We have all had to weather changes to our daily lives with what has transpired and what will continue to occur as a result of COVID-19. So have our children.
Doreen Marshall, Ph.D.
Vice President of Mission Engagement, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Depending on where you are, schools may be in-person, virtual, or both. Over the course of the pandemic, my kids have been uncertain about how school will be for them during this constant state of flux. They worry about how they will stay connected with the friends they used to see daily before COVID-19. They ask me questions I can’t answer with any certainty, which exacerbates my own feelings of anxiety about what is to come in the next school year, and how we will cope.
Life is very different now, and many of us are not okay with it. The question is: how do we go forward knowing this, while caring for our kids’ well-being and our own? Even if you are not a parent, it is likely that you know a child who is navigating these challenges and may be looking to you for support.
I don’t have all the answers, and like many of you, I am navigating these challenges daily. What I do know is that these times have forced me to be more diligent, creative, and mindful when it comes to my family’s mental health. Some days I am better at this than others – but I know that if I pay attention to how we are all doing mentally, we will fare much better at coping with the daily changes as they come.
Prioritize mental health and health in general
Right now, the basic activities that we know support our mental health are more important than ever. Proactively make sure that you and your kids are getting regular sleep, exercise, and time in nature when possible, and are limiting intake of news or other media that can be disturbing or stressful, especially to young children. Be mindful of what is on in the background throughout your day. Ask your children how they are feeling and make time to listen without judgment. Check in with yourself about how you are feeling, too.
Be flexible when challenges arise
We are all navigating shifting routines, changing circumstances, and new requirements. It can take us time to adjust and we may have feelings about them. It’s okay if things don’t go as planned or as smoothly as you had hoped this year. We are all learning as we go and learning what isn’t working is just as important as learning what does work for your family. I often say to my kids, “We are figuring this out together,” when new challenges arise.
Keep scheduling family time and rituals
These can be shared meals, like Taco Tuesday in my family, walks, game time, or weekly movie nights. Regular rituals that you plan around can help add a sense of structure and routine and give you time to connect as a family. Don’t have a ritual? Create one and stick to it (even if your kids grumble at first).
Ultimately, what works for your family may not work for others, and vice-versa. Try to avoid comparing yourself to others, or how other families may be handling this time. Comparisons can lead you to feel you are not doing enough or doing too much when the benchmark should be doing what helps to keep you and your family well.
Model healthy coping and reaching out for help
Managing your own stress is vital to supporting those around you. Taking care of your own mental health will help to reinforce the message that we can all take an active role in caring for ourselves and that it is vital during times of change. Share with your family mindfulness activities or other things that work for you, and introduce them to videos, books, or other information to help them cope with their stress. Keep in contact with your support network and encourage them to do the same with theirs. Reinforce the message that there is always help available, including professional help, if they feel they are not managing well, and that help is available to the entire family.
We can all do some things to support our families and each other as we navigate these changes. If you are worried about the mental health of someone you love, you can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 800 273-8255 (TALK) or the Crisis Text Line (text TALK to 741741) to get some guidance on how to get help for you or your loved one.