Mental Health & Wellness During the COVID-19 Era: How Adults Can Best Help Youth Adjust & Succeed During This Time (Webinar & Resources)

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COVID-19 has had a significant impact on our society, including forcing schools, daycares, aftercare programs, extra-curricular activities, and summer camps to shutter, move online, reduce the number of students served, or make other difficult decisions. Oftentimes, this dynamic has strained the relationships that youth have with the adults in their lives, including their parents, teachers, and guidance counselors, and alienated them from their friends and peers. As the pandemic continues and children and teens are isolated in their homes instead of being surrounded by others, their mental health is negatively impacted.  

To help address this issue, Spread Your Sunshine Founder, Melanie S. Griffin, and KeystonePrep Athletics Director, Casey Rudzinksi, co-hosted a webinar focused on the mental health and wellness concerns surrounding our youth during the COVID-19 pandemic. A complimentary replay of the webinar can be accessed by clicking here.

Melanie and Casey are passionate about this issue given the decades Melanie has spent mentoring hundreds of students and young professionals. As a mentor, business owner, and mother, she has witnessed how the pandemic has affected families and children, particularly parents struggling to do more with fewer resources. Similarly, Casey has helped hundreds of students and teens become better versions of themselves through sports and in the classroom. As such, during the past several months, he has seen first-hand the issues that teens and parents are facing, particularly the fallout of moms and dads trying to fill the roles of both parent and teacher. Tackling these challenges head on, during this webinar, Melanie and Casey provide advice on how adults can best communicate with children and teens about COVID-19, how they feel about the changing world, and resources to help navigate this difficult time. 

Issues Faced by Our Youth

Checking on your child or teen for signs of depression can be a tricky business, as there can be a fine line between it and sadness or disappointment. Youth’s lives have been completely upended, particularly given the negative impact prolonged social distancing is having on their social development. With hundreds of thousands of kids across the country being stripped of their birthday parties, proms, graduations, and a myriad of other opportunities to spend time with friends, feelings of sadness and depression come as no surprise. These feelings are heightened given their stage of brain development when they should be growing, learning, and developing through the experiences they have at school, with friends, and with other communities of which they are a part.

Given the forgoing, how can you tell if a child or teen is experiencing signs of depression? NYU Langone Health suggests looking for the five following signs:

  • Physical complaints;
  • Social withdrawal;
  • Academic decline;
  • Substance abuse; and
  • Self-criticism.  

It is especially important to determine if any of these behaviors are inconsistent from the youth’s usual patterns. Changes, whether drastic or small and no matter the length of time, can be an indication of a change about which you need to communicate and that must be addressed.

To illustrate, the Census Bureau recently worked on a study of the effects Coronavirus has had on Americans 18 and older. The information collected regarding mental health and wellness is grim, with 50% of Americans showing signs of anxiety and depression, double the 25% of the population facing such challenges pre-Coronavirus: 

These stark numbers show how important it is to look for signs of struggle in children and teens and acknowledge and address such challenges. NYU Langone Health’s Checking In on Your Teenager’s Mood During the COVID-19 Pandemic is one resource that may help you do so. 

Suggestions for Parents and Adults Who Work with Youth

With all this in mind, you are likely left asking, “What can I do to help?” The answer lies largely in addressing and validating the drastic changes occurring in children’s lives, including by fostering open dialogue, creating accessibility, reevaluating routines, and making the most of the additional time at home.

1. Fostering Open Dialogue

A first step in helping a child process and adjust to the prolonged pandemic is creating a space for open dialogue. By encouraging robust communication, you will better understand what is going on in the youth’s life and reciprocally create a relationship where they feel safe enough to come to you when needed. To begin such discussion, you may want to review the suggestions provided by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Talking with children about Coronavirus Disease 2019.

