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Mental Health Talk – Part 2 of 3

Our kids are feeling down and as parents we want to make it right. We can’t change the pandemic but there are measures we can take at home to help our children maintain their best mental health as we adjust to our “new normal”.

Having empathy means that you understand and accept how another person is feeling. When we have empathy for our kids, they feel heard and understood. Empathy is not about fixing the situation or solving a problem; it’s about listening to our kids and letting them share their thoughts and feelings. It sounds easy, but many parents have a hard time listening to kids talk without interrupting, correcting or offering suggestions. To be empathic, all you need to do is:

  1. Be quiet and let your kid(s) talk
  2. Repeat back what they said  
For example, your child tells you that the summer is boring and it stinks that they can’t go to camp. You repeat, “You feel bored and you’re upset you can’t go to camp.”  That’s empathy.  

Most kids will find ways to communicate when they are unhappy or in distress. Some kids want to talk about their feelings. In this case, you can help your child by:
  1. Teaching emotion vocabulary
  2. Modeling emotion vocabulary (use examples from your own life)
For example, your child gets angry when you tell him/her that s/he can’t have a playdate with friends because of physical distancing.  You explain, “It sounds like you’re frustrated. I know that when I can’t have something I really want, it makes me feel frustrated. COVID is making a lot of people very frustrated.”

Once your child has a good handle on the vocabulary you can also introduce the idea of rating emotions on a scale. Depending on your child, the size of your scale can be small (yes or no), medium (ratings from 1 to 5) or large (ratings from 1 to 10).

Some kids want to talk but have a hard time finding the words. In this case, consider googling a list of feeling words and/or emojis and letting your child choose the one that fits best. For kids who lack the verbal skills to communicate their feelings in words, keep an eye on other non-verbal signs that your child may be feeling sad, frustrated or bored.

Many kids need time to stop and think before they can talk about big feelings. For some kids, this means taking time to calm down, while others need time to process and gather their thoughts. If your child is very upset or is having a hard time talking, let them know that you are available to talk when they are ready. You could even suggest that they take time to think and plan a time to discuss it again later on when they are ready.

Adaptive Coping
Some kids are feeling uncertain with all of the recent changes in their lives. We can help them adapt their expectations and develop realistic goals by introducing new routines and structure in their schedule. Kids may also benefit from various adaptive coping strategies or tools to manage stress and improve their quality of life.  Check out this list of activities, ideas and strategies that you may want to try with your family:
Source: Jobloving.com

If you have concerns about your child’s mental health and feel that your child would benefit from additional support, visit our website for mental health resources in York Region and Simcoe County. For emergency, please call 911 or go to the nearest hospital emergency department.