Seven Ways Parents Can Help Stressed-Out Kids
School’s out for the summer, and the state has officially reopened. Families are getting together with long-separated loved ones. Summer camps are gearing up. Teenagers may be jumping into the reinvigorated job market with seasonal positions.
Amidst the news of record vaccinations and accelerated reopening, an undercurrent of uncertainty persists. Parents have questions. Teens have questions. Young kids have questions.
‘What’s Safe Now?’
Ashley Miller, M.D., a pediatrician in South Royalton who sits on the Governor’s Covid task force, says she’s fielding questions from across the state. “Kids of all ages are asking ‘what’s safe now?’,” Miller says.
Cath Burns, Ph.D., hears it from the families she works with in her clinical psychology practice. Burns is the clinical supervisor for COVID Support VT and quality director for Vermont Care Partners, a network of mental health agencies throughout Vermont.
Burns: Getting Back to ‘Normal’ Is Good for Kids
Burns believes that the loss of regular educational and recreational activities has been difficult, and in some cases, damaging to kids. She points to a recent New York Times “Morning Briefing” newsletter which argued that “the interruption of school and other normal activities has caused substantial damage to children — academically, socially and psychologically. Helping children resume normal activities is important to their health.”
Burns says: “From my perspective, the positive impact of getting involved in summer activities far outweighs the risk of contracting the virus. This can, in fact, make kids healthier and more prepared for school in the fall.”
What To Do if Your Child is Worried
In a recent workshop for parents at COVID Support VT, Burns outlined seven things to do if your child is anxious or worried.
- Don’t put it off. If you notice something, talk about it. “I tell kids if they’re avoiding something difficult, that’s their anxiety trying to boss them around. It only makes your worry worse,” Burns says.
- Express positive and realistic expectations. Focus on short-term goals, and lessons that can be learned in difficult situations.
- Try not to be reactive. “It makes it hard to be proactive,” Burns says.
- Identify the feeling and prompt a coping skill. Naming the emotion can allow some distance from it. Burns says: “Maybe it’s telling a child: ‘Yeah, it’s scary. Let’s breathe.’”
- Model healthy ways of managing your own anxiety. Children learn by example, and will usually follow your lead.
- Time conversations wisely. It’s best not to engage in a difficult or sensitive conversation if you or your child is tired, or in the heat of a stressful situation. You can acknowledge the situation in the moment and set an intention to find the right time to talk about it. Then be sure to follow up.
- Seek support for your child. This may look different than we’d expect because Vermont is facing a youth mental health crisis right now and there are not enough child therapists to meet the demand. It may mean finding other adults in the child’s life who can be supportive, such as a best friend, camp counselor, faith-based leader, or coach.
“We may need to broaden our views of who can offer support,” Burns says. “A lot of people can be helpful to children beyond mental health professionals.”
Don’t Forget the Basics: Eat, Sleep, Move & De-stress
Burns also advises parents not to overlook the basics: adequate sleep, three healthy meals a day, physical activity, and tools to manage stress.
“Get involved in things they like to do,” she says. “Help them learn to relax and breathe.”
Find More Parenting Resources
Read our last installment in the Parenting Series: What Do Kids Need This Summer?
Watch this space for our next Parenting Series installment: “Whose Anxiety is It?”
Learn more about how to support children’s re-engagement and mental health with our list of Parent and Caregiver COVID-19 Resources.
Need to Talk?
Call 2-1-1 (in Vermont) for assistance.
If you or someone you care for is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can: call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-825; text VT to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor 24/7; connect with your local community mental health center for 24/7 support.
Find resources and tools for coping with stress at www.COVIDSupportVT.org.
Find your local community mental health center by visiting Vermont Care Partners.
COVID Support VT is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency, managed by Vermont’s Department of Mental Health, and administered by Vermont Care Partners, a statewide network of 16 non-profit community-based agencies providing mental health, substance use, and intellectual and developmental disability services and supports.