Unfortunately, there is no question about it: Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the mental health of the world has taken a dramatic hit. Among adults, rates of depression may be increasing by as much as 300% – an exceptionally high number, an increase that is virtually unprecedented in modern times.
Unfortunately, as many parents are all too aware, the rates of increase are occurring among children as well. Isolation, disruption to normal school schedules, and the financial stress that their parents are undergoing have hit children hard. Depression rates among children and young adults may be increasing by as much as 70%.
It is incumbent upon every parent to do whatever they can to monitor their child’s mental health during this difficult moment in world history. Here are some ways to do just that.
1. Lead by example. As many parents know, kids are like sponges. They tend to absorb your mood, mimic your behavior, and take their emotional lead and cues from you. This can obviously be problematic at moments, particularly in times of high stress or anxiety. But, it can also be hugely effective, if used properly. If you are feeling stressed, anxious, or worried, don’t try to hide it from your kids. Instead, do the opposite. Discuss your concerns or challenges with your children. Tell them how you are feeling. Don’t just do so in order to emotionally “dump” on them. Instead, tell your kids how you are feeling, explain that it is normal, and show how you are working through it. This will help normalize difficult emotions with your kids and help them learn that it is okay to feel negative emotions and process them. This, in turn, will help your kids open up to you.
2. Check in with your kids. It’s so simple it may have escaped your notice completely: Don’t just assume that your kids will automatically tell you when something is wrong. Ask them how they are doing. There is obviously a line about prying too much versus seeing how they feel, and you need to respect that line, but always ask your kids how they are and make sure they know that you are here for them. Remember, “monitoring” your kids behavior and emotions isn’t sneaky or covert – it’s just a matter of making sure your kids know you are there for them.
3. Offer solutions and resources. Your children are more likely to open up to you if they know that you care and are trying to help. While your primary goal should be to offer a supportive ear and make sure they have someone who will listen to them, in the end, your job should also be to offer them resources and assistance as they need it. If they say they miss their friends, see if there are technological solutions that can help them reconnect. If they say they are bored, find some COVID-safe activities you can engage in, like a nice, long walk. Just make sure you give them a chance to express themselves, and then a chance to do something about whatever is bothering them.
4. Practice self-care. As noted above, your kids are very likely to mimic your behavior to a limited degree. That being the case, make sure to practice self-care. Take breaks. Go for a walk. Move away from your electronic devices, and encourage your kids to do the same. This, in turn, will likely encourage them to care for themselves, too, and engage in healthy behaviors. This will not only help them cope with the ongoing pandemic but can give you an excuse to be together and bond.
5. Listen and ask. When your kids do talk to you, don’t automatically respond with your sage parenting wisdom. Instead, quiet down and listen. When it is time to talk, don’t just open your mouth and speak. Instead, ask questions. Get your kids to talk more and more so that they know you care about how they feel and want to learn more. They don’t always want advice – sometimes, they just want to be seen and heard. During COVID moments, when they have so few people to talk to in person, this is even more important.
6. Participate in their activities. If you’ve detected any pattern from this list, it’s that “monitoring” your kid’s behavior is a lot easier if you aren’t doing it covertly. In other words, instead of eavesdropping on their conversations or monitoring their texts, you need to do whatever you can to build a better relationship with them. This will allow them to open up to you, and give you a chance to check in on their physical and emotional health. To that end, try to find activities that they like – not that you like – that you can both participate in. This will give you time to be together and bond. Remember, you will get a better sense of how your kids are doing if you observe them naturally. Participating in activities they like can help you do just that. At the end of the day, these are unprecedented times for parents and children alike. In a sense, we’re all just guessing. But following these tips can help give our kids comfort. In doing so, they become more likely to open up to you, giving you a better chance to see how they are doing and assess their happiness and well-being.