We all come from different backgrounds and have our own ways of problem solving. But what happens when we are all faced with a Pandemic so massive it turns our world upside down? Reality takes on a different meaning, and that which we thought we could trust becomes something we are not sure of. Our demand for answers does not get answered; real solutions seem so far away. We as adults are anxious, we feel depressed, which are normal thoughts and reactions to this time. We can only cover our feelings for so long, and then the children want to know if we are alright?
For parents with young children at home, their lives are very different and it can be very hard to understand and cope. “I miss my friends”, “I want to hug grandma”, “I thought I wouldn’t miss school but I do,” “Can’t I go out today?”, “Dad you yell too much!”, ”I will do my schoolwork later alright!”- it goes on and on, with no end in sight. Then there is the terrible news that Grammy or Grandpa is gone. Why did the “COVID Monster”take them away? It is even worse for children who have a preexisting behavioral health condition or those who live in poverty.
We teach our children about washing hands. We teach them about social distancing. We wear a mask to stop the spread of the illness. But who is this illness? Where does it come from? Why does it want to hurt people? Will it get me when I’m sleeping? Will it get Mommy and Daddy or my little sister? Young children have remarkable imaginations. But there are times when the bad in the world can take over their thinking and destroy their sense of trust. This will impact their ability to sleep, eating patterns, and increase anxiety and needless worry; when it seems like it will not stop, it can lead to depression.
Most all children are able to handle the truth when it is formed in a way that is age and emotionally appropriate. They hear adults talk all the time. They hear us even when we think they are not listening. They pick up on our frustrations and fears as well as happiness and joy. Our belief systems become theirs simply through the process of parenting. Whatever your parenting style is, it continues the patterns either bad or hopefully good.
In the play “Into the Woods” there is a song named “Children will listen”. Some lines from that song are the best examples of how parenting works that I have ever heard:
“Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn”
How do we help our children through this difficult time? How do we create a sense that life can be safe and people do get through bad and difficult times? We must start with ourselves. We must sit ourselves down and have that talk we need as parents to have with ourselves. How are we doing? How do we feel? What are we scared of and what should we be doing about it? Are we really caring for ourselves? Why think they are not listening. They pick up on our frustrations and fears as well as happiness and joy. Our belief systems become theirs simply through the process of parenting. Whatever your parenting style is, it continues the patterns either bad or hopefully good.
As we looked at the numbers of children being treated at our Community Mental Health Center this past May, it was clear that the number of children served had increased from May 2019. COVID has not only had an impact on deaths in our country but it has also added significant behavioral health issues for many adults and their children. In February 2019, NAMI reported that “nearly 1 in 7 kids and teens has a Mental Health Condition – yet half go untreated.” One can only speculate how much that number will increase given the effects of this current Pandemic.
Treatments of today are so advanced and are evidence-based on medical science. They are effective and have lasting positive outcomes. We also know that the best results for treating children occur when the treatment is started early in the illness. We also expect that many adults are suffering from acute anxiety and depression for the first time in their lives. Remember the best way we help our children is to help ourselves. Don’t wait to make that appointment. Do it today! We are all in this together and together, we create hope for a better tomorrow.
Bill Rider is the president and CEO of the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester.
Printed in Nashua Telegraph 7/11/20