As COVID-19 numbers begin to spike nationwide, Americans are again preparing for business shut-downs and refraining from meeting with groups of people. 2020 has been an incredibly challenging year, and it appears to only drag on as we fight to keep COVID-19 under control. While all these changes are stressful for adults, kids may be even more confused, upset, and pessimistic regarding when they will again experience a normal childhood. Thus far, most kids have experienced some sort of virtual/hybrid learning experience, ranging from part-time live in-class instruction to a full virtual experience. Now, kids brace again for the unknown, nervously awaiting to learn the fate of their education and related extra-curricular activities as COVID-19 cases uptick everywhere.
The stress of uncertainty
As humans, we are creatures of habit, meaning we tend to operate best with a level of certainty in our lives. To wake up each day and confidently know you will be safe and likely enjoy a normal day is comforting, and allows us to let our guard down. The daily assurance that everything is OK tempers our anxieties, and allows us to direct our best attention and energy toward the challenges we face daily, both small and big. But what happens when the world feels like it has been tipped upside down, and the future is unpredictable and scary? For kids, not knowing what tomorrow brings can quickly stir up a lot of stress, and lead to many tough questions.
Will we still go to school, or be in a hybrid or virtual learning situation?
Will my sports team have a season?
What will happen with school dances, events, and activities?
What will my graduation ceremony be like — and will there even be a commencement?
As adults, most of us have dealt with varying degrees of uncertainty throughout our lives, and learned ways to cope with tough times. Most kids, however, have not had these same experiences, and as a result have not fully developed their stress coping skills. The looming uncertainties, therefore, cause a lot of anxiety, mood state shifts, fatigue, and vulnerability to poor coping choices that may included unhealthy amounts of screen time, substance usage, and overall apathy toward doing much of anything.
Tips to help
So how should you prepare for a COVID-19 increase that appears to be on the cusp of prompting another national shutdown? The conversations that you have with your kids right now can make a world of difference, and help prepare them for the long days that loom ahead. Below are a few ideas to help you help your kids develop the resiliency needed to successfully navigate this winter:
- Talk factually. Yes, we live in a politically polarized world, but science does not take “teams.” What this means is that it is important to listen to doctors and scientists, heed their warnings, and error on the side of safety when possible. Depending on the ages of your kids, you might even help them learn how to find credible information, and apply critical thinking skills to better interpret the information they discover.
- Listen closely. Often when we engage in conversation, we only partially listen to what is being said. The reason for our divided attention is that we begin thinking of our response as the other person is speaking, and because of this we sometimes miss important aspects of the message. When your kids speak, especially as it relates to their mental health needs during these trying times, tune in and give them your undivided, unbiased attention. Listen closely to how they are feeling, their worries and fears, and how they are managing their thoughts and emotions. By employing this kind of communication, you will not only learn more, but also provide a healthy sounding board as well.
- Consider professional help. Mental health support is really important for kids, especially now with so much confusion, uncertainty, and fear. While parents can be great at listening and offering their kids a shoulder to lean on, mental health professionals can add another layer of care that can help kids better cope with the stress they are experiencing. Check around your community for resources, and talk to your child about the idea of introducing a mental health specialist to help if circumstances continue to worsen.
COVID-19 has impacted all of us in different ways, prompting us to react and respond to something (pandemic) most of us have never dealt with in our lives. Having our daily routines and habits disrupted has been difficult and inconvenient, not only for adults, but kids as well. As we prepare for the anticipated virus spike in the weeks and months ahead, make sure to pay attention to the kids in your life and help them cope effectively with all the change and uncertainty.