Parenting During COVID – Helping Kids Cope with Social Isolation

Social Isolation
Parenting During COVID – Helping Kids Cope with Social Isolation
Kids are social creatures, so how has social isolation affected them in the last year? 
With school closures and stress in the household, the pandemic has had devastating effects on mental health around the world. 
As a parent, it’s important to provide support in these hard times, but it’s easier said than done. 
The effects of social isolation make parenting harder than ever!
Here’s what you need to know about COVID-19, social isolation, and parenting…

Social Isolation vs. Loneliness

Loneliness and social isolation are related but different. 
Someone can feel lonely despite being surrounded by people, but social isolation means you’re cut off entirely.
Although both are bad for mental health, social isolation is much worse. 
Ultimately, it can lead to anxiety, depression, poor memory, and a host of other health issues.

Who Is Most Likely to Be Stressed Out By the Pandemic?

The people who get most stressed out by social isolation are:
  • Children and teens
  • The elderly
  • People with chronic diseases
  • Nurses, doctors, and first responders 
  • People who have a history of substance abuse and other mental health conditions
Could you imagine being a kid and living in a home with a chronically ill, alcoholic parent?
Unfortunately, COVID has put hundreds of thousands of children in this position. 
But even if your family doesn’t fall into any of these categories, being cooped up still has its challenges…

Challenges of Parenting During COVID

The restrictions of the pandemic bring tons of extra parenting challenges, like:
  • Financial struggles and layoffs
  • Working from home
  • Lack of childcare and school closures
  • Less personal space and “me” time
  • Greater family tension
The bottom line is, when you’re around your family 24/7, the little things can start to get on your nerves. 
Kids get bored easily and start acting up, and you might react more strongly than usual. 
As a result, researchers have found higher rates of domestic violence, child abuse, and neglect. (1)

Why Social Isolation Is Especially Hard on Kids

When it comes to the pandemic, kids are hit the hardest. 
Compared to adults, children and adolescents rely heavily on their peers for approval and to feel good about themselves. 
When they’re socially isolated for too long, it can set off a domino effect of mental health issues.
The social isolation during COVID-19 has caused increased rates of (2)
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • PTSD
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Suicide

Children Aren’t the Only Ones Who are Affected

A German study in the journal European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that “More than 50% of parents reported being stressed by social distancing and the closure of schools and childcare facilities.” (3)
Parents usually have time away from the kids while they’re at work, at the gym, or running errands. 
But what happens when you’re working from home and the gyms are closed?
You end up stuck in a pressure cooker of temper tantrums and arguments.
Don’t beat yourself up about it! Parenting during COVID is a whole-nother animal. 
It doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong as a parent, it’s just a natural reaction to spending too much time at home.
Unfortunately, the extra tension in the household ends up rubbing off on the kids. 
After all, they soak up energy like a sponge, so whatever emotions are in the room will probably have a big impact on them. 
In addition to stress, 12.3% of parents report very high levels of depression, and 9.7% report anxiety. 
Even worse, 29.1% more experience domestic violence, and 42.2% report emotional abuse. 
Extreme cases like this are most common in families with younger parents and those dealing with job losses.

Stress and Isolation Makes Everything Worse

Aside from anxiety and depression, isolation can affect life in a variety of ways. 
Each child handles stress differently, but they usually follow the parent’s lead. 
So if you’re freaking out about the pandemic, they will too. 
Plus, loneliness and isolation increase the perception of danger. 
In other words, your child may be more scared about everyday experiences than they normally are. 
They might be jumpy or easily startled, or get upset more easily. 
If your child is old enough to watch the news and understand the severity of the pandemic, it could overwhelm them with fear. 
You’ve probably already heard questions like:
  • When will the lockdown end? 
  • When can I go back to school? 
  • Are grandma and grandpa going to be okay?
In times of stress, a child’s go-to coping mechanism is to play and socialize.
But when they can’t spend time with friends it makes life that much harder. 
If they start losing interest in activities that they used to enjoy, it could be a sign of depression.
They may have trouble sleeping or have changes in their hunger and eating patterns. 
But worst of all, chronic stress can wear down the immune system, and that’s the last thing you want during a contagious pandemic!

