6 Ways To Support Your Child’s Mental Health During A Stressful COVID School Year

Expert advice from Skeena Strong’s event ‘Fighting COVID In The Skeena.’

There’s a lot of anxiety among parents about sending children back to school in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. But it’s important to remember that our kids are also facing their own forms of stress and fear. 

How can we best help them through this stressful and unpredictable time? 

That was one of the major themes of Skeena Strong’s latest edition of “Fighting COVID In The Skeena,” a live Facebook event featuring Dr. Tara Moriarty, one of Canada’s foremost infectious disease experts, along with Smithers counsellor and mental health expert Katherine Brach. 

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You can watch the whole Facetime Live discussion here.  

The event was hosted by Christine Smith-Martin, from the Tshimshian and Haida nations. Skeena Strong’s Dan Mesec was the audience moderator.

Here are some expert suggestions for supporting your child’s mental health.

1) Acknowledge that being apart from friends and schoolmates is difficult

“For socialization and to grow up and to learn everything that they need, kids have to be around their peers. They need to form relationships outside the family and learn how to live outside the family. In some ways this has been quite hard on kids. I know that some of my friends’ kids were ecstatic to go back to school cause they’re absolutely tired of their parents and guardians,” Dr. Moriarty said. 

“It is clear that we need to be thinking about kids and we need to be thinking about how kids are feeling and how they are experiencing this,” she said. 

2) Understand how your own anxiety affects your child’s mental state

“We know that a parent’s anxiety level has a direct correlation to their child’s anxiety level, when there’s stress in a home and in a family, and there is stress in our families and our communities. People are losing their jobs, work isn’t predictable. The demands on us, having people working from home and balancing that with parenting that’s all stressful,” Brach said.  

“Some kids are feeling quite scared because adults are too,” Dr. Moriarty said. 

3) Take steps to relieve your own personal stress

“What I would say to parents is we need to focus on our own mental health, our own wellness and take care of ourselves. That’s probably the first and primary piece of advice that I can give any parent and that I have to give myself on a regular basis,” Brach said.

4) Emphasize safe activities to your child instead of potential dangers

“I think as parents the way that we communicate with our children is really important. The messages that they hear from us need to be messages of safety and of comfort and of care. A lot of people are saying to our kids, ‘we can’t go to the park. We can’t go to school. We can’t play with our friends,’” Brach said. 

“We can change that messaging from a message of danger and a threat to a message of safety. For example, you can say ‘we’re taking a break from playing with our friends right now, or we’re taking a break from having sleepovers.’” Our child learns that the parent is a person whose job it is to keep them safe,” she said. 

5) Be curious and open in conversations, rather than a problem-solver

“If a child says, ‘do kids die from COVID?’, what I’m hearing is there’s a child who’s really scared right now. They’re possibly scared of dying or they’re scared of a family member dying or they’re scared of getting hurt. As a parent, I would probably just say, ‘wow, it sounds like you’re really scared, or you have questions about death.’ Just explore the conversation and go from there. When I hear a child in distress, my tendency is to want to jump in and solve and fix the problem. But children just really want to be heard. And they want to feel safe enough with you to ask questions,” Brach said.  

6) Accept that this is a hard and strange time and just do your best

“If there’s one takeaway that I can offer, it’s that we don’t have to be perfect parents. Our kids don’t need massive birthday parties and giant gatherings and lessons and activities, but they need to feel safe. They need to feel seen and they need to feel soothed,” Brach said.   

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Written by Skeena Strong

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