With current headlines emphasizing social distancing and face coverings, it can be all too easy for us to focus exclusively on physical safety and inadvertently overlook the mental well-being of both ourselves and our loved ones. And while these CDC-mandated actions are absolutely essential in such intimidating times, caring for our emotional wellness should remain a priority as well.
The abrupt suspension of in-person instruction is a historic, unusual event that will permanently alter the lives of today’s students. As Laura Horne observes in her article for Active Minds:
“The impact of a school closure on [...] students often goes beyond academics: we need to be aware of and prepared to cope with the potential impact these closures will have on [their] mental health and wellbeing [...] For most of us, having to unexpectedly leave or disengage with our community – even if just for a short time – can be stressful.”(1)
Horne reminds us that feeling this anxiety or recognizing its symptoms in your children is a natural response amidst a public health crisis. And as with any change, patience is key as everyone adjusts to their newfound routines. To help, we’ve gathered together strategies to support you in helping your children maintain their social and emotional health during the COVID-19 quarantine.
In such a period of uncertainty, the loss of pre-established coping mechanisms like socialization and connection can leave teens feeling lonely and frustrated. These emotions may be amplified when coupled with disappointment over missing out on school events such as dances, sports competitions, or graduation.
“It is important not to minimize the impact of these losses,” Bev McCarron explains in an article for Rutgers Today, “Encourage them to talk about their feelings and listen without judgement or minimizing the significance of this loss. They can also talk with their friends about planning alternative events after the crisis.”(2)
Keep in mind that your child may be struggling to process or classify their feelings, and consider how you can lead by example, modeling healthy coping and communication behaviors at home. “A parent’s ability to manage their emotions is related to how well teens weather stressful situations [...] and manage their relations,” writes Camille S. Johnson, Ph.D., in a piece for Psychology Today.(3)
Many parents’ instinctive reaction to concerns of loneliness in their kids is to increase time spent with them, but remember that this stage in your student’s life is the beginning of an organic transition through which they will distance themselves from their parental figures and become closer with their peers. “This is a healthy process that continues through young adulthood,” McCarron explains. “Have a conversation with your child about how you can respect their privacy and alone time while still having them respect the needs of the family as a whole.” Opening a dialogue and giving them an active role in the planning process can help restore a sense of agency during these disconcerting times, while also ensuring your child gets the space they need.
If you are concerned that your student’s behavior may be symptomatic of an underlying mental health condition such as anxiety or depression, please seek assistance from a professional. Many mental health providers have begun offering telehealth services such as phone or video conference counseling not previously covered under all health insurance plans. A variety of free helplines are also available to provide guidance and resources:
As you all adapt to your present circumstances, remember to show some extra compassion for yourself and your family members.