Ask the therapist: How can I help my child cope with the pressure of the pandemic?

In the “Consulting Therapist” series, I will answer all your questions about mental health and psychology. Whether you are struggling with a mental health condition, coping with anxiety about living conditions, or just seeking the insights of a therapist, you can submit a question. Please pay attention to my answers to your questions in the Healthy Mind newsletter every Thursday.

Our readers ask

“My kids are learning remotely this year, and they hate it. They miss their friends and activities, and I worry that they missed a normal childhood. I worry about what long-term effects this might have. How can I be best during COVID? Do you support my child well?”

Amy’s answer

This is definitely a stressful year for everyone-including the kids. However, the information you send to your child about the situation and its processing ability has a great impact on their ability to weather the storm.

Distance learning is really difficult for children. It must be sad to not see friends or participate in interesting activities. The information you send to your child about the situation and its processing ability has a great impact on their ability to tide over the difficulties.

If you say “This is too bad! You will be traumatized because you missed your childhood!” Your child may not be so good.

But if you send a message saying: “It’s tough, but you are a strong kid. Let us study how to best get through it,” they are more likely to survive relatively unscathed.

Help your child cope

Use authorized language. Instead of saying “we are trapped at home” and “you can’t go to school,” it’s better to send a positive message. Say, “We choose to stay at home to ensure everyone’s safety” and “We are doing distance learning to help everyone stay healthy.”

Discuss their performance regularly. Ask what problems they are trying to solve, how they miss the school, and any bright spots that have evolved from the pandemic.

Avoid reducing their feelings. Don’t say things like, “When I was a kid, I would like to stay at home!” or “Do you know what we would pay if we didn’t have to walk to school?” These types of statements won’t allow children to have possession of them. The stuff is more grateful.

Verify their feelings, even if you think they are a bit dramatic at times. You can say, “I’m sure it’s really frustrating to try to learn math online” or “I know you’re sad and can’t hold a birthday party this year” to understand what they are experiencing.

Then, work together to find coping strategies that can help them. Maybe artwork can help them deal with grief. Playing video games online with their friends may make them feel less alone. But they won’t know until they try.

It is important to ensure that their coping skills remain healthy. Doing too many things—such as playing video games—may be counterproductive. Therefore, you may need to set some time limits and encourage them to also use other coping techniques, such as physical exercise.

Talk about mental health

Have regular conversations about mental health and the importance of maintaining as much mental health as possible during difficult times. Explain how the pandemic requires you to adopt a different response strategy than usual.

For example, if you cannot meet your friends in person, you may need to video chat with them. Or, if you can’t do sports at school, you may get videos of sports that you can do at home to keep you healthy.

If you suspect that your child may have a mental health problem, please seek professional help. It is not uncommon for children to experience depression, anxiety or other mental health problems during periods of stress or transition.

If seeing the therapist face to face is not a good option, you can look for online treatment for your child. Your child may benefit from video chatting or messaging with a mental health treatment provider at home.

Mental health problems are not a sign of your child’s weakness, nor do they indicate that your parenting skills are insufficient. This just means that your child may need some extra support. You can discuss your options with your pediatrician first.

Make the most of difficult times

This is a great opportunity to teach your children how to control their reactions even if you cannot change the situation.

Try to make the most of this situation and try to create some new rituals that might benefit everyone.

For example, you might launch a family movie night every Friday. Or, you might decide to play a board game together on Sunday afternoon.

Talk about how they can take advantage of fewer activities by engaging in other hobbies. Your child may find that they also like to make art works instead of practicing basketball. Or, they may find that they really like doing yoga.

Committed to modeling how to maintain a positive attitude. Of course, you can remain realistic about the fact that the situation is not ideal, but show your child that you are willing to manage stress in a healthy way. They will learn a lot by observing how you deal with the ongoing distress caused by the pandemic.