How to keep your kids mentally healthy during COVID-19 pandemic

Being stuck at home might be especially hard on your kids during the COVID-19 pandemic. With no school, lack of routine and no interaction with their friends, this can all have an impact on kids' and teens' mental health.

Mary Affee, a licensed social worker and therapist at Horizon Integrated Wellness Group in Cary, said parents should be asking their kids daily what they need and how they feel.

"There's a lot of grief. There's a lot of uncertainty which drives and induces a lot of anxiety, fear, and worry," said Affee.

She said it's OK to talk to them about COVID-19 and let them express their fears.

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"Keep it simple. They don't need to know all of the details depending on the ages, but information is helpful the more we know sometimes, the more stable our nervous systems are," Affee said.

Mental health experts suggest creating a daily routine.

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"The more things are chaotic, or out of the norm, you are going to see children be disruptive, defiant," Affee said. "Keep things as normal as possible. Keeping sleep times similar, eating patterns, routines to keep it as normal as possible, and creating that academic blocks."

When it comes to teens, who might be less enthusiastic about that new schedule, try and mix it up.

"Some of my teens, we created elective courses or PE. Have fun with it, and the biggest takeaway is creating some innovation and opportunity out of the challenges, it takes away the fear-induced mindset," Affee said.

When it comes to your kid's and teen's mental health, make sure you pay attention to changes in their mood and acknowledge their fears are real.

"What's really important is accessing for trauma, grief, and depression, it looks very different across the board for all of us," Affee said.

While Affee, along with many mental health professionals aren't seeing patients in the office, if your child does need professional help, virtual therapy is still an option.

Many kids and teens are spending much more time on their devices, but mental health officials say that extra screen time could lead to dangerous consequences when it comes to their mental health.

Affee says parents need to pay close attention to what their kids, especially teens, are watching online.

Too much screen time and not enough daily interaction could lead to social withdrawal.

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"Staying in their rooms more, looking for changes in appetite, changes in mood, there is going to be irritability, and you want to access for depression, self-harm, suicide."

When it comes to young children, keep a close eye on what they're exploring on their devices.

Try and make the screen time about connections with others.

"Allowing it in smaller amounts to connect. Have the social connections where there is a routine with that; with connecting with grandparents our families, it's kind of this open forum, where it's visible, it's not getting caught up in the scariness," Affee suggested.

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The best advice from Affee is to get creative with your kids and spend quality time as a family.

"Sometimes the best growth comes in the darkest and hardest times. There is going to be a lot more time together so if we can look at what are the opportunities. Find three things to be grateful for instead of complaining. Find what works for your family to create the best environment during these difficult times."

Have a question about coronavirus? Send it to us here.

Here are some ideas to be creative with your kids while social distancing.



Here are some other resources if you have mental health concerns when it comes to your kids:

National Institute of Mental Health

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network
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