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Parents, Don’t Transmit Pandemic Stress to Your Kids

How parents can model the right behavior in the midst of chaos.

Key points

  • Kids are not focused on the hot-button issues. It might be time for parents to do the same.
  • It’s important to model a routine that lowers stress.
  • Parents need to show their kids that they’re taking care of themselves.

A day doesn’t seem to go by without reports on television, radio, newspapers, and the Internet showing parents, medical experts, and school administrators arguing about masks and vaccine mandates. These debates are predictable and often overheated – and It’s unclear if any minds are changed. While the debates rage, kids have already moved on.

Monkey Business Shutterstock
Source: Monkey Business Shutterstock

They’re more than ready to go back to school. They’re picking out back-to-school clothes, notebooks, and backpacks. They’re deciding which colored pencils to buy and which sneakers look best.

When children hear debates about whether they need to wear a mask and stay six feet away from another student, they acknowledge it with perhaps the same emotion as when you tell them to make sure to remember their lunchbox. Our children are focused on going into a classroom and seeing friends, teachers, administrators. Anyone, really. Anything that allows them to interact with each other.

But students are not focused on the hot-button issues. It might be time for parents to do the same.

Too often, parents are getting caught in the news loop, which leads to anger, stress, and even depression. Few people can think reasonably and calmly when they’re saddled with these emotions. Like their children, parents crave routine and constancy, especially when the pandemic has, at times, made it clear how much of our lives are beyond our control.

It’s important to find a routine that lowers stress. One that can include exercising, walking, reading, as well as spending more time with friends and family. It’s a healthy way for parents to model that they’re taking care of themselves, and they’re taking any reasonable control that they can. The lack of control and order can contribute to emotional challenges for many children. We’ve seen an increase in demand for pediatric mental health resources since the pandemic started. Some hospitals have run out of beds in psychiatric units for children.

Some of this need can be tied to the pandemic itself. Most kids need the interactions that come from the school-year routine. Some live in high-stress homes that aren’t a sanctuary from the chaos COVID has brought. Others look at teachers as guides. And nearly every child is better off interacting with classmates that have similar interests.

The pandemic has caused uncertainty and loss. We have lost routines and loved ones. At times, we’ve lost a sense of the more carefree, pre-pandemic freedoms we used to enjoy. All, however, is not lost.

In the next two weeks, students will climb into school buses. They’ll see their teachers and friends and sit through classes and lessons. With a bit of love, support, and luck, our children will fall comfortably into this routine.

Our job as adults? Let’s model the behavior we want them to adopt and encourage a seamless transition to normalcy.

More from Manish Sapra M.D.
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