Many of the parents I work with have expressed concerns that their child isn’t going to be okay after the last year. I’ve heard concerns about the negative effects of screen time, losing friendships, or developing anxiety disorders later in life.

Unfortunately, there’s no perfect solution to guarantee that our children will be unaffected by the last year.

All of us are going to be fundamentally changed by the collective trauma of the past year, but experts agree that traumatic experiences can cause us to grow as individuals.

Post-traumatic growth happens when people are able to build resilience after traumatic experiences. This isn’t meant to fault anyone who’s struggling because of the challenges they faced over the last year. Instead, I hope you will feel prepared to begin to heal and help your children heal as well.

Fostering Resilience

Children develop resilience by developing strong support systems and building self-esteem. Self-esteem is built by working towards goals and receiving recognition when we achieve our goals. When children connect with their friends and family in meaningful ways, even over Zoom, it helps them build a support network for challenging times. When they know that people see them and want to support them, they learn that there are people they can talk to when they feel overwhelmed or are having a difficult time.

Rebuild Their Connections

Our children have felt the burden of disconnecting from their support networks. Friends may have moved away. Family members haven’t been seen in a long time. It’s going to take time to rebuild these connections. As your child returns to social activities, help them identify the people they feel safe with and help them feel supported. Brené Brown has an excellent talk about finding people who are trustworthy.

Encourage Positive Reflection

Another way to foster resilience is by helping your child reflect on everything they’ve accomplished over the last year. The fact that they made it through virtual school and constant uncertainty should be celebrated. Take time to celebrate the new hobbies your child has developed as a result of quarantine. Even if their hobbies involved way more screen time than you would’ve liked, help your child reflect on the lessons they learned through their new technological skills.

Fostering Well-Being

Children also need to learn skills that help them improve their overall well-being. In addition to building support networks, children need many of the same self-care skills us adults need, like being active, practicing mindfulness, continuing to learn, and giving to others. These skills are critical for learning how to handle stressful situations and will help a child cope with anxiety.

Get Them Active

Physical activity is the antithesis of screen time. It’s so important for children to connect with their bodies and experience meaningful movement that releases tension. Walking to see friends, stretching in-between Zoom classes, and filming TikTok dances are some free ways for your child to connect with their bodies and the world around them. Whatever it is, do what feels good and fun!

Focus Their Minds

Mindfulness happens when our children learn to connect their senses to the present moment. This lowers stress and anxiety by teaching their nervous systems that they’re safe and aware of their environment. As parents, we want our children to be focused on their future goals, but for many children, the pandemic has changed what they think their future will look like. Many children have also learned just how much they cannot control, which can be very anxiety-inducing. Mindfulness teaches our children how to identify their current feelings, focus, and sphere of control.

How to Develop Mindfulness

To develop mindfulness skills, help your children identify the things they’re experiencing with their five senses right now. Then ask them how they’re feeling as a result. Another way to practice mindfulness is by asking your child to identify what they need in the present moment (A snack? To run? A break from screens?) or what they need to accomplish most in the next 10-15 minutes (adjust based on age appropriateness). Help them brainstorm ideas until they become more comfortable with these tasks.

Help Them See Outside of Themselves

Giving to others helps children learn how to think about things outside of themselves. It gives them a sense of purpose and helps them identify the positive things they can give to the world. The goal is to teach your child how to notice their needs, the needs of others, and learn how to meet those needs. Children who are able to identify their needs will better be able to cope with challenges later in life.

Moving Toward Growth

Right now, we don’t know what life is going to look like for our children when everything fully reopens. We don’t know if our children are going to continue to feel anxious or depressed when school returns to “normal.” Our children may have completely different standards for cleanliness and handling sickness than what we grew up with.

As their parents, it’s important to be aware of how our children are feeling and to foster positive environments for them to grow. If we notice our children are struggling to cope with the new normal, there are experts who can help them with their unique needs. No child or family has to be an island. In fact, finding support in our communities is going to be essential to all of us growing from our pandemic experiences.

 

Elise Champanhet is a Mental Health Therapist seeing individuals seeking physical, emotional, and mental wellness at Optimum Joy Clinical Counseling in the Greater Chicago Area.

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