(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on into the cold, winter months, a new national survey by Nationwide Children’s Hospital finds many parents worry about their children’s ability to recover from the effects these times are having on their mental health. Parker Huston, Ph.D., a psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, speaks to countless families about coping with stress and building resilience during these challenging times. It’s advice he’s now putting into practice in his own household with his two children as the pandemic continues.
“The good news is that kids are incredibly adaptable when given the right support. They’re constantly changing and learning new things, so the biggest thing that they probably react to is how the adults in their lives are responding,” Huston said. “If the adults are responding negatively, or if they seem unsure or distressed by a decision, then the kids are likely to be as well.”
Huston says a good start is to adjust your environment to create as much structure and normalcy as possible, with separate spaces for learning, alone time and play. He and his wife have transformed their living room into a learning room, complete with school supplies and even a chalkboard on the wall.
“As parents, I think it’s on us to be a little bit creative this year, thinking through what our kids might need to be successful and to be able to roll with the punches as we continue to ride this out,” Huston said. “We have a structure to the day. We do our school work at certain times, we take breaks at certain times and we can be flexible with that some days, but most of the time the kids know exactly what their expectations are.”
The survey also found nearly three in five parents are running out of ways to keep their kids positive as the pandemic continues. Huston says finding creative ways to keep kids connected to their peers and family members can help boost their spirits and minimize their feelings of loss.
“Things like writing art projects back and forth and leaving them in each other’s mailboxes or letting kids FaceTime with their friends, these are things that will help kids feel that social connectivity that they usually get with their classmates or kids in the neighborhood,” Huston said.
Huston is the clinical director of On Our Sleeves, a movement to transform children’s mental health that offers resources to parents such as conversation starters and warning signs of depression and anxiety. You can find tools at OnOurSleeves.org to help kids stay positive and engaged during the pandemic, like ways to fight boredom, create a schedule and implement new habits.