The new year is here. 2021 has arrived. But much to our dismay, the early days of 2021 bear a striking resemblance to the final nine months of 2020. We are still in the throes of COVID-19. Our country is still dealing with significant political tension and social injustice. While we are carrying traumas from 2020 with us into 2021, we are also bringing with us the valuable lessons we’ve learned over the past year. And now is our opportunity to make sure our children learn many of those same lessons…lessons in hope, flexibility and resilience.
Our children are in a difficult position right now. Much of their daily life has been up-ended. School looks different. They’re not able to connect with friends and family in the ways they used to. It can be difficult for young children, as well as teenagers, to understand why everything has changed. Even as adults, many of us are struggling to fully comprehend everything that is going on. Right now, young people who might normally be stressed by the complexities of long division are instead wrestling with bigger questions about their own health, safety and fears about what’s next for them, their family and their community. Our children, whether they’re 5 or 15 years old, need us to listen to them and validate their emotions and experiences.
While we as parents and adults need to give ourselves space to process everything that is going on around us, it is also important to remember that kids pick up on our anxiety. We need to model healthy coping skills for our kids. That might mean using breathing and mindfulness techniques. Or taking a break from the news and social media for a while. When children learn healthy coping skills at a young age, they are better equipped to be able to handle stressful situations as they grow older. This is our opportunity to instill those skills in our children.
Reactions to news about the pandemic, political upheaval and social injustice will vary from child to child. It can be tough to know how your child is coping. It’s important to watch for noticeable changes in behaviors, including with a child’s eating and sleeping patterns, as well as their emotional state. If you’re concerned, consider seeking professional help.
Right now, we need to make sure our kids know that it’s ok to not be ok. We need to give them space to talk through what they’re seeing and how they’re feeling. Work with your kids to put troubling news into a context that they understand. Reassure them that while they might be seeing or hearing about things that are scary, there is still a lot of good in the world, too.
As we begin 2021, I can’t help but to think about the future of mental health. If we commit to focusing on our children and investing in their mental health now, it gives me hope that we can create a healthier world where our children can thrive.