Utah’s children, youth and families are adapting to an ever-changing landscape. Now, the school year is drawing to a close; the end of the pandemic is in sight. This transitional time offers opportunities for connection and growth as we shift from survival to resilience.
Prior to COVID-19, Utah families with children relied far more on community care. School systems, religious communities, extended families and friends provided structure, caregiving and support. In the pandemic, we suddenly faced the monumental task of raising our children on a desert island, trapped at home and isolated from these community supports. We have adapted, but not without costs to mental health, social connections, academic engagement and economic stability. We have also protected one another, grown in unexpected ways, and learned the value of relationships and community care.
Our current transitional period offers relief as we begin to expand our circles and lean into community supports again. We may also encounter new stressors as we learn to navigate safety in the “new normal.” As with any major transition, your body and mind need time to adjust.
Behavioral health experts strongly encourage parents to make their own wellbeing a priority during this period. A strong predictor of childhood adjustment is parental adjustment and well-being. Children and youth will need help transitioning out of the pandemic and processing everything they’ve been through; take care of yourself so you can be responsive and emotionally available. Here are some ways to support your health and wellbeing:
- Care for your body (healthy choices, exercise, consistent sleep).
- Maintain healthy relationships and engage safely with community supports.
- Ride intense emotions like a wave, and trust that they will fade with time.
- Bring fun and joy into your life by engaging in activities you enjoy.
- Take breaks to rest.
- Seek help when you need it.
Children may be experiencing stress surrounding the end of the school year in this unpredictable climate. Questions and anxieties may not be noticed by school staff who are already overwhelmed. Parents can help by continuing to make time for open communication about the COVID-19 pandemic, answering questions and normalizing emotions around uncertainties. When exploring difficult emotions with children, stay calm and curious, work with them to create a plan, and offer them a degree of control when it comes to solutions. For example, children may want to volunteer or help their community or friends directly. They may also have ideas about ways to express, explore, or manage their own emotions. This is also a good time to ensure safety while modeling how you as a parent may deal with uncertainty, anxiety, and depression with resilience and coping skills.
Limiting media exposure can also help children manage pandemic stress. They may feel overwhelmed and frightened by continued reports of mortality, hospitalization, and infection rates while we begin to see communities loosen restrictions.
Continue to incorporate elements of consistency and structure to daily routines. As adolescents begin to transition towards summer, help them stay focused by actively engaging with their schoolwork. Offer space regularly to explore difficult emotions around school and peer interactions. Help adolescents explore, set, and maintain boundaries. If youth are struggling with areas they perceive they should be achieving in, normalize difficulties and validate their emotions, and offer them opportunities to create their own realistic solutions. Lastly, don’t forget to prioritize creativity, play, and self-expression for children and youth as they develop their identities and coping during these unprecedented times.
Many children, youth, and adolescents manage well with family support, even with anxiety or other large emotions. However, if you begin to notice significant changes in behavior, such as changes to sleeping and eating, agitation, increase in conflict or aggressiveness, avoidance or withdrawal, absenteeism, difficulty in concentration, or suicidal thinking or behavior, help is available. In the case of a behavioral health crisis, please contact the Utah Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.
Key Discussion Points
- Shifting gears from survival to resilience: the changing face of behavioral health support as the pandemic rolls on.
- Expanding you and your child’s circle of informal supports safely
- Caring for your child
- Caring for your teen/adolescent
- Warning signs you or your child may need extra help and where to turn.
About Nichole Cunha, LCSW
Nichole Cunha, LCSW, maintains a robust background in crisis management and history of providing acute care for clients who have a myriad of challenging concerns and high-risk presenting problems.
Nichole has developed numerous suicide prevention and crisis intervention programs to include a Crisis Receiving Center and a six-county, three-part crisis delivery system for children, youth and families that includes: crisis and support phone line; mobile crisis outreache service; and the provision of in-home post crisis stabilization services.
Her work emphasizes community-based assessment and treatment, encouraging collaborative management of symptoms and least restrictive environments.
Currently she serves as a Crisis and Early Intervention Administrator with the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.