How to help kids cope with pandemic stress and the return to school
Whether the kids in your community are back in the classroom or not, the pandemic has had some serious mental health consequences. There is stress and uncertainty at home, limited contact with friends, and the loss of a school routine. It all takes a toll. That's especially true for the kids who are already in more vulnerable situations.
So what can parents and other adults do to help their children live with the uncertainty of the pandemic?
Erin Hunter is interim director of the University Center for the Child and Family at the University of Michigan. In her practice she has seen increased anxiety and stress across all family members, including kids in all ages. Hunter says children of different ages will express those feelings differently.
“...getting in more fights with their siblings or talking back to parents more, refusing to do assignments, refusing to log on to Zoom perhaps for their classes, whereas in others it might be more crying or more worrying, wanting to check in, wanting to be closer to parents,” Hunter said.
And parents, too, are feeling the effects of the pandemic on their children. Even parents will have to adjust to having more social interactions as schools start to reopen in-person learning.
“We're all going to be going through an adjustment period as we transition back into more live interactions. That is going to be wonderful and also challenging,” Hunter said.
That transition for children can be more challenging. Hunter said it is important to check-in with children, and ask them about how they feel about the upcoming changes to their schedule.
“I'm always surprised by how much kids are aware of how much they already know and how much they've actually thought about it more. And when we give them space, then we can, not just tell them what to do, but give them space to figure out what to do for themselves,” Hunter said.
Another tactic is to provide children with a memento of the parent or caregiver while they are out of the house. This way, the children can be reminded of them when they are stressed or anxious.
“I purchased these little wristband things so that everyone in our family has it, and I've been talking about how this connects us. And then we're always connected because everyone in our family is wearing this wristband,” Hunter said.
“I think it might just be something that could help kids, especially those that have not been in school yet, because that's where I would expect some potential separation anxiety coming up.”
Hunter emphasized that the pandemic has exacerbated every aspect of family dynamics, and because everything's a little bit more intense, it’s important to keep track of your successes .
“I think it's about focusing on the positives and the things that we have kind of learned and gained, as well as the hard things in order to have balance as we move forward,” Hunter said.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Catherine Nouhan.