This past year had been tough on everyone, including our children.
Whilst kids are young and resilient they are often impacted much more by the “energy” in their environment than adults, says Clinical Psychologist, Health Service Psychologist, a Board Certified Music Therapist and Momprenuer, Dr. Bethany Cook .
“This means they pick up on the non-verbal stress levels around them such as parents fighting, a pandemic raging across the globe, lack of physical contact with friends and extended family, etc,” adding that “given what we know about childhood depression, our current life’s added ‘stressors’ are placing many children at a higher risk of developing depression than ever before.”
Cook, who authors What it’s Worth – a prospective on How to Thrive and Survive Parenting, shares what signs/symptoms should parents be on the lookout for:
- Feeling sad, hopeless, or irritable a lot of the time
- Not wanting to do or enjoy doing fun things
- Social withdrawal
- Feeling worthless, useless, or guilty
- Exhibiting self-injury and self-destructive behavior (such as cutting)
- Increased sensitivity to rejection
- Changes in energy – being tired and sluggish or tense and restless a lot of the time
- Changes in appetite – increased or decreased
- Changes in sleep – sleeplessness or excessive sleep
- Vocal outbursts or crying
- Trouble concentrating
- Physical complaints (such as stomachaches, headaches) that don’t respond to treatment
- Reduced ability to function during events and activities at home or in school, in extracurricular activities or other hobbies and interests, or with friends
- Thoughts of or talking about death or suicide
Since the pandemic started, the suicide rate in children has risen as well as a multitude of mental health problems.
Calls to DCFS have decreased by 50% in some places NOT because abuse is down but because the kids getting abused are not going to school so mandated reporters aren’t able to see what’s going on in the home.
Self-care practice among children can actualy reduce the risk of developing conditions like anxiety and depression, and better yet, getting them to partake in such habits cand ensure they take these steps into adulthood.
- Begin with the basics. If you help your child take a bath, brush her teeth, eat wholesome foods, prepare her own meals, then you have already started setting the foundation for good self-care. These basic self-care habits can help kids handle whatever life throws at them.
2. Nourish the mind. Encourage your child to take screen breaks and put down their toys and take time for some mindfulness activity like yoga, tai chi, and guided imagery are powerful tools that help build insight, awareness, and perhaps most importantly, tolerance for discomfort.
3. Get Better Zzzz. Sleep deprivation can be the cause of weight fluctuation, and mood swings. Sleep deprivation is a huge contributor of mental health issues for children, especially teenagers. Even the typical teenager requires 9 hours of sleep each night, and while activities may dictate the need for a slightly later bedtime, ensuring a full night of rest will go a long way in helping teenagers’ mood and academic performance. With an early bedtime of 7-8pm provides children with more deep sleep and higher levels of concentration the next day. 4.
4. Color Me Mine It has long been established that even for adults, coloring inside a coloring book can be theraupeutic. The activity of staying inside the lines while bringing a black and white template of an image to live is a mindfulness actvity because we stop focusing on the past (which is often associated with depression) and future (a common tendency of the over-anxious) and become present to the here and now, according to a Pschology Today post.
5. Fitness is Key. While it may be difficult to squeeze fitness through school sports or club because of pandemic restrictions, most communities have started to open up recreation centers, parks and trails. Encourage your child to take time each day walking around the neighborhood or just putting on some fun upbeat music and dancing in their room to their favorite recording artist. That activity is not just good for their fitness level but can actually lift their mood.
6. Schedule In Breaks. Doreen Arcus, an associate professor of psychology at UMass Lowell who specializes in child development, says even young children can benefit from downtime told Parent that “Routines that include quiet time, even if it is a few moments being held in a rocking chair, perhaps being sung to or read to, offer opportunities for centering and connection.”
She added: “Older children and teenagers should be encouraged to take time out of their busy schedules. Take a break in between school and diving into homework, then take a break after each assignment is completed to go outside or get some exercise or even go back to the old rocking chair.”
7. Write It Down According to HealthPsych.com, journaling is an excellent practice to introduce to your child around the age of 6-7, as it provides a private space in which they can write out their thoughts and work through them.
Expressive writing like journaling helps to manage and reduce stress by allowing your child to map out their emotions and make sense of what they are experiencing. This can help them explore solutions to their life challenges and prioritize certain aspects that are causing them the most stress.
8. Let the Music Play – It is an undisputed fact that music can affect one’s mood. Put on calming classical or other soothing music to pipe in the home and turn up the calming vibes.
Also, as noted by HealthPsych.com, “encouraging your child to practice creating music, whether it be through songwriting or playing an instrument, will help with cognitive development, which can lead to a greater sense of self-awareness.
“Helping your child remain connected with their emotions will make coping with mental health concerns an easier feat.
In general, listening to music can have a tremendously positive impact on your child’s mental health. Music, through its rhythmic appeal, engages your child’s brain, specifically the neocortex, which reduces stress and lowers impulsivity . If your child is struggling with severe anxiety or depressive episodes, play softer or more uplifting music to counter these dips in mood.”
9. It’s all Fun and Games: Hosting a family game night at least once a week is a great way to get all the children in your home together for fun and competitive play. It is quite easy for everyone to retreat to their corner in the house or apartment and to keep themselves busy alone but break up that solitude and force siblings to play with one another and be on the same team!
I love the way the Parents piece ended with a final quote from Louis:
While teaching your child self-care habits, don’t forget to take care of yourself.
Parents may feel like they’re neglecting the many demands on them when they take time for self-care, but taking time to recharge and re-center can provide reserves of energy for work and family tasks. And setting this example is important as children may learn more from what we do than what we say.”
Even if it’s something small like time for a cup of tea in the evening when mom takes a few minutes in a no-one-bother-me zone, it can be a positive example.