Mental Health Matters

By Katie Souliere, RN, OPH Public Health Nurse October 29, 2020

As parents we are constantly worrying about our children. Worried about how they’ll fit in, worried about their health, worried about how they’re doing at school and the list goes on. The day-to-day worries can feel insurmountable at times. 

One thing though that no one could predict was parenting during a pandemic. The changes COVID-19 has brought to our version of normal has added a whole new layer to our already fraught minds. Our children are learning how to be children in a new way. Wearing a mask, staying distant and avoiding physical touch, isolating from friends when sick...all this newness can be difficult to process. As adults we have learned coping skills. Things like counting to 10, deep breathing, yoga, exercise, talking to support people and asking for help. Children don’t have coping mechanisms built in; they are learned. Children hear, see and do. 

How can we give our little ones the tools they need to cope with stress? We know that children express stress in different ways, it could be things like not sleeping well, loss of appetite, angry outbursts, complaining of body aches or stomach aches or even just crying. Depending on the age of your child, we can’t always expect that they will be able to vocalize their feelings of stress, sadness or fear. 

Here are some ways to help your child deal with stress: 

  • Set a good example of how to deal with stress and be aware of your own stress
  • Be sensitive to your child's feelings
  • Discuss issues when you are feeling calm and in control
  • Have predicable routines
  • Tell your child a story that is close to what your child is going through. Ask them to tell you how the person in the story is feeling. This may help them express what they are feeling.
  • Listen to their feelings first, then choose how you will respond to their behaviour.
  • Have your child draw a picture of their feelings
  • Have quiet time for reading, making a craft, or a puzzle: children will often talk about a problem when given the chance

Remember that children need to learn how to cope with small amounts of stress. As a parent, our job is to show them love, help them learn and keep them safe.

Ottawa Public Health knows that parents are juggling many stresses themselves, and that it is OK to not be OK. If you need support, please reach out. You can call our Ottawa Public Health Information Centre at 613-580-6744 from 9AM to 4PM Monday-Friday or visit our website.  

For more information on mental health for children: click here