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Looking after your kids’ mental health during COVID-19: Be present, be aware

Click to play video: 'How to take care of your kid’s mental health' How to take care of your kid’s mental health
Parenting expert Alyson Schafer checks in with The Morning Show to share tips on taking care of your child’s mental health during the pandemic. – May 10, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to impact children and youth’s mental health and well-being.

According to recent research by SickKids, many school-aged children have developed mental health problems during the pandemic. This includes depression (37.6 per cent), anxiety (38.7 per cent), irritability (40.5 per cent) and attention span (40.8 per cent).

Parenting expert Alyson Schafer says that for parents, it’s important to be aware and know how the pandemic has presented heightened mental health issues for their children.

She says there is also a relationship between parents’ mental health and kids’ mental health — and it can go both ways.

“It’s bi-directional. If one of you is suffering, you’re going to impact the other, so kids to parents, parents to kids,” she says. “No one is immune from this. We need to have our eyes on this.”

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When it comes to what parents should look out for, Schafer says the general rule is to trust their instinct when they see persistent problems that are interfering with their child’s functioning.

“You might want to look for things like changes in the way they’re eating. They could be eating a lot, they could be not eating at all, or they could be hiding food,” she says.

Read more: ‘Kids are not all right’ — Mental health among Ontario children is deteriorating during COVID-19

Additionally, Schafer points to changes in sleep patterns, trouble getting out of bed, hyper exercising and a sudden drop in school grades as examples — “anything that looks like they’re avoiding, evading or isolating themselves.”

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“If you see a sudden drop. That’s a real sign,” she says. “We have hobbies we should be liking or seeing our friends and when that drops off that’s a real concern.”

Schafer also emphasizes any comments they make — for example, about hating themselves — should be taken seriously.

To ensure good mental health for kids, Schafer says prevention is key.

Read more: ‘There’s so much pain’ — Art shows mental toll COVID-19 taking on youth, expert says

“Good mental health is supported by being in good, healthy relationships so keep up your relationship with your kids,” she says, emphasizing the importance of making them feel socially connected.

Offering routines or a schedule that involves exercise, nutrition, family time and fun can also help, she adds.

“Stimulate hobbies and interests that are outside of school, because the school work is being targeted as being one of their number one stressors,” she says.

“Parents did not change their expectations for their kids. They actually went up around school and this has been identified as being one of the major crushers to kids’ spirits right now.”

Read more: ‘It is a parallel pandemic’ — What loneliness does to our mental health

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On talking to kids about mental health, Schafer says like physical health: we can’t take mental health for granted and if help is needed, it should be looked after.

She points to resources like mental health professionals and Kids Help Phone, but also emphasizes finding something to do as a family that supports good mental health.

“That might be doing daily nightly bedtime meditations, because kids really struggle falling asleep when they’re suffering with any mental health disorder, so learn how to do that together on an app,” she says.

“Be a do-gooder to the community, donating to a food bank, or collecting up toys and giving them to a toy drive for your family — anything you can do to be supportive.”

Watch Schafer’s full interview with ‘The Morning Show’ in the video above.

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