Helping children cope with the pandemic

Many parents seem to be struggling to find tips to help their children cope with the pandemic.

Markham Stouffville Hospital (MSH) is seeing an increase in demand for mental health services for children and adolescents as a result of the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic.

Sahana Jeyakumar, one of MSH’s social workers, provides some suggestions and answers some of the questions most asked by parents.

When is it time for my child to get professional help?

  • When they are unable to participate in developmentally appropriate activities such as: attending school, initiating and maintaining relationships.
  • When there are safety concerns or they are using unsafe coping mechanisms (suicidal thoughts/behaviour, self harm, increased substance use/abuse).
  • Keep in mind that some anxiety and low mood is normal.

What can I do before seeking professional help?

  • Talk to your child/teen about their goals and how their mental health might be getting in the way of them.
  • Monitor their behaviour in peer relationships, school, sleep, and appetite.
  • Reflect on whether you may also need support (parent sessions, therapy for you).

My child doesn’t want to talk to me about their feelings.

  • It is completely normal that your child doesn’t want to talk to you.
  • Validate what you see by describing and empathizing how they act, whether it be a frown, pacing or isolation.
  • You don’t have to fix their problems – just acknowledging what they’re going through goes a long way.

My child is six years old and is having trouble telling me how they are feeling.

  • Helping your child learn the language to express themselves and to label their feelings is important.
  • You can use activities such as play, drawing and even visual aids such as emojis/smiley faces to express their feelings.

Re-evaluate school expectations.

  • Collaborate with your child to come up with more realistic expectations that consider factors such as learning gaps due to being in and out of school and virtual learning.

Parents can listen to MSH’s head of child and adolescent psychiatry, Dr. David Ng’s keynote address on COVID-19 and its impact on our mental state at https://mshf.on.ca/healthy-together.

To access supports for your child at Markham Stouffville Hospital, have your family physician fill out a referral form, found at www.oakvalleyhealth.ca.

 

Photo: Social worker Sahana Jeyakumar.

 

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