Protecting Your Child’s Mental Health During the Pandemic

As a mother, I thank my lucky stars every day that young children are the least at risk when it comes to the Corona Virus. However, our physical health is not the only form of health that is in jeopardy right now. The emotional health of our families is also at risk, and it can help to take proactive steps now to mitigate psychological damage to your children and prevent a silent aftermath of this outbreak. All children will react differently to the news of the pandemic. Some parents will find their children are coping with the changes and collective anxiety quite well, while others will struggle.

If you are parenting a child previously exposed to trauma, adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s), or with a highly sensitive personality, it will be helpful to think through how you are going to support them emotionally during this time. Children who fall within these categories might have difficulty regulating their emotions and lack the skills to cope with anxiety associated with Covid-19.

Another vulnerable population is children who have lost parents to illness or disease. This pandemic has likely triggered their fears about losing more loved ones and could be resurfacing their traumatic memories of loss. Grieving children might not express their concerns, or even realize why they are upset, so it is essential to check in with them and ask if this crisis is bringing up thoughts and feelings related to their grief and loss.

The necessary inconvenience of school closures will undoubtedly leave parents, grandparents, and foster parents handling emotional outbursts they would not be involved with if the children were in school. We are on day two in our home of school closure, and my child is already pushing my buttons more than usual. I am also observing anxiety-related behavior in correlation to her hearing adult conversations about the virus, cancellations, financial worries, and the future of this situation.

As a therapist who worked within the child welfare system, I also think of children who might be abused during this time because parents lack the skills to cope with their own emotions and behavior under the pressure this pandemic is creating. I write the following in the hope that a parent who is struggling might read this and find some tools to prevent abuse from happening.

You might be thinking, wow, this is a heavy article! But there is a message of hope. There are steps we can take right now to create a brighter future in the days to come. Below is my recipe, from a trauma perspective, for protecting the mental health of children during the pandemic.

Steps to Protecting Our Children’s Mental Health

Example of what to say:

“Have you noticed everyone is nervous right now? We are all feeling nervous, even Mommy and Daddy, because there is a virus going around. A virus is what makes people sick, and nobody likes to feel sick. So for the next few weeks, we are going to take a break from our normal life and spend more time together as a family. Your regular events like school and playdates are canceled so that we can stop the virus from spreading and making more people sick. We also need to wash our hands more often to keep us healthy.”

When we teach children they can trust adults, to tell the truth, it helps them cope with the uncertainty of any situation. A child who knows the truth can count on the adult in their life to be the support they need. They can let their minds rest from the questions that anxiety produces, knowing their parents tell them the truth.

The biggest take away here is to remember that children are more aware than we give them credit for. If you notice behavioral challenges, consider whether it could be from the anxiety the pandemic is creating or something else. Protect your children’s brains while also being honest, and you will get through this together with the least amount of negative impact. I wish everyone good health and a peaceful mind during this unusual time.

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