The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us in some way and as a result of school closure, haumāna have been particularly impacted. Stay-at-home orders and enforced physical distancing has for many keiki led to increased screen time, isolation and even anxiety.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. In the spirit of raising awareness, Kamehameha Schools behavioral health specialists offer the following suggestions on how to care for your keiki’s emotional health and mental well-being during this difficult time and beyond.
Establish routines – Consistency and structure can be calming for kids during times of uncertainty. Set regular mealtimes, wake-up times and bedtimes. Involve keiki in the planning of activities to give them a sense of control. Break activities down into 30- or 60- minute chunks to make them more manageable – set a timer, if it helps.
Encourage virtual social interaction – Children thrive when they connect with others. Schedule virtual hangout sessions for your keiki with friends and family members, making them part of your daily or weekly routine. Social media interaction, texting and even old-fashioned letter-writing can also keep them connected with loved ones.
Go outside and exercise – Everyone needs a change of scenery after being cooped up at home all day. Try to spend at least an hour every day as a family strolling, jogging, biking or walking your dog. Being surrounded by nature and breathing fresh air can help to alleviate stress.
Share information – Information can be empowering, so be sure to share age-appropriate facts with your children and encourage them to ask questions about the pandemic. You know your child well enough to gauge how much detail is helpful and how much is overwhelming.
Limit news exposure – Knowing the facts about COVID-19 is critical, so stay informed via trusted news stations. But both kids and adults need to take periodic breaks from news coverage of the pandemic. Be conscious of your child’s exposure to the news and know when to switch it off, as it has the potential to fuel stress and anxiety.
Share coping mechanisms – If your keiki starts to feel overwhelmed, practice some of your favorite coping exercises with them. Create a calm corner – a quiet and relaxing place in your home where you can all go when you are feeling stressed. Try these grounding techniques to deescalate a stressful situation or these strategies if your child is feeling overwhelmed.
Talk about giving back – Empower your keiki by asking them to think of ways to help others. For example, they can ask to help roll out the trash cans for an elderly neighbor or volunteer to walk their dog. Also, help your keiki understand that the sacrifices they are making (by not being able to play sports or go to prom) are protecting their friends and family members who may be at risk for becoming sick.
Care for your own mental health – Meeting your own needs will allow you to better support your keiki, so please continue to practice self-care. Many experts point to the airplane rule – put on your own oxygen mask before helping your child with theirs.
Many in our community are facing new hardships and are struggling to meet basic family needs. We understand this reality and that student well-being begins with child and ‘ohana well-being. To support you, we have added a “COVID-19 Parent Resources” page to our Mālama Ola website listing resources to help families cope with their health and financial well-being during this difficult time.
If you have specific concerns, please reach out to our Mālama Ola behavioral health specialists or your child's school counselor.
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