Recent reports from recognized epidemiologists and public health experts show that the United States has officially entered the “third wave” of the coronavirus pandemic. Sadly, as cases continue to rise, so too does the presence of anxiety and depression for many individuals across the nation. As a therapist who specializes in working with children and adolescents, I see the emotional toll the pandemic is taking on my younger clients. In fact, a recent analysis from the Center for Disease Control revealed that there has been a significant rise in the number of emergency room visits related to children’s mental health compared to last year1. If you are a parent of a child or teenager, you have no doubt observed their exasperation with remote learning or perhaps their longing for increased social connection with peers. While children and teens who have a history of depression and anxiety are at an increased risk during stressful times, those who may have never had a history of a mood disorder can also develop symptoms. With this pandemic feeling like it has no end in sight, it can be a real struggle to remain positive and take care of ourselves and loved ones. As a parent, you’ve likely heard from a myriad of health and parenting experts by now about how to help your child during these trying times. “Make sure your children have a schedule”, they say. “Give your child structure”, they say. “Ensure they get adequate sleep”, they say. There’s no doubt about the value of this advice and every parent should aspire to achieve them. However, what happens when you’re eight months into a pandemic that no one imagined or planned for and you’re still struggling with keeping your child on a “schedule”? I should mention that while parents are trying their best to help their children cope, they too are being emotionally affected. Whether it is balancing the demands of work and parenting, real or anticipated financial struggles, or their own loss of social connection and possibly grief, the impacts of the pandemic have been felt widely and deeply across generations. I can’t think of a better time to extend ourselves some grace. In the context of this article, we will use Webster’s definition of grace which includes the “act of kindness, courtesy, or clemency” and a “temporary exemption or reprieve”. Honestly, we deserve grace and so much more, but it seems that it’s easy to forget this when our lives are in an upheaval. Every so often when I hear the disappointment in my young client’s voice about not keeping up with the demands of school or when a parent cringes at the thought of how much time their child is spending on electronics, I feel the need to remind them that we’re in a pandemic. Functioning with any real sense of normalcy is nearly impossible, so why pressure yourself to do so? By focusing on ways to extend yourself grace, you can alleviate a lot of pressure off of yourself and your family.
First, begin by examining your expectations. If you are still holding tightly to previously held high expectations, it’s time to make an adjustment. For example, if it takes a little longer for your child/teen to complete chores, but they are still accomplished, consider that a win!
Second, pick your battles. Decide upfront what you consider to be your “non-negotiables”. For example, will you require that dinner be eaten together as a family on school nights, but allow for more screen time than typical? Some things may have to remain the same, but make room for aspects of your daily lives that you can be more lenient with.
Third, run your own race. One of the most leading parenting experts in the country, a parent herself, Dr. Catherine Pearlman emphasized the importance of “keeping [your] eyes on your own paper”2: “I always tell parents to worry about what goes on in their own house and forget about how perfectly it all looks at the neighbor’s house. No one has it all together all the time.” Comparing yourself to other families can lead to unnecessary pressure and a sense of disappointment if not met with the same success. Focus on creating what works uniquely for your family.
Fourth, accept that you may not be able to protect your child from everything and trust your child’s resilience. For instance, they may surprise you with their ability to combat boredom if challenged to do so without the use of their electronic devices. If you find yourself questioning your child’s ability to adapt, take a look at this resilience booster. One of the recommendations includes talking openly about your child’s feelings, which leads me to my final point: communicate.
Talk to your children about their feelings, whether through organic conversation or by hosting “family meetings”. Offering a space for you and them to process their emotions shows that you are interested in how they feel. This will also send the message that whatever they feel is valid and deserves to be heard.
Life is different, by no fault of your own and you may be grieving loss in many areas of your life. There is so much that we can’t control, but I’d like to remind you of what can be in your control. I encourage you to create the space for grace that you deserve.
Crystal Balfour, PsyD is a licensed clinical psychologist with a specialization in the mental health treatment of children and adolescents. For the past 8 years, she has worked collaboratively with children, teens, and their families to address various challenges, such as trauma, grief, depression, and anxiety. More information about Crystal can be found on our website.