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Tools for your child’s mental health during the pandemic
kids cooking
Cooking a meal for the family to enjoy can be rewarding for children looking for ways to be helpful and productive.


Special to the Journal

It is a volatile time for the economy and our society. Imagine trying to comprehend today’s events as a child or young adult who does not remember or was not alive for 9/11 or the Great Recession.

College seniors were going to be graduating into the strongest job market in over 50 years, and now the future for the Class of 2020 is uncertain. 

No matter what age your child is, it is likely that they have felt the full range of emotions in the past few weeks. Confusion on why they are unable to see their friends. Sadness from having to cancel a birthday party. The excitement from getting to sleep in. Mourning over missing out on senior prom, senior trips, and graduation. Fear about missing out on their school meals. Anxiety over their future plans. Anger from feeling out of control. You name the emotion, kids and young adults across the country and the world have felt them all at one point in the past month.

During this time of uncertainty, maintaining strong mental health is crucial. For those with a history of mental health challenges, the pandemic can begin to trigger their symptoms. And those without a history of mental health issues can begin to experience symptoms for the first time.

There are many things you can do to promote strong mental health for your child and yourself during this time. Here are some tools to help:

Keep a routine – This can help to create a sense of normalcy and can help to differentiate the weekdays from the weekends. Don’t underestimate the importance of going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.

Morning meetings – Starting each day with a morning meeting to set the schedule and expectations for the day can help to add some organization. It can also give kids time to express any concerns or wishes they have for the day.

Encourage good habits – Especially for high school students, learning time management can mean the difference between completing their work and not. Making a daily schedule or to-do list can help.

Limit the news – Of course, stay informed. But do not leave the news on all day. This can make kids (and yourself) feel anxious. Consider playing music throughout the house instead.

Connect virtually – Video chat with grandparents, cousins, friends from school. Especially for young children who may not understand that all of their classmates are staying home also, setting up a FaceTime call with a classmate can help.

Make plans – It is always good to have something to look forward to. Ask kids to help make a dinner menu for the week, schedule virtual play dates with friends and family, or go for a family bike ride.

Play games – Playing board games, card games, and games like Pictionary can bring the family together for hours of fun. 

Cook together – Get your kids involved in the kitchen. Cooking a meal for the family to enjoy can be rewarding for those looking for ways to be helpful and productive. Let them offer a helping hand while cooking their favorite meal or an old family recipe. 

Get out of the house – Go for a bike ride, set up an obstacle course in the yard, go for a teddy bear hunt, use chalk to create hopscotch on the driveway, plant a garden, or read a book. Get creative; the fresh air will be a nice physical and mental break from the day.

Help someone – It is understandable that you and your child are feeling helpless. Counter that with offering to grocery shop for an elderly neighbor or family member, or by sending a handmade card in the mail to those who are far away. It will brighten their day and yours.

Check-in with your kids – Ask your kids how they are feeling, what their fears are. They do not have their classmates to run their feelings by throughout the day; you can be that sounding board now. Understand that outbursts can represent the fear and anxiety that they are feeling. Be there to support them.

Be flexible - If you need a break, if your child needs a break, that is okay. Don’t be hard on yourself or them. Take it one day at a time and do what is best for your family at the moment.

Find the positive – What are we going to remember this experience? Creating new healthy family rituals during this time will help us find the positive in this experience, the positive in us, and our family. 

— The authors are all mental health professionals in Turlock.  The views expressed are their own.