This is a tough and uncharted world we are in right now, especially for our children; right now they would probably be outside playing with neighbors, enjoying their new found summer freedom now that school (which should've just let out) is no longer in session. Typically, they would be taking vacations, spending all day at the community pool, visiting friends and family and so many other fun things we do during the summer. With the resurgence of the Corona Virus, it's starting to look like the summer is also now effective. Children, and adults, are experiencing frustration, loneliness and even depression. I felt it was fitting to talk a bit about how we can help our kiddos cope with this unique situation.
Start by helping them understand just what the Corona virus is and why we have to take so many precautions.Having a discussion about the pandemic and social distancing is a good way to allow kids to process and understand the situation. This is easier with teens than younger kids, so I am going to focus more or how to help our younger kiddos understand the virus. My favorite go to activity to help facilitate discussions with kiddos in my practice is to use a few resources such as coloring books that have been created just for the Corona Virus. LSU's School of Allied Health Profession created this wonderful coloring book called, "Caroline Conquers Her Corona Fears." I read this with my daughter and it was such a great activity to help her understand more from a child's perspective when it comes to the Corona Virus pandemic. Another great resource with a social story that a pediatric nurse from the Southhampton Children's Hospital in Liverpool, Molly Watts, created to help children understand their anxiety, "Dave the Dog is Worried about Coronavirus."
In working with kids who are feeling depressed, the best thing to do first as a parent is to validate their feelings. Validating and helping children with their depression starts with comforting them through loving touch, like a hug or a kiss on the forehead. And let them know that you understand that they feel lonely or sad, that what they are feeling is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. Allow them to cry and talk about how they feel; follow that up with identifying with them your emotional struggles with the sudden changes as well. An example of what that would look like would be, "I understand you're feeling lonely and sad, I would feel that way too if I didn't get to play with friends and do fun things like go to the trampoline park. What can I do to help you feel better right now?"
Play is the best way for a child to express how they're feeling, even if they are unable to identify the emotion they are experiencing. Playing with dolls, role-playing going to a restaurant, tag outside, puzzles, blow bubbles, etc. But, if you are looking for more specific games to play that help your kiddo explore how they are feeling and even identify a new
emotion games such as emotions Pictionary or Charades can be a great family game to play. For some kids who are experiencing anger, doing things like throwing a water balloon at a wall can help elevate some of that anger without them displacing that anger on family members. (Yes, kids with depression may express anger or have "temper tantrums").
Keeping a structured schedule can also be beneficial for kiddos struggling with COVID. I will be the first to admit that, for the first 2-3 weeks of being stuck at home, I let my child run about in her PJ's ALL day. I realized that this was not healthy and began waking up earlier to make sure she had clothes laid out and had a schedule to follow, even with school being out. Children do well when they know what to expect for the day, even if they fight you on this; having a schedule allows consistency and predictability at a time when predictability is out the window. By no means am I saying that you should have a rigid schedule similar to a school setting (a majority of us are still working from home so be a little bit realistic). However, discussing what your expectations for the day look like and laying out activities to do and a time to do them gives them something to look forward to.
Additionally, adding more sunlight and outdoor activities to the day is extremely important. I noticed after a few days of the stay-at-home order that my house seemed so dark despite it being sunny out. Open up your blinds and curtains to allow more natural sunlight to filter in and ensure that when your kiddo is playing video games (lets be honest we are) make sure the room is lit up and sunlight is filtering in through the windows. So many studies have linked depression with low levels of vitamin D; getting outside and doing scavenger hunts, tag or hide and seek gives them the opportunity to get natural sunlight as well breathe in fresh air.
Other things that should be a given include: a healthy, balanced meal, drinking water, limited time on video games/electronics, activities that involve being outside and dinner together as a family. I could go on and on when it comes to all the ways to help our kiddos during this uncommon situation we find ourselves in. If you would love to have a discussion regarding more you can do please email or call me. You and your kiddos mental health is extremely important and I would be more than happy to help in anyway. Stay safe!