The COVID-19 pandemic has worn on families mentally, physically and emotionally. As parents, how we cope with challenges becomes a blueprint for how our children will handle adversity in the future. Learning and practicing healthy habits and coping skills is important from an early age. Because more than half of adolescents who will eventually experience mental health challenges show signs by the age of 14, getting an early start, even before many kids fully understand what is happening around them, is critical to creating healthy habits for life.

“Change is hard and we need to remember that life hasn’t just changed for adults, it’s changing for our kids, too,” said Monica Roberts, LPC-S, Outpatient Therapist with Canopy Children’s Solutions. “Kids are looking to their parents to understand how to feel about what is happening in the world and how to handle the new stress that has entered their lives from all directions. The coping skills parents use today are the skills their kids will model later in life. By keeping a check on emotions and managing stress, parents are teaching their children essential coping skills and how to remain resilient in the face of adversity.”

Resiliency in overcoming adversity has a direct effect on health and wellness. Increases in stress hormones can lead to heart disease, lung issues, digestive challenges and cognitive impairment. The COVID-19 crisis has not only added a new layer of stress for families, but has also led to spikes in isolation, depression, anxiety, aggression, substance use as well as suicide. If you’ve noticed significant mood or behavior changes in your child, take the changes seriously and talk to their healthcare provider. Early intervention is the best way to reach long-term healthy outcomes.

“You are the expert on your child,” says Canopy CEO John D. Damon, Ph.D. “The signs of anxiety and depression in children aren’t the same as in adults. If your child is suddenly experiencing frequent headaches or stomachaches, that can be a sign of anxiety. Socially isolating can be another sign of trouble. However, these behaviors may also be perfectly normal for your child. A teenager that sleeps all day may be pretty normal in your house, but maybe not. You know your child best, so when you notice changes in what is normal for your child, I urge parents to seek out help before it leads to deeper, long-term impairments to their daily life.”

Some of the potential warning signs that a child may be struggling with their mental health include:

  • Mood changes
  • Intense feelings
  • Behavior changes and aggression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Physical symptoms like headache or stomachaches
  • Self-injury
  • Substance use

The good news is, parents can help support positive mental health in themselves and in their children. Ensuring everyone gets adequate amounts of sleep and nutritious food helps to fuel your brain and body. Sticking to a routine helps to curb anxiety, and mentally prepares yourself for the day ahead. Managing stress through self-care is a great way for families to connect and maintain healthy habits. A few self-care ideas include taking a walk, playing a game, riding bikes, listening to music or journaling how you are feeling. Working on exercise also helps to strengthen your mind and body. Combat negative thinking by focusing on something positive in life each day. Limit your time watching the news during times of crisis and model moderation for children when it comes to screen time and social media use. Be sure to include time for parents and children to have open and honest conversations about their days, how they are feeling and if there are concerns.

While 2020 was likely not what we expected when we turned the calendar in January, look at this as an opportunity to prepare your children for life. Teaching resiliency and positive ways to manage stress and mental health are lessons that will serve children well for a lifetime.

This article was featured in the August 2020 edition of Mud and Magnolias Magazine.