If you’re stressed out, your kids might be too. AHN Pediatrics discusses dealing with emotions.
“With everything going on in the world, I think my children are feeling stressed out. I certainly am. How can I get them to open up about their feelings?
Children pick their own times to discuss emotions. It’s often one-on-one, like during a car ride or washing up after dinner. It’s up to parents to capture these teachable moments.
“If children talk about a classmate who was teased at school or a scary situation, parents should be ready to help them express and deal with their emotions,” said Jennifer Romero, MD, AHN Pediatrics. “For very young children, you’ll want to help them label their feeling, such as ‘you felt sorry for Adria,’ or ‘you were mad at John.’ This will help them recognize similar feelings next time.”
To help younger children build skills that will help them manage emotions, relationships, and solve problems thoughtfully, try these tips:
- While reading books or watching videos, talk about characters’ emotional responses.
- Tie your own feelings to your facial expressions and body language: “I’m so happy about going on vacation that I can’t stop smiling.”
- When children get angry, guide them to a quiet place where they can take deep breaths or count to ten. Some children like to mimic a deflating balloon, and let all the air out.
- Demonstrate how emotions can hinder problem-solving: “We’re both mad that the pool is closed because of the storm. When we stop feeling mad, let’s think of something fun we can do inside.”
“Let your children own their feelings,” said Dr. Romero. “Even if it seems small to you, like a dropped ice cream cone, it feels big and real to them. Acknowledge their emotions out loud, as this helps validate their feelings. Equally praise them when they’ve shown emotional maturity, such as helping a friend or sharing a treat.”
A pandemic disruption
Local pediatricians have seen the demand for mental health services rise during the COVID-19 pandemic. For children and teens, disruptions in school routines and limits on socialization have been stressful. Racial and social unrest also affect them. They worry about their family members getting sick, or dying. This is not an idle fear — more than 167,000 children under 18 lost a parent or in-home caregiver to COVID-19 in 2020 or 2021.*
“When parents are anxious, stressed, or worried, their children can often pick up on this and internalize it in many different ways,” said Dr. Romero. “So, focus on your own emotional health as well. Talking about situations simply and honestly, as a family, can help you and your kids. Admit you are scared, grieving, or frustrated, but show how you are going to deal with those emotions.”
For toddlers who may have been secluded in the last few years, consider arranging safe activities with other families. Find opportunities to help them build their conversational skills, starting with the neighbors, the mail carrier, or a librarian.
Less screen, more green
If your family is experiencing persistent, low-level anxiety and depression, there is hope. Studies show that relaxing music, enjoying nature, laughter, yoga, exercise, and meditation can help lift spirits. Children and adults who reduce their screen time and increase their physical activity are happier and healthier.
Talk to your doctor if you think your children are struggling mentally or emotionally. At different ages, they may show this by:
- Backtracking on social skills and development, including sleep, feeding, or potty training.
- Being clingy or fearful.
- Striking out at others or crying more often.
- Losing interest in their favorite activities, friends, or family members.
Mental and behavioral health is as important as physical health, so don’t hesitate to call AHN Pediatrics or your doctor for an evaluation or referral to a child or adolescent mental health professional.
* Treglia, D., Cutuli, J. J., Arasteh, K., J. Bridgeland, J.M., Edson, G., Phillips, S., Balakrishna, A. (2021). Hidden Pain: Children Who Lost a Parent or Caregiver to COVID-19 and What the Nation Can Do to Help Them. COVID Collaborative: covidcollaborative.us/assets/uploads/img/HIDDEN-PAIN-FINAL.pdf