Tips to support your child during these stressful times

Just as we long for our society reopening after prolonged shutdown, the recent protests, violence and anti-racism against inequality dominate our screens and consciousness. They concern us, and they disturb us.

This past week some of our children and youth have reacted swiftly and strongly, with anger and dismay. As they try to make sense of the daily images, our families and schools need to work together to support our young people. As caring adults, we need to help them understand their emotional reactions. Together, we can help them engage in positive coping behaviours and support one another.

Violence and hate can alter our sense of security. Whether it be far away or near, witnessing other people’s stress and adversity can also contribute to anxiety, fear or depression. That’s why we need to offer reassurance to our children and youth. 

It’s hard to make sense of the recent violence, and the enormity of societal racism in the world and our communities. Not understanding may lead to feelings of fear and uncertainty regarding our own safety, the safety of family or friends, and fear of being targeted because of race and cultural background. 

I collaborated with our team of Mental Health Clinicians to provide you with tips to help your child during these stressful times. Here they are:  

Be reassuring. Children and youth take their emotional cues from us. Let them know that the real enemy is ignorance, hate and complacency. Taking an active role against racism creates reassurance. While racial violence and division are on display, show them that love, friendship and compassion are in even greater abundance. Acknowledge their concerns that something terrible could happen to themselves or loved ones, but remind them that you will take every possible step to ensure their safety. 

Be a good listener and observer. Let your child guide you in learning how concerned they are or how much information they need. If they aren’t focused on the disturbing events, don’t dwell on it. Be there to answer their questions to the best of your ability. Provide a safe space for them to talk about their fears. Younger children may not be able to express themselves verbally. Pay attention to lasting changes in their behaviour and moods. Youth may wish to discuss their emotions and feelings of anger. Provide a safe space for the conversation and be receptive to their feelings.

Monitor the news.  Media coverage can become overwhelming, especially if watched again and again. Young children may not be able to distinguish between images on television and their personal reality. Older children may choose to watch the news, but be available to discuss what they see and help them put it into perspective. 

Emphasize people’s resiliency. Help children understand people have the ability to come through disturbing events and go on with their lives. Focus on your children’s strength, reminding them of when they coped in daily life during hard times. In age-appropriate terms, talk about how most of the time, people triumph over misunderstanding, ignorance and hate. 

Highlight positive outcomes. Talking about racism is one way we begin to eradicate it. Praise them for their interest, their curiosity, their activism, as well as their outrage. School clubs throughout our Board promote anti-racism and anti-oppression. They stand with one another in peace and solidarity, just as people now, march together across the world. 

Encourage positive coping strategies and behaviours.  Regular sleep routines and healthy eating are essential to emotional well-being. Encourage your child or youth to participate in activities they enjoy to help deal with stress. Now more than ever, social engagement, whether online or two metres apart, is a necessary human connection we all need.

Maintain as much continuity and normalcy as possible. Allowing children to deal with their reactions is important, but so is providing a sense of calmness as we re-define normalcy. Routine family activities, online school, social media (within reasonable limits), and physical contact (that follows health guidelines) with friends can help children feel secure and better able to function. 

Spend family time. Being with family is always vital in difficult or sad times. Even if these events do not significantly impact your children, this may be an excellent opportunity to participate in and to appreciate family life. Doing things together reinforces children’s sense of stability and connectedness. 

Be aware of your own needs. Don’t ignore your own feelings of anxiety, grief, and anger. Talking to friends, family members, a priest, or a mental health counsellor can help. Let your children know how you feel and why. You will be better able to support your children if you can express your own emotions in a productive manner. Get proper sleep, nutrition, and exercise. 

Ask for help if you or your children need it. Any tragedy can feel overwhelming for families directly affected, particularly those who have been victimized by racism. Staying connected to your community can be extremely helpful. Seek additional support from a mental health professional to cope with overwhelming feelings. 

Please reach out to your school at any time should you or your children struggle. During school closures, you can reach the school Principal through email or the Board at info@ocsb.ca

Compiled by OCSB Mental Health Clinicians

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