We are all living in an unprecedented time right now. Managing mental health for everyone, adults and kids alike, can be difficult no matter what, but it’s especially difficult during times of high stress and uncertainty. We hope to give parents, kids, and teens practical tips for managing mental health during this stressful time.
First, let’s go over some warning signs to observe that can alert you to pay attention to you or your child’s mental health. It’s always important to take care of your mental health, but pay special attention if you notice any of the following symptoms/behaviors:
• Increased isolation (for example, if your teens shuts himself in his room and doesn’t want to come out more than usual).
• More frequent and/or severe outbursts or “tantrums.”
• No longer finding pleasure in activities you once enjoyed.
• Any suicidal talk, such as “what’s the point of life” or “I just want it to end.”
• Sudden changes in sleeping or eating habits.
• Physical symptoms with no obvious explanations, such as headaches, stomachaches, or muscle pain.
Tips for Parents
• Ask kids and teens open ended questions about how they feel, such as “what is the worst part about this for you?” Listen to concerns without judgment and use reflective listening statements like “that sounds really hard” or “I’m hearing you feel frustrated that aren’t able to see friends.”
• Try to find a schedule your family can adapt to. Kids feel secure when they can predict what will happen next in their day.
• Focus on strengths and positives. Ask kids about things they liked about their day.
• Work something fun to do into every day. There are great ideas online!
Tips for Kids
• Teach them how to “belly breathe:” Put your hand on your stomach and breathe slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth, noticing your belly move up and down as you breathe in and out. The “Elmo Belly Breathe” video on YouTube is a great instructional video for kids.
• Have your kids identify a special item they can taste, smell, or touch. For example, gum for taste, a special lotion for smell, or a fuzzy blanket for touch. Instruct them to use the special item and really focus on the taste, smell, or touch when they start to feel upset.
• Help them identify their triggers.
• Ask them how they feel when they’re in the “green, yellow, or red zone” and encourage them to use their special object and take deep belly breaths when they’re in the “yellow zone,” before it gets to red.
Tips for Teens
• Teach older kids and teens the following grounding exercise to help them calm down when feeling anxious: identify 5 things you see, 4 things you feel, 3 things you hear, 2 things you smell and 1 thing you taste. Focus on the details of these senses, such as noticing the pattern on a wooden table or hearing background instruments in a song.
• Find creative ways to encourage exercise. Have dance parties, go on nature hikes, or look up exercise videos on YouTube to do together.
• Help find a creative outlet they can enjoy, like playing music, writing poetry or short stories, painting, or coloring adult coloring books.
• Teach them positive self-talk: “I’m a strong person,” “together we will make it through this.”
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