7 Tips to Help Your Child Cope with the Pandemic

As tough as the pandemic is, there’s still a lot you can do to help your child cope. 
After all, there is a silver lining to it all, like a slower pace of life and more family time.
If you handle it right, this can be an amazing opportunity to bond with your kids.
With that said, it always helps to have a game plan.
Here are some parenting tips to help your children adjust to social isolation during the pandemic.

1. Allow Older Kids to Spend More Time on Social Media

Too much social media can increase anxiety and depression among teens. 
It’s also proven to be addictive and can even disrupt sleep patterns. 
But in the right doses, social media can be an excellent way for kids to stay in touch with their friends.
One study found that “Social media can be used as a constructive coping strategy for adolescents to deal with anxious feelings during the COVID-19 quarantine.” (4)
In non-COVID times, it’s best to laugh, play, and hang out in person. 
However, these are not normal times, so it’s okay to let them use Facebook and Instagram a little more often. 

2. Arrange Virtual Playdates

Older children can do this on their own with social media, but younger children need your help. 
If your kids are missing their friends from school, contact their parents and arrange a virtual playdate. 
You can use Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, or any other piece of video software. 
If both households have the same board game, they can play together. 
It won’t be the same as being in the same room, but it can still be a fun way to pass the time.

3. Give Yourself Some “Me Time”

No matter how much of a super mom you are, everyone needs some “me time.” 
Each day, set aside time where the kids go to their rooms for a quiet activity. 
While they’re away, treat yourself to something relaxing that relieves stress and helps you recharge. 
This can be yoga, meditation, reading a book, taking a bath, or anything else that takes the edge off. 

4. Go Outside!

Sunshine, fresh air, and the natural world can work wonders for mental health. 
If you live in the city, take your kids to the park, or better yet get out of town and go for a hike. 
The sights, sounds, and smells of nature are proven to reduce stress. 
At the same time, they boost feel-good hormones like GABA.
The Japanese call this “forest bathing,” and they’ve been studying it for years. 
One study found that forest environments can: (5)
  • Lower cortisol
  • Reduce heart rate
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce the fight-or-flight response

5. Don’t Watch the News Any More than You Have to

As a parent, do your best to limit how much your kids watch the news. 
Older kids will find a way to watch it no matter what, but at least keep an open dialogue and ask how they feel about what they’re hearing. 
Most news sources blast the same negative, fear-based stories over and over again. 
That’s because shocking news attracts viewers, but it’s definitely not good for mental health. 
Exposure to too much COVID news can cause more stress, anxiety, sadness, and poor sleep. 
So keep the news to a minimum and try to focus on the brighter side of life!

6. Keep a Regular Routine

This is especially important when schools are closed and kids are home all the time. 
Making them go to bed and wake up at the same time every day is great for overall mental health. 
At the same time, it will give them some structure that’s closer to what they’re used to at school. 
It might not seem like it most of the time, but kids actually like structure. 
As it turns out, it makes them feel safe and secure during times of stress. 
Plan activities to pass the time and have fun together, like puzzles, playing sports, and watching movies. 
With all of the extra time, you can even tackle family projects like building a clubhouse or creating pieces of art. 

7. Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself and Your Kids

In these uncertain times, everyone is more on-edge. 
So if your kids feel cranky, frustrated, or disobedient, cut them a little slack. 
Remind yourself that they are probably feeling isolated and stressed. 
At the same time, cut yourself some slack too!
It’s okay for you to have moments where you feel overwhelmed and annoyed. 
Brush yourself off, pat yourself on the back, and do the best you can.
If you notice your child acting up more than usual, keep these things in mind:
  1. Be fair and consistent with your disciplines and punishments. Discipline works best when there are clear rules and boundaries established beforehand, that way when they cross the line, it’s not up for argument. And remember, taking away privileges can work wonders. 
  2. Everyone in the house is going through the same stress. No one should be expected to behave normally during a pandemic, so take each others’ actions with a grain of salt. 
  3. Acknowledge that fear, boredom, anxiety, and loneliness are all normal reactions to social isolation. Make it a top priority to call family members, arrange virtual playdates, and squeeze in some quality socializing time every chance you get. 
  4. Share how you’re feeling and encourage your kids to do the same. If you share your feelings more often, your kids will too, and then you won’t have to guess about how they’re coping. 
If you have any more questions about parenting during COVID, contact us at Complete Care Health Centers.
We’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have. 
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