It might seem downright silly to have a National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day given that we all know as parents that our children’s mental health should be a priority every day. And yet, within the annals of medicine, it’s an idea whose time has long since come – and a healthy reminder for medical professionals, parents, and teachers everywhere. Amazingly enough, it’s only been in the last few generations that children have been recognized as distinct from adults in both their anatomy and their brain chemistry, requiring different treatment approaches than what we’d normally prescribe for a 50-year-old adult. It seems like common sense now, but the notion that what works for one person many not work for another was at one point revolutionary.
The mental health challenges that our kids are facing today are a function of the changing environment that they’re growing up in – as the coronavirus lockdown has proven, we might be more connected online than ever before, but our face to face human interaction is suffering. Thankfully, we’re living in an era of unprecedented brain research as science is helping to unlock the deepest mysteries along this rapidly evolving frontier of medicine.
The most common mental health challenges kids face today include anxiety disorders, depression, attention deficit, autism spectrum disorders, and eating disorders. And it’s been my work both at the FBI and in clinical practice, witnessing firsthand the painful spike in adolescent suicides, that’s motivated the founding of the Digital Citizen Academy.
So today I offer a few pointers for helping to take care of your children’s mental health during the quarantine. Just don’t forget to also celebrate World Password Day and update a few of those passwords, too.
- Take care of yourself. Your children need their parents, and they need parents who are happy and healthy to be there for them. If you’re experiencing a job loss, furlough, or other financial difficulties, do your best to tackle those problems with optimism so that your children know that tough times don’t last but tough people do. And if your economic circumstances are stable, let your kids lead the way in finding friends and charities who could use your help.
- Limit your family’s news viewership. Younger children in particular can easily misinterpret what they see and hear on television. For example, during 9/11 many children who saw the Twin Towers collapse played over and over on television thought that a different set of buildings were collapsing every time the same footage was shown, making them even more afraid than the rest of us were.
- Be a good role model. Wear masks when outside, observe social distancing, wash your hands, keep surfaces clean, and only leave home for necessary trips.
- Diet and exercise. Make sure that time at home doesn’t mean any extra junk food, and let your kids play in the yard or take the dog for a walk.
- Keep your kids connected to their friends. Work with other parents to schedule Skype or Zoom sessions between your kids and their friends, cousins, classmates, etc. Maintaining those social bonds with a little bit of face to face interaction will keep them more even tempered than otherwise.
- Stay on top of school. It’s already being called the “Covid slide” – children falling as much as a year behind in school. Don’t let your kids be one of them.
- If your child is currently receiving mental health treatment. Work with your child’s treatment team to ensure that medications are refilled and that counseling sessions can continue online or over the phone, if possible.