How to be resilient during times that try your family’s mental health

Have you found yourself pushed to your limit, losing patience?  Or do you find your kids are stressed or acting in ways they don’t normally behave?

The unique circumstance of having kids doing school at home and parents working from home is putting an inordinate amount of stress on parents and kids.

KDKA’S Kristine Sorensen is one of the many parents in this situation. She spoke with Dr. Abigail Schlesinger, chief of behavioral science at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, for some advice.  Their edited conversation is below, and you can watch the entire interview on CBSN Pittsburgh here.

Kristine Sorensen: When we talk about the mental health of kids and teens, you’ve said we really can’t talk about that without also addressing the mental health of the adults and caregivers. Why is that? 

Dr. Abigail Schlesinger:  One of the best predictors of a child’s mental health is having at least one strong supportive parent in their lives. I know that sounds obvious. Kids come with parents, but when times get stressful, it’s really important for us, as parents, to back up and realize that we need to take care of ourselves, and that’s for a couple different reasons. Not just because we need to be healthy to take care of our children, but our children watch us.  They learn from us. Even our teenagers watch us and learn from us. So they’re watching how we respond to this as much as we want to help them.

Kristine Sorensen: What signs might indicate that a child or teenager is really to the point of stress that they need to talk to a professional and not just a parent?

Dr. Abigail Schlesinger: At the end of the day, it’s always how well they’re able to do the things they need to do, which is harder to gauge these days because our expectations have changed. All of a sudden mom and dad are educating their child and maybe they never had to do that before, so there may be more irritability, more anger, more frustration with ourselves than we’ve seen in the past. But we should be able to push through that.

The other thing is children are more likely to have stomach aches, headaches, aches and pains.  Even adults can have them when they’re anxious and depressed, but children are even more likely to have those and not connect them to an emotion.

Sometimes we want to help our children never be upset, to always feel good, and that’s not actually a reasonable expectation of life. In fact, if there’s anything we’ve learned from this experience, it’s that emotions and stress are a part of life and you need to be resilient. You really need to be able to express those and experience them without breaking down.

It has never been easier to connect with a therapist, says Dr. Schlesinger, because of teletherapy.  For a telephone appointment with someone from UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital, call 412-235-5444 or 724-933-3910.

This story is part of the Kidsburgh Mental Health Series funded by a grant from the Stanton Farm Foundation. The Foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of people who live with mental illness or substance use disorders. The Foundation’s vision is to invest in a future where behavioral health is understood, supported, and accepted.

Other stories in the series include the Kidsburgh Mental Health Survey report, insight as to how parents can deal with coronavirus anxiety and a look at the workings of the teenage brain.