How to strengthen your kids’ mental health during a pandemic.

line of trees bending away from hydro lines on the side of the road

How to strengthen your kids’ mental health during a pandemic with advice from Registered Social Worker and Psychotherapist Melissa Petriglia.

line of trees bending away from hydro lines on the side of the road

There is a line of trees along a local road I drive past on a regular basis. They used to be tall and stood up in a straight line. In 2013, a sever ice storm covered trees across the province with heavy ice that seemed to accumulate over the duration of about five days. A lot of trees were damaged and slouched over from the weight of the ice.

They have remained bent over for the past eight years.

But they aren’t broken.

And I’ve noticed that recently they have started to regain their posture again and start to straighten up.

I don’t know why, but those trees give me hope. They show me that sometimes things are so heavy, that they may leave a lasting impression. That these heavy things can change the course of growth, but that ultimately growth is still possible.

That’s what I try to focus on as we’re living through this pandemic. And this message of hope – and these trees – are all I’m holding onto when it comes to wondering if my kids will be okay. How will my kids’ mental health will be affected and will we all be okay?

The truth is the pandemic has increased anxiety in our kids. Routines are out the window. We’re all hanging on by a thread. We’ve been locked in our houses for over 400+ days.

But who’s counting?!

When will this be over?

The kids often ask when this is all going to be over? And the truth is I don’t have answers anymore. Yes, we’re slowly getting our vaccines, but our kids still have a while to wait for their turn. And even when that happens, the world simply isn’t going to suddenly be back to “normal”. Because I think “normal” will be different from what we were used to before.

It most definitely take a village and we can’t do this alone. Recently, I spoke with Melissa Petriglia, Registered Social Worker and Psychotherapist from Life In Harmony @ Vaughn Counselling Centre. I asked her how we can keep our kids’ mental health in the right place – when everything around us seems to be upside down.

Melissa specializes in working with individuals 14 years old and up who present issues with anxiety, depression, OCD, stress and burnout, life transitions and more.

Every child is different

She stressed that talking to our kids is key. Every child is different and is internalizes their fears and worries in their own way. And we should allow our kids to express those feelings in ways they feel comfortable. Sitting down for a big “heart-to-heart” may not work for everyone. But finding ways to have small, gradual conversations could work.

It’s also important to be honest with your kids. Use their age as a guide; let them know you understand how hard it is for them not to see their friends, or go to school in-class. And that they aren’t alone because it’s hard to work from home and teach from home. Kids have tunnel vision, so it’s great for them to gain perspective and see that everyone is struggling.

Melissa recommends that parents speak about our feelings too. Use “I feel” sentences to model communication and behaviours to our kids. Being able to normalize their feelings is what will help them to be able to identify and work through them.

Keep an eye on stress levels and changes in behaviour. These can lead the kids to act out, be irritable and withdraw. It’s easy to dismiss these behaviours as typical tween and teen behaviours, it’s important not to dismiss them.

In an ideal world our kids will talk to us and we can speak to them. But stress levels are high all around, and so that may not be the case. There are options available that including therapy and Melissa provides some pointers to find the right therapist for your kids.

How to find the right therapist for your kids

  1. Find a good fit – Ask about the age groups the therapist works with.
  2. Get your kids involved in the process – show your kids pictures of the therapists. Ask them if they have a preference of who they’d like to work with.
  3. Meet in a way that works for your kids – Ask if the therapist is doing in-person sessions or if they meet virtually. And be sure to ask your kids which they prefer.
  4. Shop around – find a therapist that best suits your kids’ needs.

Kids’ mental health and getting through the next few months?

While I want to believe we’ll be over this soon, I’m trying to take it one day at a time. And school seems to be the main focus right now. With so many changes from in-class to online over and over, it has left my kids feeling those first day jitters again. They are home for the next foreseeable future and are anxious about never going back, or what will happen when they do go back.

Online learning is a challenge of its own. While parents of older kids may not need to supervise as closely, it’s a good idea to ensure that you are keeping an eye on their development. Personally, I think there are going to be huge gaps in their learning which will affect them moving forward in the grades to come. I’ve chosen to get my kids a tutor to try to fill in those gaps. But that means more screen time and more online learning. Neither of which my kids are not a big fan of.

picture of sunset over houses and trees

Planting seeds

I’ve also started planting seeds of hope with some realism. Things will not go back to normal. There will most definitely be a “new normal”. I’m trying to be honest with my kids that we aren’t rushing back to travelling or attending large events anytime soon. I am sad about that too. But I do stress that it won’t be forever, that this will end eventually.

Will we miss yet another summer of doing fun things? Maybe. But we’ll make the best of it and try hard to make our own fun.

Eventually we will get to go to amusement parks again, walk on a beach, fly on a plane, and visit our friends.

But until then, my main goal is to try to get through this pandemic in one piece and ensure my kids do too! My kids’ mental health is being put to the test. All our mental health is. And so, like the trees I pass on a regular basis, we may end up a bit slouched over when all is said and done, but we will be okay. We will continue to find a way to grow together.

If you, or someone you know needs help, never hesitate to reach out to your doctor or find a counsellor or therapist to speak with.

Other posts to check out: Back-to-school 2020 and how parents made the impossible choice., Somewhere along the way: How life changed in 2020, How to beat the boredom blues with tweens for the summer

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