The pandemic has taken a toll on everyone’s mental health and unfortunately, children are not immune to the effects of isolation and stress no matter how much we may try to shield them from it. The good news is there are many strategies parents can employ to ease children’s pandemic stress and foster a sense of routine and normalcy even during these unprecedented times. Here are 10 ideas from researchers at Oklahoma State University.
- Connect with each other. Children thrive in stable, loving environments, so it’s important to take time to disconnect from school and work responsibilities and just enjoy each other’s company. This can look like taking lunchtime breaks together to share a meal, playing your favorite games in the evening, or taking morning walks to relax and enjoy the fresh air.
- Support children’s friendships. Like adults, children are also struggling with reduced social interaction right now. Making arrangements for children to safely interact with friends in a way they feel comfortable with is critical for fostering their social growth and supporting their mental health. This might look like playing outside with masks on, forming a bubble with one other family so your children can play together, or arranging weekly video chat playdates.
- Help others. Lending a helping hand to those in need is a great way to maintain a sense of community. Encourage your children to donate clothes and toys they have outgrown or volunteer together for a beach or park clean-up.
- Keep clubs and activities alive. Being part of a group helps children feel a sense of belonging and identity. Keep clubs and afterschool activities alive with video meetings or socially-distant outdoor activities.
- Stay in touch with family. Although we couldn’t spend the holidays with extended family this year, it’s important for children to maintain connections with older relatives as a source of support and guidance. Keep up those weekly calls to grandma or create crafty cards to mail to the cousins.
- Encourage hobbies. Developing meaningful and engaging hobbies stimulates children’s creativity and will keep them entertained for hours. If you’re bored of your initial quarantine hobbies, try picking up some new ones to challenge yourselves!
- Get active outside. Physical activity is one of the most influential factors in physical and mental health. Additionally, time in nature has been shown to promote better mental health and reduce stress. Make exercise a part of the daily routine and try out new and exciting outdoor pastimes like bike riding, hiking, or a new sport.
- Create a routine. Keeping a steady routine instills in children a sense of safety and stability. Even with fewer activities on our plates, create weekly calendars and stick to regular bedtimes.
- Adjust learning expectations. Many children are not advancing as quickly academically as they would be in the classroom. While this can be distressing, it’s important to remember that academic advancement is not the only measure of learning. Work with your child to practice skills they may be struggling with and celebrate other milestones like the mastery of a new hobby, cooking independently, or remembering to do their chores.
- Eat healthy. In addition to exercise, a healthy diet impacts our energy levels and mental health on a daily basis. Take advantage of the time at home during the pandemic to establish healthy and balanced eating habits and teach your children about the importance of nutrition. This could also be a great time to teach them how to cook some healthy staples or cultivate a vegetable garden.
We’ve been in a pandemic for nearly an entire year and even though we’ve gotten more used to online classes, virtual holidays, and remembering our masks, it never hurts to get a refresher on stress reduction and coping strategies to help us and our kids get through these difficult times.
By Amelia Buckley for The Optimist Daily: Making Solutions the News