Children and Mental Health
During this time of quarantine and shutdown, kids may become both anxious and inquisitive. While they love an impromptu break from school, prolonged breaks can be a bit overwhelming for parents and children, alike. By now, children have already started complaining about the B word, boredom. If you have kids or are around them, certainly you have heard your fair share of, ‘I’m bored.’
Nonetheless, even during breaks, children’s brains are still vigorously engaged. Children are naturally curious and will often learn without direct effort. There are ways to accommodate your child’s natural way of being without doing too much or too little to support them.
• Encourage Play-time. There is much emphasis on attending school and the benefits of a structured academic setting. However, unstructured tasks also encourage healthy brain development and learning. By now you have probably noticed that your child learns the words to a song without making a conscious effort. Perhaps this is because your child is more interested in their favorite artists or song than solving a math problem. But there is more to it. When listening to music, children are not feeling defensive and there is no deliberate intent (in most cases) to learn. Similarly, play gives children the downtime needed to engage in learning and problem solving. Remember, the brain is always working; but feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, does not support learning or healthy brain functions.
• Allow children to have a say in their programs and activities. Do you have your heart set on a specific activity? Talk to your child about it and find out his or her specific interests. Children may not always directly communicate their ideas, but by engaging them in pressure free conversation, you can learn a great deal about their personality. You may want them to play piano but they want to play sports. Is there a way to compromise or do both? Find out why they are interested in a specific activity and have them tell you some of the benefits. Maybe give them an exercise that requires them to tell you or write down some of their reasons for wanting to do a specific activity. Giving your child an opportunity to make decisions (within reason of course) can be very empowering.
• Allow your child to teach you something. I have been conducting psychological evaluations for many years and I can tell you that this is a very practical way to engage children. Of course children want to know that they can rely on adults to help them solve problems as needed; however, being an adult does not mean you have to know everything all the time. Most children are very receptive to new learning and this alone makes them perfect teachers; they just need the adults around them to embrace and encourage them. So the next time your child is talking about their favorite animals, musicians, computer games, etc., listen and inquire.
• Make sure your child stays hydrated and well nourished. This is one area in which children definitely need adult support. When children are outdoors and engaged in their favorite activities, they are not thinking about nourishment. And by the time a child is saying, “I’m thirsty” in many cases he or she has probably already reached a point of exhaustion. Make sure they are well
hydrated before starting an activity. Proper hydration is a must for healthy brain development.
• Finally, children love apps and there are many from which to choose. Remember to monitor, monitor, monitor. While the app may be perfectly safe and kid friendly, there’s always that potential for popups…you know the-not-so-kid-friendly ones.
• Keep them moving. Exercise promotes physical and mental wellbeing and endurance. Although your child cannot attend Detroit PAL right now, they can remain physically healthy. Find apps that require movement. Make it a family affair.
Michele Leno, Ph.D., LP, Licensed Psychologist, DML Psychological Services, PLLC