The disrupted way of life for kids and teens is expected to continue into 2021, so they should be supported in managing change
Dr Deepak Patel, principal clinical specialist at Vitality, says although everyone is having a trying time during the pandemic, children are expected to be resilient. "Young children and teenagers need support and structure at this time, which does impact on parents, but it is a priority," he says. We sometimes forget that the pandemic has cut kids off from friends, sport, outings and routines. With virtual learning and few activities outside the home, kids are moving less and snacking more, spending more time on screens and possibly sleeping less.
Keep everyone as healthy as possible
Dr Patel says that the pandemic has put not only adults but also children at risk of obesity, which in turn creates a higher risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms.
"I cannot stress enough how eating well and exercising can help us all, but can especially help children to cope with stress and stay healthy. It need not be extra work, because parents can support healthy eating habits by planning and creating a schedule for healthy meals and snacks, and keeping healthy food at home," he says.
"Motivate kids to get moving by limiting their screen time after they are done with virtual learning for the day. Model healthy habits by making sure you eat well and exercise, too," Dr Patel adds.
Mental health matters
"The ongoing stress created by the pandemic can wear anyone down, but children and teens may have an especially tough time coping emotionally," says Patel.
He suggests the following:
- Have regular check-ins. Watch and listen; monitor your child for signs of struggle. Ask your paediatrician how to handle situations you aren't sure about.
- Observe your child. If teens are not sharing their feelings, watch for signs of stress and mental health challenges. Infants, toddlers and young children may regress in skills and developmental milestones.
Start with yourself
"Without reiterating that this is an unprecedented time, parents do set the tone in the household, and self-care is the first step in taking care of children. Think of how you express yourself in front of the children. If you're feeling overwhelmed or distressed, seek the support you may need for your own mental health. Explore relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and yoga or stretching. Build in down time for the whole family: enjoying a nap, movie time or simply spending time together," says Dr Patel.
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