Helping children cope with the effects of living through a pandemic with mindfulness tips and tools.
With a phenomenon as wide-reaching as the COVID-19 pandemic, it is nearly impossible to know the full extent to which communities across the globe have been disrupted. The loss of life has been as staggering as it has been far-reaching — but while the pandemic has created holes in many tight-knit adult circles, just as concerning is its mental impact on children.
Some children are naturally resilient and resistant to mental health issues caused by large-scale disasters such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Others may feel the effects of anxiety and depression long after the pandemic is over. In either case, it may not be possible to tell how your child is processing quarantines, mask mandates, isolation, and more.
If you are a parent with children who have suffered through the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to take stock of their mental health, ensure their continued well-being, and help them develop resilience against future threats. All of this can be achieved through acts of mindfulness, which can help children properly process the COVID-19 pandemic — and move on from it in the coming years.
The following are some of the difficulties your children may be experiencing at present, as well as a host of mindfulness tips and tools you can teach them to help process those difficulties.
Negative Impacts of the Pandemic On Children
While all children have been impacted differently by the COVID-19 pandemic, some of its effects are universal. Here are some warning signs that your child may be struggling to cope with the impact of the pandemic.
- Difficulty processing illness and death: For some children, COVID-19 may be their first experience with death and loss. Often, that loss has been personal — parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, or others may have become gravely ill or passed away because of the virus. If a close member of your family has become seriously ill or has died because of the pandemic, helping your child process grief is critical to their long-term mental health.
- Susceptibility to common mental health disorders: Anxiety and depression are common mental health disorders in adults, but are not as likely to present in young children. However, the pandemic may have increased the susceptibility of at-risk youth to mental health disorders. Keep watch for any new and concerning negative mental health warning signs in your children.
- Difficulties socializing: After more than a year of quarantine, isolation, and separation from others, some children might find it hard to return to normal social routines with friends. Additionally, young children might have missed out on important social lessons that the pandemic prevented them from learning: Facial cues are harder to read beneath masks and common greetings like handshakes have been foregone to prevent the spread of the virus. Difficulty socializing may be a sign that your child needs additional support post-pandemic.
- Potential hypochondriasis: Adults model behavior for children. The constant cleaning and sanitizing during the pandemic might have a negative impact on their future mental health. Children who have grown up in the COVID-19 era might be at a greater risk for anxiety issues. While important, be sure to remind kids that common colds and cases of flu are a normal part of life and that COVID-19 is the exception to the rule.
If your children are showing any of these potential warning signs, it might be time to introduce mindfulness tactics that can help them cope with the scope of the pandemic. Keep reading to learn some short- and long-term tips for imparting mindfulness techniques to your children.
Mindfulness Tactics For Children Post-Pandemic
How should kids approach mindfulness? Common mindfulness tactics such as breathing exercises and meditation may work wonders for adults, but they are not always appropriate for children. Here are some alternate mindfulness tactics to consider when helping your children process COVID-19.
- Positive reframing: One of the simplest ways you can help your child ground themselves after the pandemic is to reframe the experience in a positive light. This may sound difficult, but there are silver linings to the pandemic that your child probably enjoyed: more time spent with family, a break from the pressures of school, more frequent calls to extended relatives, and more space to develop new hobbies and passions. When your child is feeling low as a result of the pandemic, remind them to think about all the positive things that happened during this time.
- Praising resilience: Children naturally look to their parents for respect and praise. As such, praising your child for persevering through the pandemic despite its hardships may be a helpful way of highlighting their resilience. Continuing to teach them about the valuable skills they have developed because of COVID-19 — coping mechanisms, ingenuity, emotional strength, and more — can help kids look at the pandemic as a life lesson instead of a tragic occurrence.
- Highlighting shared experiences: Despite the isolating nature of COVID-19, one ironic truth is that the pandemic created a shared experience for all of humanity. Children around the world have all had to deal with the reality of the virus and while it has been difficult for many, it has also created an element of global connectedness. Encourage your child to talk about the experience of the pandemic with family, friends, and others who can relate to them.
- Emphasizing nature: One other benefit of the pandemic is that it has highlighted the importance of natural spaces in our lives. With schools and shops closed, children have had to go back to nature for entertainment and knowledge — something that is naturally beneficial from a mindfulness perspective. Teach your children to foster a continued connection with nature even as the pandemic passes, as it will help them find a space for peace and calm long into their adult life.
These mindfulness tactics are just a start — there are countless other tips and tools for helping you and your children beat back pandemic-related mental health difficulties. Whatever methods you choose to help your child weather the impacts of COVID-19, making their mental health a priority is an important part of fostering their continued healthy development into adulthood and beyond.
Anthony Cupo is a Trained Mindfulness Facilitator (TMF) from the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. He is a co-owner of Stepping Forward Counseling Center, LLC and has been meditating for over 30 years. Our article is also published in ParentingOC’s Magazine!