Children are dealing with anxiety, depression and isolation with the pandemic. How parents can help them
Being a parent in 2020 has not been a job for the faint of heart. Distance learning, a global pandemic, political and economic uncertainty. So many curve balls have been thrown at us.
For many, social isolation has been the most difficult challenge during the past nine months. It’s especially hard for young people.
Socialization is an important part of adolescent development. Adolescents depend on friendships to maintain a sense of self-worth and to manage anxiety and depression. It is also a pivotal time for the formation of their personal identity and learning nuanced interpersonal communication skills.
Until March, youth were spending at least eight hours per day surrounded by friends and peers, often with packed schedules of extracurricular activities, only to have it all ripped away from them overnight. Since then, we have seen a dramatic spike in mental health needs among youth. For example, emergency room visits related to youth mental health have increased significantly since the start of the pandemic.
“As an only child I’ve been alone for eight months and I haven’t seen many of my friends,” said Eric Monax, a sophomore at Nevada Union and a regular attendee at the NEO Youth Center, a program of Bright Futures for Youth. “My insomnia has gotten worse because of my anxiety. A lot of people I know haven’t been able to sleep much whatsoever.”
Eric isn’t alone. Young people have reported a significant increase in severe anxiety and sleeping problems during the pandemic.
“We’re all stressed,” he said. “The workload is intense. We’re all just trying to survive and we all just want a little break.”
How you can help
Parents can help their struggling child. Just a few minutes every day to connect, communicate, comfort, celebrate and be consistent with your child can make a huge impact on their overall well-being. You can also help your child – and the community – by helping them contribute.
- Connect – We all have the need and desire to connect. Right now, your child may be lacking connection with their friends, so it comes down to you. Take a few minutes each day to actively listen to your child. Start a conversation, don’t interject or judge, just listen. Sometimes sitting down to talk can feel intimidating; if this is the case, try playing some basketball or a board game. It takes the pressure off and can help your child feel more comfortable opening up. Or perhaps go for a short drive, where sitting side-by side but not face-to-face can make it more comfortable. Just find a way to connect that is the most comfortable for your child.
- Communicate – Practice clear communication and discuss expectations with your child. Try having weekly check-ins to go over their school schedule and chores. If you are having a difficult time, it’s okay to be open with them about what you’re going through.
- Comfort – With the lack of in-person friends to turn to, your child may be seeking more comfort. Being a teenager is hard enough under “normal” circumstances, now adolescents are facing a new level of difficulty. Show them that you understand what they are going through. A simple hug and pat on the shoulder can go a long way in helping your child feel comforted.
- Consistency – The activities young people previously relied on for stability have been disrupted. Establishing a clear and consistent routine can help keep your child stay grounded. Sit down with your child to help them create an outline for the week. When will they study and take breaks? Also, make sure to schedule time for exercise and tech-free breaks. Get out of the house, even if it’s just for a walk.
- Celebrate – Many children are missing out on rites of passage, such as homecoming games, prom and performances. Help your child identify and celebrate the good things they have. Did they get all their assignments turned in this week? Did they get out of bed on time for their first class? Even little things may be big wins for a youth struggling with their mental health.
- Contribute – Childrenneed a sense of purpose, and giving back to the community can refocus their attention away from their troubles – and make them feel connected to others. They can write notes to a senior in isolation, a businessowner or those doing good work to help others. Participate in a food drive or another community outreach effort. Many nonprofit organizations in the community would appreciate the help. You can find a good list of organizations with the Center for Nonprofit Leadership at cnlsierra.org or volunteer opportunities listed by Connecting Point at connectingpoint.org.
Things to watch for
Despite your and your child’s best efforts, the pandemic may still be impacting them, which is why it’s important to know the warning signs and when it’s time to seek professional help:
- Changes in sleep habits and patterns
- Difficulty getting out of bed
- Changes in mood
- Feeling hopeless
- Uncontrolled anger
- Anxiety or Agitation
If you are concerned for your child’s well-being, seek help. Don’t be afraid to ask your child if they are feeling depressed or if they are considering suicide. It’s a hard conversation, but it might save their life. You don’t have to do it alone. Our community offers a range of resources, including counseling services and youth support organizations, like Bright Futures for Youth.
This year has been tough, but it has given us all opportunities to grow and learn. As we embark upon a new year, take some time to reset and focus on the positives. By taking a little extra time daily to connect, communicate, comfort, be consistent, celebrate and contribute, you can help make your child more resilient, healthy and happy.
What’s Up Wellness Check-ups – providing emotional health checkups to high school teens. Parents can sign their children up using the online consent form of through their school.
Nevada County Suicide Prevention
Your child’s school. Our community’s schools have access to well-trained professionals.
Bright Futures for Youth is a nonprofit committed to making a life-changing difference for children and young adults in Nevada County. Bright Futures for Youth – created by the merger of The Friendship Club and NEO Youth Center in summer 2020 – has three programs: The Friendship Club, founded in 1995, NEO Youth Center, founded in 2008, and SAFE, launched in 2019, to help youth experiencing homelessness. Bright Futures for Youth focuses on health and wellness, healthy relationships, goal setting, self-awareness, self-sufficiency and community connectedness. For more information, visit our Facebook pages for Bright Futures for Youth or NEO.
Lynn Skrukrud is Youth Outreach and Events Coordinator at Bright Futures for Youth, and co-founder of NEO. Bright Futures for Youth has three programs providing services to youth in Nevada County.
This article was published in The Union’s “Healthy Today” special section on February 23, 2021.