Additionally, our webinar raises best practices for addressing both good and bad behaviors. For example, if a student does not typically excel in a subject and does well on a test, it is important to acknowledge signs of improvement. Conversely, if a child typically excels in a subject area and their performance declines, determine why the student is suddenly struggling. Such communications indicate to a child or teen that you are paying attention and assures them that they can come to you if they are struggling or have questions.

a. Validation and Timing

Once you have created a safe space for open dialogue, choose the right time to begin a conversation. For example, if you are worried that a child or teen is experiencing depression, do not raise this topic after an argument or in the middle of a class, chat with friends, favorite movie, etc. When a good time presents itself, allow them to experience their sadness and disappointment, layer the discussion with facts, validate their statements by accepting them as a truth, and guide them to the root of what is upsetting them. Empathizing with their losses, like the inability to attend the Senior Trip, demonstrates that you are listening and sympathetic to their experience. Invalidating such feelings, such as by making statements like, “there are people worse off then you,” disenfranchises the child or teen and does not help them learn how to effectively address and deal with their problems.

Similarly, just as important as sympathizing with loss is accepting that oppositely, some youth may be happier. Main reasons certain youth are thriving during quarantine include: 

  • Ability to self-pace and schedule flexibility;
  • Less over-extension due to the cancellation of extra-curriculars, club meetings, and the like;
  • Less academic pressure;
  • Fewer social pressures/anxiety; and
  • Additional sleep.

Youth who excel with less on their plates should not be made to feel guilty for their relief. 

Similarly, our webinar highlights that adults are also deserving of grace. During these confusing times, it is easy for teachers, parents, counselors and the like to feel like they need to assume and excel in every role. While such intention is honorable, it is not sustainable or healthy. Instead, own your lane as a parent, counselor, teacher, or coach and give it 100%. The more authentic you are with kids and teens in assuring them you are there for them and doing your best, the more they will understand you are doing everything you can to ensure their well-being and they will want to reciprocate.

b. Communication Styles

Different people have different communication styles and therefore, present problems in different ways. For example, some people are so positive and hardworking that they find it challenging to share their struggles and may not outwardly present traditional signs of depression or anxiety. When they do discuss their challenges, it is therefore even more important to closely listen and acknowledge their experiences. Also consider sharing your own personal struggles and resources highlighting others overcoming difficulties like The Player’s Tribune for athletes. This transparency lets people know that they are not alone in the issues with which they are grappling.   

2. Creating Accessibility

Next, consider how youth can continue enjoying a version of their pre-Coronavirus learning environment and extra-curricular activities. Over the past several months, creatives have demonstrated that life may look different, but by no means has it stopped. From everything from online dance and music classes, to Zoom surprise parties and trivia nights, to drive-by birthday parades, to FaceTime cooking lessons, and more, with a little ingenuity, there is oftentimes a way to safely continue enjoying activities that invigorate youth.

Parents, teachers, counselors and coaches can also help by being flexible and solutions-driven when inaccessibility issues arise. For example, many students have limited internet, struggle with lack of technology or equipment, or may not live in a stable home environment. Showing you care about the student as an individual and helping them find a way to succeed under these changed circumstances changes the virtual learning experience for the better.

3. Re-Evaluating Your Routine

Given the abundance of recent change, past routines may now be unworkable and heck, it may even feel as if your life no longer has a schedule. Take a deep breath, give yourself grace, and consider the following suggestions that may allow for the return of a sense of normalcy.

a. Time-Management

One way to help maintain work-life balance during the pandemic is to implement new time management measures like taking breaks and setting boundaries for working and non-working hours. Some practical ways to do this include:

  • Have beginning-of-day and end-of-day routines;
  • Check email and notifications at a designated time;
  • Focus on the task in front of you (such as by muting non-essential devices, closing additional screens, logging out of social media, etc.); 
  • Be present with the task you are doing (i.e., no email or online chats when in a live class);  
  • Take screen-free breaks throughout the day;  
  • Find space to do something you love;
  • If your mental health would improve, schedule one day to work late; 
  • Incorporate mindfulness practices into your routine; and  
  • Recognize that being a robot does not produce the best version of yourself.   

