Frozen 2 came out in 2019, and with any great Disney movie—especially the princess ones—it included Elsa’s epic ballad, “Into the Unknown.” While at the time, you hoped your kids would just “let this song go,” it inevitably was on repeat everywhere you went.
The crazy thing is that this unsettling anthem eerily mirrors our current reality. Little did we know Elsa’s fear of what was outside the walls of her castle would resemble our very own fears outside our homes. With COVID-19, we are all going into the unknown.
Our New Normal
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, everyday life looks much different and will continue to look different as we learn more about this virus. While all this change and uncertainty has been challenging for adults, it hasn’t been easy for your children either. Although kids are resilient little beings, they aren’t immune to trauma and tragedy.
After months of isolation, constant adjustments to their routines (e.g., schools and childcare) and other stressors, children, like adults, are at risk of developing long-term mental health issues.
“It’s important for parents to not only help keep their children physically safe during the pandemic, but also emotionally safe as well,” said Dr. Bahar Altaha, a psychiatrist with Banner Behavioral Health. “Children look to their parents as guides. So, it’s important for parents to use this time to support and protect their emotional health and wellbeing to help them navigate through this as best they can.
How You Can Help Your Child
As parents and caregivers, you play an important role in their growth and development—especially as they navigate this new world of uncertainty. Dr. Altaha provides 5 tips for engaging your kids in conversation and helping build some structure in this new normal of the unknown.
Keep Conversations Age-Appropriate
The detail or amount of information you provide should vary by age. Consider starting the conversation by asking your child open-ended questions to see what they might already know. Questions, such as:
- Is there anything you are anxious or worried about?
- What questions do you have about COVID-19?
- What have your friends been saying about it?
- How is all this making you feel?
Once you know what information they have and stressors or concerns they might have, you can address them accordingly. We encourage you to read “Talking to Your Kids About Coronavirus” for additional tips.
Validate Their Feelings
While some teens and tweens are experts in hiding their emotions and feelings from their parents, it’s important to check in on your kids often to ask them how they are feeling, listen to them without judgement and validate their feelings.
Don’t shy away from your feelings either. It’s OK to acknowledge that this has been hard on you as well. Remind them you’ve been through difficult things before, and you’ve gotten through it together. Provide them the reassurance that you will get through this together too.
Manage Stress with Coping Skills
Keep their little minds and bodies busy doing things like outdoor exercise, playing games, yoga or even meditation and art. While activities for your mind and body are a great mood booster, they can also help reduce stress, depression and negative emotions.
With so much uncertainty, it’s easy to feel that life is out of our control. Discuss with your child ways they can play an active role in keeping themselves and others safe, such as washing their hands and wearing a mask when out in public spaces or making thank-you cards for first responders. Let their imagination and creativity be their guide.
Encourage Virtual Interactions
While they may not be able to have face-to-face conversations and playdates, kids need social interactions. If you have teens or tweens at home, it may be easier for them to interact with friends. For little ones, work with other parents to facilitate virtual playdates with their friends.
Into the Unknown but Not Alone
Living with uncertainty—especially during a pandemic—is not easy for anyone. However, as parents, you can help your child continue to feel safe, secure and positive about the future as they continue to navigate this new normal or uncertainty.
When to Seek Help
If your child shows any patterns of emotional or behavioral concerns (such as sleep disturbances, changes in eating habits, anxiety or depression) that don’t resolve with parental support, seek professional help from a behavioral health specialist.
Therapy is helpful at any age to help process emotions and challenges. And don’t let social distancing stop you from making the appointment. Many mental health professionals can provide care via telehealth. Check with your insurance plan regarding coverage.