The stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted nearly everyone, yet it can be difficult to pinpoint how the pandemic has affected the mental and emotional health of young children. Children manifest feelings of stress and anxiety in different ways than adults, and as a result, their mental health needs may often go overlooked. Here are some tips for promoting your child’s mental well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Be aware of your child’s mental health
Processing and articulating emotions is a difficult skill that takes time and effort to develop. Young children, in particular, struggle with discussing their emotions because they lack the communication skills to adequately express their feelings. They also have less experience actively engaging in conversations about their emotions. As a result, parents who are attentive to changes in their children’s behavior will better be able to gauge the state of their mental health. Maybe your child is asking to sleep with a night light again, or they are acting out more than usual. Changes in patterns of behavior are important to recognize and can help assess whether your child is navigating difficult emotions. Additionally, pay attention to the questions your child asks. Children are naturally curious, and the questions they ask reflect their thoughts, opinions, and concerns. A conversation with your child prompted by a question can provide great insight into how your child is feeling and what they may be worried about.
Be a role model for positive coping strategies when it comes to mental health
By modeling a thoughtful acknowledgment of your own mental health, your children will mimic attitudes and behaviors that can help them cope with their own feelings. Keeping it age-appropriate, try having a conversation with your child to discuss your own feelings with them—in doing so, you are teaching your child how to openly talk about their emotions and supplying them with the confidence to do the same. You’re also showing them that it’s okay to sometimes not feel okay. Be sure to validate your child’s feelings when they open up to you, and focus on listening to what they have to say rather than trying to “solve” their problem. Validating a feeling for them is not the same as “agreeing with” the content of their statement—focusing on the emotions behind the content of what they say and/or how they act may make it easier to validate even the biggest of feelings. Show your child the value of managing stress by inviting them into your own de-stressing practices. Take them outside for a relaxing nature walk, or invite them to meditate alongside you. This shows your child that feelings of stress and anxiety are real and valid, and that by taking the proper steps they can often be mitigated.
Take steps to prioritize mental health
Supporting a child’s mental health is a demanding and important task for any parent. When you’re able to invest time and effort into strategies that promote the mental health of your family, you convey the message that mental health is a priority in your household and should be treated as such. Making time for play, encouraging open conversation, and being aware of mental health needs all play a role in supporting the mental health of young children during the pandemic. A great resource in promoting strong mental health is the people around us, so look for ways to reinforce the relationships with the others in your household. Group activities, such as playing a game as a family, allow for crucial bonding time with your children and remind them that having fun is still important despite the pandemic. Additionally, promoting a healthy lifestyle is key to nurturing mental health. Be sure to establish a routine for your child that ensures they are taking care of both their physical and mental needs. Set a consistent bedtime, organize time to get outdoors, and schedule regular time for play. If you do notice a pattern of changed behavior in your child that is of concern, note its intensity, duration, pervasiveness, and frequency to determine how concerning an issue it may be. When in doubt, contact a mental health professional, your child’s school counselor, or your family pediatrician to discuss courses of action to properly address the problem. We hope you find these tips and strategies helpful, but this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice.
At Sanford, our counselors are resources to support our students, parents, and faculty. They have also provided valuable information on the COVID-19 Information, Updates & Resources page. To learn more about how to best look after your child’s mental health during the pandemic, listen to a conversation with Sanford School’s three guidance counselors about young children’s mental health in the podcast below.
Courtney Gregor is the Middle School counselor & learning services coordinator. She received her bachelor's degree in Psychology from Franklin and Marshall College and a master's degree in School and Mental Health Counseling from the University of Pennsylvania. She also has a National Counselors Certification. In addition to serving students as a counselor, Courtney is the head swim coach at Sanford.
Skye Rashkind is the Lower School counselor & learning services coordinator. Skye has been an educator for 25 years in a variety of roles and school communities. She has taught at the elementary school level, has been a museum educator, an admissions counselor, and a tutor. Skye holds a B.A. in Psychology from Dickinson College, an M.A.T. in Elementary Education from Brown University, and an M.Ed. in School Counseling from Wilmington University.
Sarah Satinsky is the Upper School counselor & learning services coordinator. Sarah is a Licensed Professional Counselor of Mental Health (LPCMH) in Delaware and was in private practice in Texas before moving into the school counseling world. She earned her bachelor's degree from The University of Texas at Austin and received her master's degree from Southern Methodist University.