Editor’s note: This column appears monthly.
Currently, most schools are planning to go back to in-person education in the fall.
For children, this can be a huge cause for distress. Parents may not know how to best support children as they are facing this new school year. Children have become used to routines and comforts originally necessitated by COVID19 precautions. Now children have to let go of those routines and comforts. Major changes cause stress in the human body, even when we consider these changes to be positive.
Children may fear getting sick. Reports of the new, highly contagious, Delta variant of the coronavirus is of great concerns to health officials and children hear these media reports and adults in their lives talking. This could certainly be cause for fear and anxiety in children. Children may also have to face pre-COVID stressors like bullying/teasing or social anxiety. They may now also have to face new mental health conditions that have developed. Many people have developed sleep disruption, depression, anxiety, and suicidality during the past year.
Worsening emotional health for children is correlated to loneliness and isolation, emotional health struggles of parents, and a large decline in pediatric mental health care previously accessed in the school setting.
The good news is there are steps we can take to help our children improve overall emotional health. Daily physical activity, preferably outside in green spaces is crucial for emotional regulation. Additionally, children should have consistent sleep routines, with sleep being sufficient for their age. Nutritious food and water is key to the functioning of all the cells in the body, including the brain, which regulates emotional and cognitive functioning.
An additional practice that can be extremely effective for distress tolerance is meditation or breathing exercises. A quick internet search will provide you with a large variety of age-appropriate breathing techniques that you can follow along and practice with your child. There are also several different apps dedicated to meditation and breathing.
Finally, a daily gratitude practice can be a wonderful way to improve overall quality of life and relieve distress. It can be helpful to establish a daily family practice of each person saying three things they are grateful for. It can be helpful for the adults to go first to model the practice and communicate that they can benefit from it as much as the children.
It is also important to consider how resilience is strengthened. Resilience of course is the ability to quickly recover from challenges. Activities that correlate with higher levels of resilience for adults include daily exercise, family time, “me” time, and stress reduction activities.
If you have existing medical and mental health conditions you are also more likely to have resilience struggles, so make sure to seek care for these concerns. Social connection and support, a feeling of belonging, purpose driven pastimes, spending time with extended family, regular participation in religious/spiritual activities and volunteer work all correlate to improved resilience.
Resilience in children is correlated to children staying active, spending quality time as a family, having a mentor, and having parents focused on their own resilience because resilient adults tend to have more resilient children.