Post-pandemic children and teens are struggling with alarming rates of anxiety and depression as well as suicide. Because a national emergency has been declared, states and communities are quickly taking action such as increased funding for mental health services, more mental health screenings in pediatricians’ offices, expanded training for mental health clinicians, improved social emotional learning in schools and much, much more. However, there is one important piece of this puzzle that has been pretty much ignored – parents and caregivers. Sounds strange, but surprisingly true.
Parents who are concerned about their kids’ mental health often find it difficult to know the signs that therapy is needed. Any persistent changes in eating, sleeping, friendships, school performance or extracurricular activity involvement can be a yellow flag. Trust your gut and ask for help. Start with your pediatrician or school social worker or psychologist for referrals.
Most clinicians agree that consulting effectively with parents can maximize positive outcomes for kids in therapy. However, parent involvement often does not extend beyond the intake session and brief periodic check-ins. If your child is in therapy, make sure you are part of the goal setting process, that you know what progress looks like and ask your child’s therapist for any ways you can change your behavior to better support your child. You may also want to be interested in what kind of approaches your child’s therapist is using and learn any strategies your child is learning so you can support them. There should be a pretty big role for you in your child’s treatment – reach out to your child’s therapist and start the conversation.
And finally kids don’t come with directions. Parents and caregivers often don’t recognize how they can help protect children’s mental health, especially in the context of a worldwide pandemic and its grueling aftermath. So let’s start here – one of your most important and perhaps challenging jobs right now is to protect your child’s emotional wellbeing. We can hear you thinking to yourself, How??? It isn’t as complicated as you think. In fact, you want to focus on the opposite of complications – yes, simplifying your everyday life helps.
Your most important task is to focus your energy on triggering calm, not stress, in your child. How do you win cooperation without lecturing, nagging, criticizing, yelling, threatening and punishing? Strengthen your relationship and use positive approaches. Keep in mind that winning cooperation is much less important than increasing the stress chemicals in your child’s brain and in yours. Yes, they have to do their homework and get chores done and treat each other respectfully – at least within reason – but their mental health must come first.
Here are a few important tips – spoiler alert – none of these are as easy as they sound::
At Peace At Home Parenting, we are cheerleaders for parents. We know you can’t know all this or even once you read the list, you may not feel confident about using these approaches. With a little help, it will get a lot easier. And you don’t have to do it all and definitely don’t want to try to do it perfectly!
Don’t hesitate to reach out. It really does take a village and then some. Reach us at Solutions@peaceathomeparenting.com.
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