Dr. Patricia Blessman | Tips for Maintaining Children’s Mental Health

Q: What kind of discussion do we need to have with our children? What we need to be careful of and what kind of conversation we need to have with our children concerning the pandemic?

Parents need to stay calm, listen to their children, and offer reassurance—this is the first level of intervention. For example, if we are anxious, children pick up on it; if we are fearful; they pick up on it; if we act like we are scared, they will pick up on it. Children are like sponges as they pick up on or understand others’ emotions, particularly the feelings of their father or mother, or any other primary caregivers, whoever that might be. They would also pick it up from their brother or sister if they are in a family with other children.

How do we talk about what’s going on? What is important is that the caregivers are calm—they listen and offer reassurance to the children. In terms of providing reassurance, it is also crucial for letting children know that their parents will be able to do everything possible and in their ability to keep their children safe and to keep their family healthy; and this needs to be said with courage and conviction. So, this would be the foundation for an approach to any conversation. We need to talk about Coronavirus and what it is. Of course, we need to keep the conversation developmentally appropriate to the child’s age group, i.e., what you say to a two or three-year child would be different from what you say to a seven-year-old and twelve or thirteen years child. Keep explanations age-appropriate.

You can give them explanations in a way that is understandable to them. What you should talk about is a superbug, a virus, or a pathogen whichever term the child understands. To make them know that this particular virus is invisible, we could give examples by asking, what do we breathe? Air, and do we see it? No. Now similarly, viruses or pathogens are also invisible while they do exist. This is how a young child could probably understand the existence of coronavirus in our environment. Also, we could explain to them that with microscopes, we can look at minute particles that are not visible to our naked eye but do live in our environment, which could also explain to children about science and STEM topics. Being honest and explaining these subjects to the child in the language that the child understands depending on the family’s culture and family’s habits.

It is also essential to be accurate. Like, to tell children, this is new, and we don’t know a lot about it, and as we learn more about it, we will share our knowledge with you. It is critically vital for parents to stick to science and are honest and accurate about what we know or don’t know or what we could research and find out. 

Also, it is crucial to model basic hygiene and lifestyle practices. The first thing we talked about in our family was about a radical self-care plan. So, we decided in our family that this will help us be extraordinarily healthy with our approach to living. We made sure that we have healthy food and exercise to make our bodies stronger and keep our immune system healthy.

Q: How do we explain to children about health issues without sounding too alarming or encourage the formation of negative habits?

Teaching opportunity is a learning opportunity—this would become an exploration for other types of biology or different types of STEM learning. When we talk about a specific topic, how much we talk about it or the length of what we talk about is necessary to limit. When there is something new or a change in the routine for a child, it would be essential to let them know why it is necessary and how we could maintain our health by doing physical activities. Taking some fresh air and by having healthy food and talking to them about how they are feeling or what they are doing in the daily activities and being aware of our child’s mental health would be critically important.

Children would be isolated from their regular activities. And for some children, the loss of their friends, and their friendship circles, can bring an immense feeling of sadness. As a parent, we need to understand how to respond to children in such a situation. The family needs to maintain the same fun that their child used to have during regular summers to make the child feel comfortable and away from many emotional changes. Every family is different, and we need to identify what brings extreme joy and keeps the children happy. We should make sure that one of the emotional tones is not fear, but instead, it is joy, peace of mind, and contentment.

Q: Any recommendations or strategies for coping with children to overcome the emotional tolls of this pandemic?

Nothing has changed for a parent in this pandemic. One of the main things that I would recommend is to have their children act in their best strength and best self. We would continuously want the child to achieve what their visions and intentions are and to mold their ideas and practices and explore their talents. We would still need to be parents and want our children to be calm and productive while develop their passion and skills to build their academic path—the pre-pandemic concerns still exist. It is just the context that has changed, but we always need to be parents and our children’s guardians. We still need to prepare our children for the future and help them envision their future.

At the end of each day, I ask my son: 

  1. What did you learn today?
  2. What would you like to do-over? It could be something that went right or something that did not work and want to do over.
  3. Who did you bring joy to today? This is important for the child to bring a positive impact on a person.
  4. What do you have to look forward to tomorrow? This would help to move forward from the pressure.

For a three-or four-year child, I would suggest teaching some breathing techniques that would help a young one improve their mindfulness—and this would help them control their mind and move away from the stress and also teach them how to help themselves become calm. 

Resources for Parents/Caregivers for Children

Talking to Children About COVID-19 in multiple languages on this website

https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/covid-19-resource-center 

Multilingual Workbook for Children Under 7

https://www.mindheart.co/descargables

Where to get help

https://www.apa.org/topics/covid-19/local-mental-health

About Dr. Patricia Jones Blessman

Dr. Patricia Jones Blessman is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 30 years of experience as a clinician and mental health program administrator. Her interests fall in psychological practices across cultures, educational evaluation, identifying gifted children, and early childhood evaluation.

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