Many of us are experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety during this time. Our kids may feel stressed too. For many of us, when COVID-19 forced schools to move classes online, businesses to close down, and families and friends to “social distance,” the virus upended our lives.
Around this time of year, many kids would be attending summer camps, going on vacation, and visiting friends, but social distancing and closures of parks and recreational sites may make those things unavailable. Moreover, kids have seen and heard scary things about the virus.
All these changes may lead to an increase in stress levels in children. According to a Gallup Poll, nearly 3 in 10 (29%) parents say their child is “already experiencing harm” to their emotional or mental health because of social distancing and closures.
Things are not likely to return to normal anytime soon. Many schools are still trying to figure out what classes will look like in the fall. As schools prepare to resume, they want to support children’s social and emotional needs as they get used to a new normal.
Prepare Kids For Returning to School
Right now, you may be worried about your children returning to school in the fall. You are not alone. Fears of keeping your kids and family healthy and possible separation anxiety have increased the stress of going back to school.
Stress and anxiety can negatively affect a child’s ability to pay attention, stay on task, and move from one activity to another. It also affects how kids treat their peers and how they show their feelings. Before kids return to school, we can help them feel safer and more confident by learning the signs that a child might be stressed and then acting to reduce their concerns.
What is stress?
Stress is a physical and mental reaction we have to events that happen in our lives. Everyone feels stressed from time to time. In small amounts, stress can be useful. It can protect us when we think we are in danger with our “fight-or-flight” response and improve our concentration when we have to study. But, too much stress can be a negative thing and affect how we think, act, and feel.
How to know if your child is stressed or anxious?
There are both physical and emotional signs that can help determine if your child is stressed. Changes in hunger, headaches, nightmares, and stomach pain are common physical signs that our bodies are going through a lot of stress. Emotional symptoms might include increased worry, difficulty relaxing, new fears, and less control of emotions. These changes are our body’s way of telling us that we are experiencing stress.
Stress can be especially harmful now because high levels of stress impact our immune system. Over long periods, stress can weaken our immune system and reduce our body’s ability to fight harmful germs. It can also increase the time it takes you to recover from illness. So it is super important for all us to work to manage our stress levels.
How can parents help?
Parents can help children respond to stress in healthy ways. Here are some tips:
1. Create A Routine
We currently live in unsettling times without our usual structure. Having a routine can give comfort in times when many things are out of our control. Maybe it’s eating breakfast together each morning or reading a book at the same time every night. Scheduling family dinners and games nights give you and your family something to look forward to throughout the week.
2. Help Your Kids Stay Active
There are many ways to stay active while social distancing. Try taking a walk or going for a bike ride. It is safe to go outside as long as we keep a safe distance away from others, but we don’t have to go out to stay active. Even doing something as simple as having a home “dance break” can help relieve stress.
3. Make Sleep A Priority
Sleep is our body’s chance to heal and restore. It is vital for everything from lowering stress to improving school performance. If your child struggles to get enough sleep, that might be a sign, they are worried about something or under too much pressure. You can help your child get better sleep by creating a bedtime routine.
4. Reach Out For Help
No one expects you to have all the answers, especially since this is a new situation for most people. Knowing when to ask for help from a professional can help children receive any additional support before the problem worsens.
5. Schedule Time For Social Interaction
While staying 6 feet away from others can keep us from getting sick, it can be harder to connect with others. Being far from each other can be lonely, but there are different ways we can connect. A video chat or phone call can help us feel less alone. Try scheduling a weekly call with a loved one or setting up a virtual playdate. A little connection, even virtually, can go a long way.
6. Teach Kids To Listen To Their Bodies
Our bodies are very good at telling us if something is wrong. It’s normal to feel nervous sometimes, like about going back to school, but if your body feels different from usual, you may be experiencing more than just nerves. Like if you have stomach aches or can’t sleep through the night, those might be signs that you are stressed and need to slow down.
Health Education for Youngsters (HEY!) Curriculum
This curriculum includes sections that could help children control their emotions, such as:
Take Care of Your Anger - When we start to get very angry, we have a choice. This section teaches kids about anger and how to deal with it.
Cuts & Scrapes 101 - Teaches students how to cope with pain by taking deep breaths to help yourself calm down and start the healing process.
Words that Pollute - Reminds students that words can be tools, or they can be weapons. Tools are for building and fixing; weapons are for hurting and destroying.
Smiling Mind - a meditation app especially for kids
Smiling Mind is a daily meditation app. Being mindful reduces worry, creates a sense of calm, helps manage emotions, and improves concentration.
Time to Come In, Bear - A children’s story about social distancing
The short story follows a bunny who has to explain to a bear why they have to stay inside and social distance. This is a good starting point for a conversation with kids.
Bad Sheep by Autumn Calvert - A children’s book about emotions.
This book helps children learn how to name their emotions so they can gain better control of them.
These are stressful times, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by it all. Learning the signs that your child might be stressed and how you can help will ease the return to school for everyone.
If you have any tips for helping your family manage stress, please let us know in the comments below.
Calderon, Valerie J. “U.S. Parents Say COVID-19 Harming Child's Mental Health.” Gallup.com, Gallup, 3 July 2020, news.gallup.com/poll/312605/parents-say-covid-harming-child-mental-health.aspx.