According to one recent survey, 14 percent of American children are showing worsening mental health because of the pandemic. Studies out of China, Australia, and other countries confirm how brutal the isolation and uncertainty of lockdowns can be for young people.
"Parents are reporting an increase in anxiety levels for children who were already kind of anxious in their temperament, and kids who previously had not had anxiety have developed anxious behaviors," Adiaha Spinks-Franklin, a pediatrician at Texas Children's Hospital, told the New York Times. Which probably just confirms what you're seeing with your own eyes.
This is clearly bad news, but experts do offer some comfort for worried parents. With the right support, going through a serious challenge like a pandemic can help your child develop resilience that will benefit them throughout their lives.
How to help your kids develop resilience
This is not to say anyone would wish stress and unhappiness on kids. Of course they wouldn't. But given that we're stuck with a rampaging virus, Rutgers University psychologist Vanessa LoBue reminded parents in the Conversation recently that at least this crazy year may help your kids develop the grit to get through whatever life will throw at them later.
"Resilient kids don't have some kind of superpower that helps them persevere while others flounder. It isn't a trait we're born with; it's something that can be fostered," she insists. How do you support your kids so that this important skill can grow and develop?
Really listen. We all need to talk through our feelings sometimes, but listening offers kids more than an opportunity to vent. "Allowing children to talk -- and really listening -- shows caring and acceptance, validates their feelings, and helps them contextualize issues," claims LoBue. So make a point of putting down your screens and giving your kids your full attention periodically.
Give them as much autonomy as possible. All of our choices are constrained by the virus. Kids feel helpless just like adults. Counterbalance these feelings by offering your children as much self-determination as the situation allows. "Trusting them to try things on their own -- and even fail -- can help them learn to solve problems or deal with anger, disappointment, or other uncomfortable emotions," LoBue says.
Support your community. As they say, it takes a village, so don't ask yourself just how you can support your own kids' resilience, but also how you can support others during this time too. Initiatives like donating to a food bank, helping out a neighbor, or voting for candidates who will support struggling families are important too.
Difficult times can pay lifelong dividends
Helping your kids navigate the current crisis is important for your family's sanity now, but weathering trauma when you're young can pay dividends for years to come. Research shows that an incredible 75 percent of high achievers went through serious trauma when they were children. You wouldn't wish trauma on any child, but it can build the resilience necessary to persevere and succeed later in life.
It might be helpful to remember that when you're bouncing between work and Zoom classes or stuck in the house for what feels like the 900th weekend in a row and starting to feel like you might lose your mind. Approach the situation with love and thoughtfulness and at least it might do your kids some good in the long term.