Think back (however painful it may be) to the days of middle school and high school, that wonderfully and painfully awkward time of our lives. So much of who we are now depends on experiences we had then. Now, imagine navigating that time during a global pandemic.
The last two years have been different and difficult for all of us, but the toll it has taken on our children has been tremendous. A recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics showed that, during the first year of the pandemic, rates of depression and anxiety rose from 11.6% and 12.9% to 25.2% and 20.2%, respectively. That’s 1 out of every 4 children!
How do we help our children through this time? Here are some ideas of things that you can do to support your families.
The very first, and most important thing, to do is to start the conversation. This can be difficult and initially feel downright awkward. But by talking about mental health, we normalize feelings and emotions and remove the stigma surrounding the subject. Ask questions about your child’s day, what they and their friends are talking about, their interests, their worries, and their fears. Follow those questions with nothing… just listen and learn. This week we issued a challenge to start the conversation. Take the challenge and let us know how it goes.
We are faced with a constant barrage of news and status updates. From the 24-hour news cycle to instantaneous notifications it sometimes seems that we can’t escape. But that’s exactly what we need to at times. Plan times where everyone can unplug and spend time together. Mealtimes are excellent for this. Prioritize family meals as times to be together without distractions from the outside world.
CREATE A SAFE SPACE
The home, above all other places, should be a place where our children feel comfortable to express themselves. Praise them when they do. Talk about mental health in a way that is non-judgmental and supportive. Allow them to struggle and fail at times, and when they do remain calm, reassuring, and supportive.
We have found that service to others in need can be a huge boost to morale within a family. The holiday season is a difficult time for many and a great time to find opportunities to serve. Involve our children in that service and talk about how it makes them feel to serve.
STAY CONNECTED TO YOUR PHYSICIAN
If you feel that your child is struggling and need more resources and support reach out to your family physician. They can be a source of knowledge to help provide and find the resources that you and your family need.