Coronavirus: How parents can help their kids navigate uncertainty, manage mental health

This summer isn’t what parents and kids were expecting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many kids’ activities have been cancelled or moved online, and the disruption to daily life is taking a toll on some kids’ mental health, according to a psychologist.

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Christy Morrissey lives in Saskatoon. This time of year her sons would be enjoying after school activities.

Instead, like most, they’re at home.

Since March she’s noticed changes in her 10 and 14-year-olds.

“We ran into somebody on the street just walking and my youngest didn’t want to go anywhere near him, he was almost afraid of him,” she said.

“For my oldest he’s certainly quieter and finding it hard to be his usual happy self.”

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Behavioural changes in kids are common right now, according to the Institute of Child Psychology in Alberta.

“We’re all experiencing grief, you know, loss of being able to see friends, loss of sporting activities — that rhythm and predictability is gone out of kids’ lives and they’re not connecting with their same group that they do,” explained co-founder Tammy Schamuhn.

Getting kids active — even as simple as running around outside — is important, she said. So is building relationships with the people they can socialize with.

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“Just connections, and you being emotionally available to your child, whether that’s colouring and reading a book or having just a meal together where you talk about the things that they miss or the things that they’re looking forward to when this is over,” she said.

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Many young children don’t know how to get their feelings out, she said, so outbursts and tantrums are common, along with children regressing.

For example, she has heard from parents some children that were toilet-trained have reverted back.

“Sometimes it just requires us setting limits when the tantrum happens, we stay put, we don’t use timeouts, we don’t isolate kids,” she said.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t give consequences, but those all happen after a child is calm. In those moments kids need us to be with them, not to be separated from us.”

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Playing with your kids is also important to help keep them happy, but Schamuhn said you may notice something odd about the games they play.

“You’ll notice people getting sick in the play, the characters, people dying in the play, people being locked in houses and they can’t go out. And kids are showing parents their grief and their loss and their fear,” she said.

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She stressed this common, especially right now, and encourages parents to ask questions like “tell me about that” or “why is that character sad?” to help kids talk about their feelings.

Schamuhn said it’s a good idea for parents to start conversations with their kids about how they’re feeling.

“Instead of asking my kids ‘What do you miss?’ I talk about what I miss, and by default they start to share with me because I’m sharing,” she said.

She added not all kids at home are struggling; many are happy to be out of school, especially if it’s an environment that makes them anxious, she said.

Meanwhile, Morrissey says she’s doing what she can to help her kids, but said the province needs to look at allowing more activities for children while schools are closed.

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“We need to look at what other strategies we can do to get kids healthy, active, thinking and mentally healthy as well,” she said.

Playgrounds and many activities for kids aren’t coming back until phase four of the province’s reopening plan. That plan does not have a date yet. That’s a problem for Morrissey.

She wants to see the province prioritize safely reopening activities for children sooner rather than later.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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