The COVID-19 pandemic has been a roller coaster of emotions, and for many parents, the Omicron variant has ushered in a new wave of fear and uncertainty. While it’s not always possible to anticipate or manage the changes and disruptions to work, school, or other activities that COVID-19 may bring about, parents can help manage how to respond to stress.
Here are some tips for parents for acknowledging their and their child’s mental health, and coping with stress during the Omicron surge:
- Model how to manage stress. While you don’t want your child to witness every anxious moment you experience, it’s OK – and even healthy – for children to see their parents cope with stress at times. When this happens, explain why you reacted the way you did, and use it as a teaching moment to talk about ways that you deal with stress. Talking about anxiety in this way gives children permission to feel stress and helps them understand what it looks like to cope with it in a healthy way.
- Practice stress management techniques. Despite everything happening in the world, try to maintain a healthy routine at home: encourage healthy behaviors such as physical activity and sleep, practice relaxation strategies, and engage in activities as a family such as board games, watching a movie, baking, or going for walks. Try to stick to consistent bedtimes, meal times and wake-up times. Routine and predictability is helpful for children during times of uncertainty and can give them a sense of security and structure.
- Introduce a sense of control. Give your child choices between activities to help give them a sense of control. For example:
- “I know it can be sad when we can’t see and play with friends, but there are lots of fun things we can do together at home. Would you like to color or do a puzzle?”
- “I understand you’re sad about not being able to see your friends today, but there are lots of other ways we can let them know we care. Would you like to call them on the phone or draw them a picture?”
- Limit screen time. Limit your time on social media and news outlets – constant immersion in frightening and stressful information (and sometimes misinformation!) can have a negative impact on mental health.
- Focus on the positive. Try your best to see the good in everything, even when dealing with stress. Celebrate having more time to spend together as a family and find ways to make it as fun as possible. Be creative, and have your children get involved in planning different activities for the family to do.
- Promote kindness towards others. Be patient with yourself and others, and always be kind. Remember not to place blame on anyone if you, your child, or a loved one becomes sick. Instead, focus on ways to support that person in a safe way. A fun way to promote kindness towards others is to have children make get well cards to send well wishes to family or friends who test positive.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. If you are having trouble managing your family’s stress or are concerned for you or your child’s mental health, reach out to your child’s pediatrician or other healthcare provider. Valley Children’s has compiled a variety of resources for parents, including how to find a pediatric psychologist, accessible online at valleychildrens.org/mentalhealth.
The Omicron variant can be alarming and stressful, so take time to acknowledge your mental health and the mental health needs of those around you. Focus on being kind to yourself and one another, and focus on what we can do to make things better – even small things can make a big difference!
Valley Children’s encourages everyone eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine to get vaccinated as soon as they can. For more information about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines, visit valleychildrens.org/covid19.
About the Authors
Dr. Amanda Suplee joined Valley Children’s as a pediatric psychologist in 2017 with extensive experience in children’s hospitals. She specializes in working with children with chronic medical conditions and co-occurring psychological conditions.
Board certified by the American Board of Pediatrics, Dr. Hailey Nelson joined Valley Children’s as a complex care pediatrician at the Charlie Mitchell Children’s Center in 2016. Dr. Nelson enjoys working with children of all ages and abilities and is especially passionate about providing the best possible care to medically fragile children and their families. She is also a licensed breastfeeding consultant, certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultants to support nursing mothers and their babies.