As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I have recently seen many kids who say they “feel stuck,” bored, “have no place to go or no one to turn to,” and “feel like they’re in a dark cloud and can’t get out.” These are signs of depression.
Depression and anxiety are affecting an alarming amount of people. According to Census Bureau statistics, one-third of Americans are showing signs of clinical depression and anxiety. The fear of the unknown, social isolation and virtual learning from the COVID-19 pandemic have intensified and raised these mental health concerns, especially for adolescents and teens.
With the holiday season approaching and no concrete date of when schools will go back to the way they used to be, and other normalcy will return, depression and anxiety can further exacerbate. There are things that you can do to help you cope and move forward, as well as help your kids find hope and peace amid these uncertain times.
Understand the Signs of Anxiety or Depression
Signs that may indicate anxiety or depression include:
- A change in eating and/or sleeping habits
- Isolating in their room and talking less
- Increased negative thinking and sensitivity
- Unexplained aches, pains, and stomach issues
For adolescents and teens, a decline in grades and academic performance is another sign of anxiety and depression.
“Grades since the pandemic started have dropped significantly. Half of our student population has D’s and F’s,” said a school counselor of a large Southern California high school. “Parents are reaching out, concerned that their teens are acting depressed and not doing well at school. I’m talking to kids that never came to be before. My advice to parents and kids are to establish clear expectations, daily routines, ensure a dedicated workspace for school (it doesn’t have to be much), and to stay connected through online clubs and other activities.”
Use Empathy, Empowerment, and Engagement
The Three E’s (Empathy, Empowerment, and Engagement) is a framework that I use in my therapy practice and that I recommend for all parents to use now.
Empathy – Means understanding your child’s perspective from their viewpoint. Even if you think you know how your child is feeling or what they are thinking, you should give them the chance to tell you. It’s not uncommon for a child to put on a facade to hide how their feelings because they want their parents to believe they are happy or that nothing is wrong. If you don’t understand your child’s viewpoint, it’s important to ask open-ended questions. For example, if your child has been complaining about virtual school, you might ask, “What is that you like least about virtual school?” Or, if you have a child who no longer wants to see their friends, a good question could be, “Why don’t you want to go to your friend’s house?”
Empowerment – Once you understand your child’s perspective from their viewpoint, you can empower them to share their thoughts and opinions and develop game plans to resolve issues such as maintaining social connections during the pandemic, cyberbullying, and low self-esteem. If there is an issue that your child is facing, it can be helpful to have them practice proposed steps for resolution by role-playing with you.
Engagement – Means helping your child carry out their resolution plans by providing support and consistently checking in.
It’s important to remind your child how they got through other hard times in their life. While past situations may not be what they’re going through now, you can use those times as examples of how they can use similar coping strategies to get through this current situation or anything else that may cause distress in their life.
Create Social Pods
Having some social interaction is so important, even for kids who are not “social.” I highly encourage parents and kids to create social pods that they can be with during the pandemic. A social pod is a group of people with similar needs and interests. It’s important that social pods openly communicate and agree on how to stay safe from the virus, such as getting tested regularly or social distancing when away from the pod.
Figure Out a Way to Have Some Normalcy
While it may not be possible to do all of the same things that you did before the pandemic, there may be ways to create some normalcy or even happy “new normals” through activities such as bike rides, family game or movie nights, lunch with friends and outings with social pods.
Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Professional Help
If you or your child continues to suffer from anxiety or depression, and nothing seems to help, it’s essential to seek professional help. Therapy can be an effective treatment for ongoing anxiety or depression – especially if your coping skills stop working or become far less effective than they were in the past.
About the Author:
Danielle Matthew is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who treats bully victims and their families and educates schools, medical professionals and the community about the bullying epidemic. With over 20 years of experience, Danielle authored Amazon Parenting Best-Seller, The Empowered Child: How to Help Your Child Cope, Communicate, and Conquer Bullying, and is the Director of The Empowerment Space Bullying Therapy Program in Los Angeles. Featured in Huffington Post and TODAY.com, Danielle has appeared on Fox, ABC and CBS Morning Shows and Mom Talk Radio, and is the expert contributor to Washington Post’s article: “Kids love to ‘roast’ each other. But when does good-natured teasing become bullying?”