Additionally, if possible, create designated workstations and/or schedule school and working hours for each person in your household. Coordinating helps everyone cope with being home together for prolonged periods, such as by minimizing interruptions, providing access to supplies needed to work and learn efficiently, and stabilizing the student’s or worker’s internet connection. 

b. Setting the Tone for Your Household

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Parents set the tone in the household, and expressing extreme doom or fear can affect teens.” By staying positive and relaying consistent messages that a brighter future lies ahead, adults will likely ease some of the fear of children and teens coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. This, of course, does not mean to pretend that everything is perfect. It does, however, mean that youth look to adults for how to handle tough situations and model their own behavior, a process described by the American Psychological Association as one “in which one or more individuals or other entities serve as examples that a child will emulate. Models are often parents, other adults, or other children, but they may also be symbolic.” So, remember your role as a mentor when interacting with youth and adjust your tone as necessary to create an ideal environment.

c. Goal Setting

To further ease tensions during these challenging times, specific goals should be established for learning, chores, and other daily tasks so that youth can prioritize their responsibilities. Likewise, adults can use goal setting to determine what can realistically be accomplished with the current resources available to them. To avoid burnout during the pandemic, adults must accept that “it takes a village to raise a child” and work with others to establish healthy schedules and make time to take care of themselves. Remembering that we are all truly in this together will help exponentially. 

4. How to Make the Most of Your Time at Home

While youth and adults presently face challenging issues, many have also found that the pandemic has created silver linings, such as the chance to catch-up on life or enjoy increased time with loved ones. The following are a few ideas that may be helpful to you in determining how you can best continue maximizing this time.

a. Interactive Activities and Physical Exercise

One of the best ways to ensure mental health and well-being is through physical exercise and interactive play, such as bike rides, walks, puzzles or board games. This is especially true for youth, who with limited interaction with their friends and peers, are evermore dependent on such activities to help facilitate their social development. 

With additional time outside, be sure to be mindful of the health of your skin, which can be damaged even when it is not sunny. For example, several environmental issues can cause damage to your skin or even lead to side effects like hair loss. If you explore resources like the School of Natural Skincare, you can learn how to use natural products to protect the skin you are in.

Beyond interactive and physical activities, also remember to respect kids’ space and give them “outs” to escape the togetherness of quarantine. Further be mindful that online activity is an important way for youth to socially connect with others. 

b. Creative Projects

Creative projects or activities are also excellent ways to encourage creativity, allow for therapeutic healing, and serve as a channel for self-expression. Creative outlets for your consideration include:

  • Teaching a pet a new trick;
  • Journaling or blogging;
  • Playing an instrument;
  • Writing a poem or short story;
  • Drawing, painting or crafting;
  • Reading a book;
  • Cooking a new recipe; and
  • Hosting a self-care day.

Motivation is especially important for youth, so encouraging them to explore these activities while they may have extra time to do so is important in helping them develop their individual passions. 

    c. Family Building Activities

    Kids and teens enjoy spending time with their family. Whether that means their immediate family, extended family members, or special people who have become family, finding ways to connect to maintain or build strong relationships is critical to helping all generations mentally survive the pandemic. Some great ways to bring everyone closer together include:

    • Staying in touch through text messages, FaceTime, Snapchat, Skype, and video chat;
    • Sharing music, podcasts, audiobooks, recipes, pictures, workouts, or funny memes;
    • Offering to help younger relatives or friends with schoolwork via the phone or internet; and
    • Helping neighbors with tasks they cannot do for themselves due to age, pre-existing conditions or additional limitations.

      Concluding Thoughts & Additional Resources

      Overall, remember that both you and the youth in your life deserve a break. Everyone is doing their best under tough circumstances and having a bad day (or days) is normal. A series of small actions can positively shift your mindset over time. So, think of things within your control that make you happy and incorporate them into your routine. Taking life one step at a time and giving yourself and others grace will help you stay positive. 

      With this in mind, it is hoped that our complimentary webinar and the information herein helps you and your loved ones cope with this new way of life. For additional guidance, please see the following resources: 

      © 2020 Spread Your Sunshine, LLC