to.

Hope these tips help during this really stressful time!

Dr. Simon Trepel

MD FRCPC

Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

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