By Sherri L. Rose, MSN, PNP, FNP, HPN (Retired)
Are you kids feeling stressed about COVID? Here are important ways to help.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF FIRST!
Do YOU feel stressed by COVID? Or by the many effects of COVID – like unemployment, pending eviction, stress with a partner or spouse, or even the loss of a loved one to COVID? Life does not stop during a pandemic – the ordinary ups and downs still occur, and COVID on top of these is sometimes more than one can bear.
Children and adolescents recognize our emotions sometimes before we do. They have been reading our faces for quite a while! It’s similar to flying on an airplane, and that little yellow cup suddenly drops down in your face and you MUST give yourself the oxygen first. If you don’t, you will be unable to help your family or others when they need you. You may need to get some mental health treatment, and that’s ok! Make certain your moods are not affecting your children. They will.
How do you know your children are stressed?
Recognize these signs in young children: developmental regression, increased crying, aggression, withdrawing, having “melt-downs,” potty training regression, sleep difficulties and simply being “impossible.” These signs deserve attention and don’t hesitate to ask your pediatrician about these. Older children and adolescents may have some of the same symptoms, become difficult to communicate with (although that often happens anyway), drug use, stealing, fighting, lying and more. Talk with them if you can. Get them help if you can.
Laugh. Play. Run. Get outside!
For young children, they do really need to get out and run. Exercise and fresh air are best for everyone in the family (of course, unless there are seasonal allergies). Get your heart rate up and theirs, as you will then release those good hormones, endorphins, the same ones that are released during sex. This can be challenging with the rampant addiction to video games and TV. Sometimes you will have to set limits on the amount of time they are in front of a screen. Or reward them for getting outside and playing. Go to the park, despite it might involve wearing masks and distancing.
Young children need to PLAY OUT their feelings. If you can, just sit in the floor with them and facilitate play. Dolls help hugely – let them play out their stories and hence, their feelings. It can be very cathartic for them, and for you. Older kids can draw so many of their emotions into their illustrations. Adolescents can journal; NEVER read their journal unless you think there is a life-threatening mental illness or activities going on. They always need a sense of privacy with respect; just as we do.
Are your children able to express their feelings?
For preschoolers, make your very own smiley chart. Preschoolers are just beginning to understand happy, mad and sad… they can certainly read those emotions on our faces. Preschoolers need assistance in understanding their feelings. Help and encourage them to express their feelings as you may do so very simply with them: I’ve had a hard day. I miss Grandma. Show them the sad face on the chart. They will be relieved to better understand your sad mood, and it may facilitate them understanding their own. An angry child might benefit from an “angry pillow.” Take an old pillowcase and put a happy face on one side and an angry face on the other. If things start getting out of hand, tell your child to go hit their angry pillow. Sometimes these kids just need to get outside and run off that steam!
Older children can talk a bit more openly about their feelings; it is so important for them to have these skills prior to entering adolescence. It’s really ok to keep that smiley chart on the refrigerator! Adolescents can sometimes struggle the most. One minute they want to be a child, the next, an adult; and sometimes it changes midday. Try to be patient and understand (and I know that is asking a lot!). Try to listen and not always advise. They need understanding ears. They will make mistakes, but what’s so important is when they come back home, we need to still love them no matter what.
Show and tell your children that you love them, no matter what.
There are more and more books that help children express their feelings and some books are available about COVID. Little ones need to hear that they are loved, even if they’ve given you a very difficult day. You might not like their behavior they have chosen, but you will always love them. This is so true for older children. Times are tough, and they feel that so significantly. They need to know that they are loved, despite the stressors that their parents are going through. Remind them; and mean it. Don’t forget extra hugs. This is the unconditional love of a parent, aunt or uncle, a grandparent and others.
Take care and stay safe.
About the author: Sherri L. Rose is a retired family and pediatric nurse practitioner and author of The Teensy Weensy Virus Book and Song for Preschoolers (available in English, Spanish, Hindi and Portuguese).
Connect with Sherri L. Rose
Youtube | IG: @sherrilroseauthor