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Recently, Center for Healthy Minds faculty Sarah Short and Julie Poehlmann-Tynan shared their expertise for the virtual event The World We Make 2020, discussing the importance of nurturing the development of healthy minds in our children. In this article, we share insights from that discussion.
Studies have shown that during the COVID-19 pandemic, both children and parents are experiencing more mental health symptoms and more stress than they had before. The issue of poverty is growing now as a result of the pandemic. There is an expected rise in homelessness and food insecurity. According to Child Trends, as many as 20 percent of the population in the United States is living at or below the federal poverty threshold. And an even larger percent – 40 percent are children impacted by poverty. This is equivalent to 26 million children. The impact is highest among Black and Hispanic children - who are twice as likely as white children to live in poverty.
Poverty is a systemic issue that touches every corner of our country and has far-reaching consequences for the health and well-being of our population. Children who are growing up in poverty have an increased risk for behavioral, social and emotional health challenges. In addition to poverty, more than 5 million children have a parent who is incarcerated. These children are faced with unique stressors that must be addressed to support their well-being.
How do we support the well-being of children during challenging times? Below are six ways parents and caregivers can help children be more resilient throughout the pandemic.
Take care of yourself. There is so much that you can do as caregivers to support your own well-being and buffer stress in children. Parents should really engage in some self-care so they can be the best parents they can be. This can be as simple as finding time for exercise, eating healthfully and getting adequate sleep. It’s also important to acknowledge what you’re feeling and to give yourself a break.
Remember that this is a temporary situation. Keep in mind that the pandemic is not a permanent situation. Many children are resilient as long as they are well cared for at home. It is not going to harm them to be away from school for a little while, or to be educated in the home, or to experience temporary stress. It’s only when that stress becomes really extreme and prolonged where you worry more.
Focus on positive interactions with children. It can be as simple as showing interest and responding to the things the child is interested in (like a toy or a book, for instance), and having a quality moment where you and the child are both sharing and in the moment together. These simple kinds of moments can be what really makes a difference in a child’s life. Even for busy families, these interactions don’t have to be complicated or take extra time since they are based on day-to-day activities.
Answer questions and acknowledge difficult situations. It’s important to talk to children about the questions they have and what they’re feeling. Acknowledge the difficult emotions and situations that kids are experiencing. They may not have words for it or know exactly what’s going on, but they know something is not right and they don't feel like themselves. Give children a safe space to talk about that, and the words to express it. And then let them know it is going to be OK.
Stay connected. Although many of us are physically distanced right now to prevent the spread of COVID, it’s incredibly important to stay socially close and to feel connected and find support from friends and family. Living in a pandemic is a shared experience for all of us, and there is so much struggle right now. Asking for help and leaning on each other can be really helpful.
Practice mindfulness. Staying present and aware of your emotions can be very helpful during challenging times and can help build resilience. The Healthy Minds Program app from Healthy Minds Innovations offers meditation practices that can be a source of support.
Interested in learning more about supporting the well-being of children, including those experiencing trauma? Watch the full replay of “The Developing Mind” event from The World We Make 2020.