Supporting children’s mental health right now

Tapping into my child development expertise, this is the third in a series on the repercussions of the pandemic on children…

A few weeks ago we looked at social development (click here to read that one.) Last week we talked about emotional development (click here to read that one). We’ll round out the series next week looking at physical health, so stay tuned!

If you’ve got any friends who might find the series relevant, you can invite them to sign up for these free weekly newsletters at the following link: https://weturnedoutokay.com/weekly…

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Today we’re talking about mental health.

My youngest is not getting his usual enjoyment out of skiing, this year, in Covid.

No hangout time in the lodge. No going up in the lift with buddies. (Not even seeing buddies almost at all.)

In all the unhappiness his boots have started to hurt him. Poor guy! There’s nothing worse than skiing with boots that hurt.

But curiously, the boots only hurt when Jay is not actually skiing.

When he’s on the snow headed down the mountain, with the fresh air all around him and a song in his heart, his feet do not hurt.

This is so telling.

Recently I told him about when I was his age, and would go ice skating… And my feet would HURT. So badly. Until I realized why: it’s because I was not trusting the skates to hold me up. I was doing extra, crazy hard work and causing foot cramps and misery.

I said “it doesn’t sound exactly like the situation that you’re in. But it seems like it might be related. I was clenching my feet so hard, because of my own anxiety. Maybe something similar is happening to you?”

He pondered that for a goodly portion of our lift ride up the mountain.
Just as I thought he maybe didn’t even hear me – he came back with “you know, Mom, I think you might be right. I think I am clenching my feet, and the only time I don’t is when I am actually skiing. The rest of the time, I’m feeling anxious.”

Anxiety does not just live in our mind. It inhabits our body as well, and it can come out in many, many ways:
– Foot cramps or other body aches
– A rash, numbness, or tingling in our limbs
– Temper tantrums
– Stomachaches
– Night terrors
– Stress-eating
– Not being hungry
– Crying
– Excessive energy
– Sleeplessness
And the list goes on.

As you read that list, did you find yourself nodding?
Did you relate those symptoms to you, or your kids, or both?

If so, huge hugs. And solidarity! I have felt a lot of those things too, during the pandemic more than ever.

So, that’s one challenge coming up with mental health right now for families, both in adults and in children.

But is not the only mental health concern for many of us right now.
Another is depression.

In a recent episode of her amazing podcast, psychologist Shannon Connery spoke of energy level in terms of “states of arousal.”

For each of us there is a very wide state of arousal that is good, encompassing everything from deep sleep, quiet stillness, or sleepy daydreaming to joyful exuberance, excitement, exhilaration.

Also for each of us, there is the possibility that our energy level/state of arousal will either become too high – going up into anxiety – or too low, coming down into a depressive state.

Shannon takes care to mention, and I will here as well: feeling depressed or anxious does not mean that we have a mental illness.
Sometimes, especially in extended periods of apocalyptic weirdness as we have all been experiencing, our state of arousal gets messed with.

Shannon says, and I will here as well, that it is a very good idea to check in with ourselves and understand our energy level. This can help us feel in control, and help us know when we need to seek help outside ourselves. (I’ve seen a wonderful therapist for nearly 7 years. So I totally get that!)

Some ways to support your kids’ mental health right now:

1. Support your own.
Model what it looks like to understand “I am out of whack right now, so I’m seeking help to feel better.” This can be anything from a wonderful exhilarating experience (like skiing, swimming, or hiking) to a warm bath, or finding a good therapist.

2. Really listen to your child.
Even the youngest child has fears, anxieties, and concerns. Validating their experience is one of the best ways to help them feel better.

3. Talk about states of arousal.
Shannon Connery’s wisdom has really helped me understand myself. It’s also been useful to talk to my kids about states of arousal, going so far as drawing (as Shannon suggests) on a piece of paper a simple graph showing positive states of arousal in the middle, anxiety toward the top, and depression toward the bottom. Helping kids understand where they land on this right now can be so helpful.

4. Play with your kids.
“Play” encompasses many things: sledding, cooking, pillow fighting, board games, video games… By play, I mean be together as a family in a meaningful way. Laughter and silliness is some of the best therapy.

I hope that’s helpful! I’ll be back next week to talk about physical health, supporting our children’s physical health in these not-ideal times.

Cheers!
Karen

PS Children’s’ mistruths and lies and what to do about them: coming up in the May issue of the We Turned Out Okay Playbook!

What to do when your child lies – or catches you in a lie?
How to explain “little white lies” and the different ways that people are truthful… Or not…
If truth and lies are on your mind, this is might be a great time to begin your We Turned Out Okay Playbook subscription.

If you’re not yet a subscriber:
The Playbook is my printed, subscription-only resource for parents teaching simple, powerful tools to help family life.
There’s nothing else like it in the parenting universe. People love it and I bet you will too!
Pay only the printing/shipping costs for your first month – your opportunity to fall in love with the Playbook at an introductory rate <3

Subscribe to the We Turned Out Okay Playbook to bring positivity, peace, and fun into your life!.


PLUS… 

  • What’s the pandemic doing to my child? A 5-Week Masterclass…

“What is the pandemic doing to my child?” is a question I get asked all the time.As a child development expert, not only do I know the answer to that. I also know what to do about it.

This five-week program begins Wednesday, May 12 and addresses the concerns parents have about their children’s development during the pandemic.

We’ll cover:
– The toll that long-term confinement and sequestration from others can cause
– Strategies to handle this long-term confinement and limit the negative impacts
– How to create a home environment that supports your child’s social and emotional development
– Dealing with reentry including handling anxiety, bullies, and other social concerns

All along we’ll be diving into your specific questions and issues.
To make absolutely sure that you have a plan going forward we’ll spend our last class time together in a Q&A, so you can have all your concerns addressed and questions answered.

If that sounds good to you, I’m offering a special earlybird price…

The complete 5-week Masterclass is $79.00 when you sign up by April 8, 2021

Also included: a Masterclass Accelerator Call for participants on Wednesday, April 21, 2021
so I can be sure I’m addressing your concerns and giving you all the support possible.

To enroll or read more about the class – and what we will be specifically addressing each week – click the following link:

What’s the pandemic doing to my child?