By: Cory Turner, Anya Kamenetz, & Meghan Keane| December 10, 2020
"For the kids in our lives, the last nine months have been many things. Scary — because an invisible, unknown illness was suddenly spreading across the globe. Maybe even fun, when the possibility of school closing felt like a snow day. But for many, that novelty has given way to frustration and sadness — even depression and anxiety. Just like adults, kids are wondering: Will I get sick? Will someone I love die?
It's a lot for kids and parents to handle. So we talked to the experts and came away with five tips for how you can help your kids through this.
Make sure your kids wear their masks
"Kids generally don't get very sick from this virus," says Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. But, he says, they can still play a part in making sure others don't get sick by wearing their masks and social distancing.
It might take a little imagination. If you have younger kids, you can explain the spread of the coronavirus by comparing their mouths to a bottle of bug spray. Weird, yes — but it's one way for young ones to visualize the tiny droplets they spread, even when they aren't sick. If they wear a mask, it helps keep those droplets in.
If you've got older kids or teenagers, take this a step further: Encourage them to spread the word. Practice what they might say if they're with friends at the park and someone takes their mask off. Maybe your 13-year-old has been waiting months to see Grandma and could say, "I need to keep my Grandma safe, so do you mind putting your mask on?"
Rehearse it with your kids so the conversation goes smoothly.
Practice positive thinking and mindfulness
In a recent report, researchers interviewed 46 teenagers in California and found that the teens reported a huge sense of loss — similar to the stages of grief. Most of the teens were sleeping badly because of lack of activity and lots of screen time.
Kids of all ages — as well as their parents — can probably relate.
In addition to the obvious prescription — trade in some of that screen time for physical exercise — try some brain exercises too, like replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. You might try saying a few things you're grateful for each night before dinner or before bed. There's evidence behind that: Gratitude boosts your immune system, lowers blood pressure and motivates us to practice healthy habits. It may feel awkward or cheesy, but practicing mindfulness and positivity very consciously can help kids and parents too.
It's also important to watch for signs of something more serious too.
"Depression in teenagers sometimes looks like a prickly porcupine. Everybody rubs them the wrong way," adolescent psychologist Lisa Damour says. Don't take it personally; just keep offering them a listening ear."