By By Pilar Bradshaw, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Making small changes can help your kids better cope with feelings of anxiousness and sadness.
1. Limit screen time. With the new school year getting underway, distance learning will require most kids to substantially increase the number of hours that they stare at a screen. Too much screen time can cause anxiety, sleep disturbances, irritability and brain fatigue. Outside of schoolwork, encourage your kids to unplug from their devices and engage in other activities.
2. Stay in touch with friends. Find creative ways for kids to visit with their pals. Connection to others is critical for children and young adults. Suggest walking or biking six feet apart, visiting through an open window, meeting for a socially distanced picnic. Any social connection can help boost a child’s mood.
3. Limit exposure to the news. Consuming too much information about the pandemic can trigger anxiety, so do your best to reduce the news.
4. Stay positive. Encourage your kids to consider what they are thankful for; talk often about your blessings and what makes them happy. Negativity breeds anxiety, so help your kids identify and reflect on positive moments.
5. Model calm. Kids and teens pick up on their parents’ stress levels, so be aware of the vibes you’re sending. If you’re feeling stressed, create mini breaks to decompress.
Having a daily routine to follow for your kids and teens can provide comfort and reassurance. Keep a consistent Monday-Friday schedule of wake-up times, daytime activities and bedtime routines. Encourage healthy eating because nutritious meals and snacks help regulate mood. Anxiety is exhausting, so kids under stress need more sleep than usual. Adding daily exercise also releases positive chemicals in the brain that naturally combat anxiety. Encourage your children to be physically active for at least an hour each day.
If you are still concerned about your child’s mental health after implementing these strategies, talk with your pediatrician or seek help from a licensed child mental health provider.