My 12-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter struggle so hard with online school and the restrictions and recommendations attached to COVID-19. They just do not seem like themselves lately. Even if I attempt to talk with them about their day, or if I try and connect with them through an activity, they are not interested. I am beginning to wonder if they are both depressed. I know they are anxious, as we all are waiting for the pandemic to end to resume our normal daily lives. How can I help them hang on?
– Concerned Mom
Dear Concerned Mom,
First, I want to say that your children’s feelings about the stressors of COVID-19 are real and appropriate. We have lost our sense of normal in the past year. We have lost our access to the choices in our daily lives that previously seemed endlessly available to us. Grief and loss, leading to bouts of anxiety and depression, are normal for everyone in times like this. Children miss their friends, their teachers, their routines, and even the break from home life when they go to school and have a chance to be independent in the world.
A few things to remember: our children have less experience in rebounding in life than we do, so please be patient with them when they demonstrate they are struggling. As adults, we may look at a situation and see an easy resolution, but our children do not, at least not yet. That’s where parents and caregivers come in. We model for children how to address our struggles in a manner that is helpful and healthy. Talking about our struggles is the first step. Follow up by looking at options for change and redirection that can help address our anxieties and depression. Begin by identifying the biggest challenge each child feels they are facing. Follow up by reviewing the truth of the situation. From there, focus on building coping mechanisms and developing new skills to address our challenges a step at a time. I call it a “bag of tricks,” and we all need one.
If you find that, after trying these suggestions, your child is still struggling for more than two weeks in a row, please reach out to your primary care doctor or a mental health provider for additional consultation and support.
How to break through when you are struggling with anxiety and depression
- Look at the truth of your anxious thoughts. What is the likelihood your anxious thoughts are real and true, that they will happen in the future, and ruin your life (e.g. feeling you will be embarrassed, shamed, viewed poorly by others, and never recover from the situation)?
- Build out a bag of tricks: Reflect on what a good day looks like (e.g. your birthday/a holiday) and what you would choose to do if you built out a great day for yourself. Choose those same activities when feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed to redirect yourself.
Kari O’Neill, MSW, LICSW, is a licensed independent clinical social worker and the owner of Issaquah Highlands Counseling Group.
This column is for entertainment purposes only. If you are in crisis and in need of support, please contact the Crisis Clinic at 866-427-4747.