Coping with COVID: How to help kids get through the pandemic

“We must find a way to feel secure in the midst of uncertainty if we are going to survive. “

The Pandemic altered the way we navigate even the most routine parts of our lives

During this pandemic, life changed.  Our regular routines were uprooted and simple pleasures such as spending time with loved ones and feeling part of a community became almost impossible.  Experiencing connection became more difficult to grasp. We were forced to change our lives to stay safe. The resulting feelings of anxiety, isolation, anger, and grief left many wondering, would the world ever feel safe?

Now, as the mandates begin to lift and we are seemingly coming back to how things ‘used to be’, there are still adjustments to be made.  We feel cautious and timid, and wonder when the next shoe will drop.  Many of us are still feeling triggered, operating from the fight or flight part of our brain.  It is important to continue to pay attention, so that we are able to heal. This is uncharted territory for many of us, and that adds to the fear.  We are not through the pandemic, and the future is still uncertain.  As we begin the recovery process, how do we cope and find peace?  How do we help children feel safe? 

Children in the Pandemic

For children, this pandemic is a very difficult concept to understand. The restrictions over the past year have taught our youth to be fearful, and on alert constantly.  How do we help them to shift perspective and move forward, through fear, to find some sense of safety?  The younger a child is, the harder it is for them to understand and appreciate being safe, especially when the world around them doesn’t feel that way. 

Safety for a child depends on a parent feeling secure.  

Let’s consider for a moment, the horses.  As a prey animal, horses live in herds, or communities much like ours.  In the horse herd, if anything is amiss in the environment, and one horse is aware of it, everyone knows of the danger instantly.  Their survival depends on it.  

People are designed the same way.  Anxiety is generalized fear, and fear (anxiety) is a contagious affect for humans.  Much like a mare and foal, human children are wired to stay connected to their parents. Their survival depends on it.  Therefore, when a parent feels unsafe, the child knows this, and feels unsafe.  It’s how we survive.  So, when parents learn to manage their own anxiety, not only do they feel better, their children do too.    

Teenagers during COVID-19 

Studies are showing that Teenage depression and anxiety has skyrocketed over the course of the past year.  A national study to identify how COVID has affected teens reported almost 50% of parent’s noticing a new or worsening mental health condition with their child during the pandemic. The developmental tasks of adolescence focus on shifting attachment from parents to friends and community.  It’s the beginning of experiencing independence.  When we are not allowed to make progress or experience opportunities to practice these tasks, and cannot cultivate these important connections, it can easily lead to frustration, anger, and depression. Add anxiety and uncertainty, and you’ve got real struggle.  

Though teenagers are still able to interact online, the lack of human connection is still very much a problem. Social media and virtual connection platforms do not give the same interaction to a growing person that is needed for their development. Physical socialization, that is not posed or planned, is the best way for teenagers to develop healthy habits and behaviors for growth. 

Signs Your Child May Have Anxiety 

How can you tell if your child has anxiety or is developing a mental health condition? As a parent, be aware of any changes in behavior and make sure you are communicating with them about how they are feeling often. There are various signs that your child may have a mental health condition, included but not limited to: 

  • Isolation from loved ones
  • Loss of appetite/ fatigue 
  • Lack of sleep or increased nightmares
  • Mood swings
  • Loss of concentration
  • Self-condemning 

It is important to talk with your child so that they feel safe and supported.  Ask how they’re doing.  Talk about how you’re feeling.  Making emotions accessible through conversation is an important part of parenting.  Allow children to express their emotions and if emotions are unmanageable, or unexpressed, seek help.  Don’t forget, It is critical that parents are aware of their own mental health, so that they are not adding to the stress of the child. 

How to Handle Anxiety Post-Pandemic

The world appears to be returning to some semblance of normalcy, but this is a process.  It is important to reconnect and restore a sense of community to rebuild the security we once enjoyed. As we begin to navigate this process, it is critical that our youth understands the parameters within which they can feel safe and feel encouraged to experience connection with others.  How can we help them to understand and form relationships with new members of society?  Here are a few ideas. 

First, learning how to focus on what we can control rather than on what we cannot helps to establish a sense of security.  It is very easy to feel small or on edge when focused on ever-changing issues outside of your realm of power.  As we build positive relationships with those close to us, and hone in on tasks that matter to us personally, we become better able to establish a sense of relevance and connection, and feelings of anxiety decrease. 

Next, it is very important to find activities that are grounding and do them often. Some ideas include:

  • Hiking
  • Yoga/ Meditation
  • Sports
  • Games

These types of practices provide both a sense of accomplishment and relief. They support healthy habits for mental and physical health, and many of them can be done with socially distant parameters while still sharing connection with other people. 

Finally, it is so important to understand that help is available when we need it. Beachwood Center for Wellbeing provides therapy that gets you out of the fight or flight part of your brain, so you can experience a sense of safety.  Integrative Equine Therapy heals trauma, building a bridge from the fight or flight part of your brain to the conscious part of your brain so you can make choices instead of reacting.  IET helps people experience connection and feel less anxious. 

Mental Health and physical health are equally important. If you are ill, you see a doctor to get better. If you or a loved one is feeling unsafe, anxious, or depressed, it is time to seek help. We have all been through a very traumatic life-altering experience, and we aren’t even sure it’s over.  Our COVID related developmental task is to discover how to live in the midst of uncertainty, and not only survive, but thrive.  

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