There is a lot to worry about right now. Grown-ups are feeling it, and kids and teens are feeling it, too. There hasn’t been a lot of research yet on the impact on adults’ or kids’ mental health during COVID-19, but organizations are unsurprisingly saying anxiety is on the rise. Whether you have a kindergartner or a high school senior, they may need you to help calm their concerns. Here’s how:
Combat fear with facts
Some kids simply need facts to feel a bit better. One of the most comforting aspects of this terrifying pandemic is that kids seem to be largely unaffected , aside from the fact that they pose a danger as silent carriers to more vulnerable populations. Science Alert reports that “The number of reported COVID-19 cases in children remains low: of more than 44,000 confirmed cases from China, only 416 (less than 1 percent) were aged nine years or younger. No deaths were reported in this age group.”
Revisit lessons on fake news
You can give them facts, but more importantly, you can arm them with the ability to distinguish truth from rumors on the internet. The next time they get a Snapchat message saying the city is closing, we want them to ask “says who?” and you can teach them that.
If you haven’t taught internet savviness as a lesson yet, it may be time to do so, regardless of age group. Discuss what news sources we trust and why. For older kids, revisit tracking links back to original sources to ensure the medical information is from a valid place. Younger kids can learn how to find valid sources of strong information, and how to weed out gossip from the playground and instead to listen to trusted adults for advice.
Don’t pretend it isn’t happening
As I researched what kids need, one of my own high schoolers told me: “Talk about it, don’t avoid it. Explaining what is happening and what this means for us because a lot of anxiety arises from lack of knowledge.”
Pretending a pandemic doesn’t exist is harmful to kids who are anxious, nervous, and looking to you for answers. Set a timer if needed, allow kids to discuss concerns and worries, and then move on to whatever content you had planned. If you are already virtual learning, consider having a discussion board, group chat, or other means of communication in which kids can chat about developments. This keeps it under your supervision and can help them vent as well. Parents can encourage kids to communicate with their siblings and friends about their feelings, as well as trusted adults.
Don’t let virtual learning add to the anxiety
This is the first time both kids and teachers are doing virtual learning. Don’t be that teacher who overloads them with three times the amount of work they are used to in person. Kids need a clear outline, deadlines that make sense, and uncomplicated steps to access and succeed with technology. This isn’t time to start a new project with a million layers, or a complex new task if at all possible.
Consider reminding your kids about due dates more than normal. Parents can help students break down virtual learning into tangible steps, often through the same methods they did during in-person school: encouraging use of a planner or other organization system, communicating with teachers or helping their student do so, and working on time management with your kid.
Encourage virtual connections
Just because kids are stuck at home doesn’t mean they need to lose social connection. Some classes are hosting virtual playdates or hangouts on Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts. Parents and teachers alike can organize these for groups of kids, from playdate age to junior high. High school kids can meet on their own to simulate what they’d do at school for group projects. Some preschools have been hosting “show and tell” virtually.
Providing a prompt or reason to meet can help rather than just “having a meeting.” Teachers and parents can act as hosts for these meetings, or can help to get things started. Parents who aren’t able to attend their typical social groups can host a lunch for the kids to get together on a virtual meeting app.
Be vigilant about mental health red flags
Remember all of your mental health training now more than ever. Cultivate ways for your kids to express their thoughts and concerns. Check on your at-risk kids, or those who you know have struggled previously with mental health concerns. This could be simple: a post-card in the mail, an email, a phone call home. You may be their only person checking on their mental health as parents navigate bigger concerns. Continue to report major concerns and red flags to your principal or district. Kids are missing you, their counselors, and their friends as support systems.
More resources for supporting kids’ mental health during COVID-19
- If a teacher or parent is unsure of signs to look for regarding a student’s mental health, visit mentalhealth.gov.
- To learn how to talk to children about COVID-19, and to help them maintain mental health through the pandemic, read advice from the National Association of School Psychologists.
- Learn the psychosocial considerations issued by the World Health Organization, including proper terminology for those who are sick, honoring heroes, and supporting each other.
- Check out more resources for SEL and mental health, brought to you by our partners at Allstate.
- To reach the national suicide hotline, click here.
Do you know of more resources for supporting kids’ mental health during COVID-19? Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.