How can you help your child recognize and process change and our new normal in a healthy way? Anthony Michael, LMHC, RPT-S, a licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Play Therapist Supervisor at MercyOne, shares helpful tips, and when to seek assistance.
Talking About the New Normal
“Sharing information with your child upfront is important to helping kids construct and process the news or change,” Michael says. “Parents often have the tendency to hold onto information and wait until the right moment, which may never come. Because this year school, a space children usually associate with consistency and structure, will be different – it’s important to share information early to help kids wrap their minds around what their school environment is going to look like.”
Talking about the things you can control and acknowledging the things you can’t control is also important for children to build understanding.
“The easiest way to do this is by helping them talk through the decision process. Asking ‘what are you worried about?’ and then outlining what they can and can’t control,” Michael says. “For example, if your child says they are worried about COVID-19 – recognize the virus is not something you can control, but you can control how often you wear your mask and ensure you wash your hands often.”
One of the best tools to help your child process change is called movement-based regulation. This grounding technique includes everyday activities that help us regulate our mental health before stress or worry becomes overwhelming. Michael advises this tool is especially helpful for children.
Movement Based Regulations
- Drinking out of the straws
- Eating things that are crunchy, like carrots and celery
- Hanging upside down
- Dancing to music
When to Seek Assistance
Each child may express his or her stress or frustration in a variety of ways, including: defensiveness, aggression, being hyper-alert, anxiousness, or irritability. There is also the other side where signs can be lethargic, having low energy, or wanting to sleep all the time.
“When you see signs of either, look to try to restore balance. So if I’m hyper-alert, I want to do something to slow the body down such as listening to slower tempo music,” Michael says. “However, the idea we should all be normal through these changes is probably an unrealistic expectation. We need to give ourselves some grace and realize there’s going to be some ups and downs along the way, and that’s okay.”
“I tell people if within 24 hours the emotion ebbs and flows, that’s probably okay. The idea is if it’s persistent or stays for several days – it’s time to give us a call.
“It’s a work in progress, and we’re all going to make mistakes along the way. This is a great environment for kids to learn in because they get to see we don’t all have it all planned out, that we’re not perfect adults, and we have to be flexible and acknowledge how we can improve moving forward.”
Parents should feel empowered to involve as many experts as they can to assist. Children often don’t like to hear information from mom or dad, so there are benefits to having other trusted mentors come in to support your child such as your pastor, teachers, coaches, or behavioral health counselors.
Visit MercyOne.org to find care for your whole family near you. If you are experiencing an emergency, don’t delay – call 911 or go immediately to the ER.
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The post is part of a series of sponsored posts by MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center