Q: My pre-teen son is acting up since his school closed and I have been working from home. He seems to lock himself in his bedroom every day and only comes out at mealtimes. The stress of this whole coronavirus thing is getting to me, and I am worried it is getting to him too. What can I do about it?
A: My daughter’s working mom has turned into a novice chef, the living room has turned into her father’s home office, and her younger sibling is coming on as an uninvited guest into her video chat. This is how the “new normal” looks from where my 12 years old is at now. So I can empathize with what your son is going through.
This once-in-a-century pandemic has literally turned our lives upside down. Life is no more the way we knew it. As parents, we try to convince ourselves that our children are having a good time. But deep down we can sense the presence of various potential stressors in our environment amidst COVID-19.
It’s not that children were not exposed to stressors before. But most of those stress arousing situations were familiar and known, such as peer pressure or academic performance. It was easier for us to help our child face a stress that we also experienced when we were growing up. But this novel coronavirus has introduced many novel stressors. Our kids are missing their friends, cannot enjoy outdoor life, and they feel less independent. At the same time, they are more aware of the potential threats and challenges associated with COVID-19.
Stress is the way our mind and body react to the environmental demands and challenges. As adults, we have an advantage of having a pool of time-tested coping strategies against stressful situations. But our children and teens are left more defenseless against stress. It becomes more important in the prevailing situation that we as parents acquaint ourselves with the common symptoms of stress and coping strategies.
Common symptoms of stress
Stress comes in all shapes and sizes and every child reacts to it differently. But according to psychologists, there are certain most common behavioral indicators of stress that we can look for.
- Sudden changes in eating and sleep routines
- Seem overly sad
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Lack of enjoyment in their previously loved activities and,
- Complaints about bodily pains.
Five strategies to protect children from stress
- Listen to them: Give them one-on-one time so they can share their fears and heart felt feelings.
- Share essential information with them: Give them information about COVID-19 in an age appropriate way. For younger children, stories, cartoons, videos and drawing activities can be a good option. For older kids, fact based one-on-one discussion might be better. Be creative in selecting the appropriate way, but be sure to share information in a reassuring manner.
- Set routines: Predictability gives kids a feeling that they are in control. Set routines for getting up, study, play, dinner, and bed time.
- Help them in regulating their stressful feelings: Involve them in activities that make them happy and relaxed. Such activities can be exercise, painting, gardening, or making music.
- Make them your partners: This one is my favorite. Make them your partners in cooking, folding laundry, setting the table, or mowing the lawn. While working together, share your childhood stories, make them feel responsible, and most of all “make them feel connected.”
Most important of all, take care of your own mental health as parents. We are the most important support for our kids in these not so easy times. We have to stay mentally strong and practice healthy habits so children can follow.