The COVID-19 pandemic and associated quarantining created an epidemic of isolation for all, bringing about a wave of mental health issues — especially for our kids. Now with vaccines available and the world mostly reopened, reintegrating into in-person society is creating new sources of anxiety.
Seven in 10 teens say they’re struggling with their mental health as a result of COVID-19, according to a study conducted by the Harris Poll, and 64 percent believe the pandemic will have long-lasting psychological implications. That’s likely a fair assessment, as about half of lifetime mental health conditions begin by age 14, according to the World Health Organization.
So as a parent, what can you do to help your kids manage their mental health and build the social-emotional skills they need? It starts with having regular, open conversations about how they’re really feeling and what they’re going through.
“That will help you and them recognize changes in their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and know when to get help,” said Kate Endries, the director of Youth Development Programs — Health & Wellness for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA). “You can also help them learn ways to manage their emotions and build resiliency to better manage life’s challenges.”
Have a plan
Having these conversations can be difficult, Endries says, so it’s important to ensure your kids feel safe opening up to you by broaching these topics in a low-stakes, organic manner. It also helps to talk openly about your own experiences, anxieties, and stressors — showing vulnerability signals to kids that it’s OK to be honest about what they’re experiencing as well.
Endries shared some tips to further improve your conversations about mental health:
- Check in emotionally: Ask your child directly how they are feeling — consider using a fun emotional check-in like Rose, Bud, Thorn.
- Listen: Repeat what they say to check for understanding and listen without judgement.
- Manage your reaction: Monitor your own emotional response — remember that this is their time to share, feel, and be heard.
- Create a self-care plan: Help your child develop healthy coping strategies like breathing exercises, journaling, or taking a walk when they feel overwhelmed. Consider jotting their favorite ones down to create a back-pocket self-care plan.
- Recharge and connect: Spend time with your child doing activities they love and that rejuvenate them. This provides an excellent opportunity for you to connect, bond over your experience, and to learn more about their life.
Endries adds that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has compiled a number of quality family mental health resources on its website, samhsa.gov/find-treatment.
Help is available
Also critical for managing mental health — for you and your kids — is accessing the support and resources available when you need them. Your local Boys & Girls Club is a great resource at your disposal, as many Club staff members receive professional development training that equips them with the knowledge and tools they need to best support kids’ mental and emotional health.
Boys & Girls Clubs of America have also made several key partnerships to increase access to youth mental health resources, one of those being the On Our Sleeves organization, powered by Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Boys & Girls Clubs worked in partnership with On Our Sleeves to create mental health discussion guides, which are aimed at guiding parent and teen mental health discussions to increase awareness, decrease stigma, and provide guidance on when and how to get help.
Additionally Kohl’s Cares — the philanthropic arm of Kohl’s — and Boys & Girls Clubs of America recently entered a partnership to create and implement programming and training that will focus on strengthening the physical and emotional well-being of children and their families.
“All programming developed by Boys & Girls Clubs of America includes opportunities for youth to develop their self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship, responsibility and decision-making skills,” Endries said. “Thanks to our partners like Kohl’s, Boys & Girls Clubs is also able to offer programs that explicitly focus on developing youth’s coping and stress-management skills — skills that are critically important for navigating challenging experiences and maintaining strong mental and emotional health.”
Boys & Girls Clubs of America is working to guide its local clubs in becoming trauma-informed, meaning staff members take into consideration adversities young people are facing — like the COVID-19 pandemic — and in response design policies, programming, and practices that best support mental and emotional well-being.