No one can deny that much has changed in the past several weeks. Children are home, parents are working from home or may have lost their jobs. Situations are changing daily with no end in the sight.
The constant change and upheaval is difficult for children to process. They don’t understand why they had to give up everything they enjoy, the loss of friends, teachers and staff can make them prone to sadness, isolation, crying or anger. They are hearing and seeing the fears in the faces of adults and social media, too. The roles their parents have filled have changed to become teachers, forcing them to do things they may not want to do. Facing a pandemic is an invisible threat, which can make it confusing and scary.
Kids need structure and routine to decrease anxiety. They also need age appropriate information and an opportunity to vent their fears and frustrations. For parents, managing traditional responsibilities as well as job loss and education can create the perfect storm for negative mental health impacts to the entire family.
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For children who already have mental health issues, current conditions can exacerbate them. Children who have suffered previous trauma, like the loss of a loved one or natural disaster, may be triggered and regress to previous trauma behavior.
At NAMI Collier County, we are reaching out to over 100 families we serve in our programs. We are making sure they have access to good information, tips and resources. We are supporting them however we can.
We know the importance of communicating with children in age-appropriate ways, as different ages are processing the stress caused by the pandemic differently. Here are a few resources to get the conversation going. Remember, every child feels and deals with their emotions differently, so be patient. Some resources include PBS Kids: How to Talk to Your Kids About Coronavirus (includes a list of videos, games and activities about hand washing and staying healthy); Centers for Disease Control: Talking with Children about Coronavirus (online article); and Zero to Three: Tips for Families: Talking About the Coronavirus (online article).
Other tips for helping children and families cope include:
- Try to establish structure and routine, but also be flexible and realistic. Children within the same family can work at a different pace and respond differently.
- Give children the opportunity to feel they are helping and contributing to the betterment of the situation. Assign or allow them to choose a task. It gives them a sense of control.
- Plan out points you want to make and have conversations when you are calm.
- Stressed-out parents need to take time for self-care.
Seek help if you need it. There are a lot of resources available for free. The Collier County School District counselors are available here. Anyone can text NAMI at 741741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free 24/7 crisis support via text. Our Facebook page includes Collier County Public School System updates and local, state and national children’s mental health support and information.
Gayla Bowden has a master’s degree in social work. Health Under Guided Systems (HUGS) provides bilingual universal social and emotional screenings, global family centered analysis, and referrals to facilitate early identification and access to care to mitigate the effects of untreated mental health problems later in life for children ages 3 months to 18 years. Due to the demand for increased support, NAMI Collier County needs emergency funding. Visit namicollier.org.