The COVID-19 pandemic has struck. Your daughter or son might be struggling in secret and you have no idea.
As universities move to online models of instruction for the remainder of the school year, your child most likely is trying to cope with everything that has transpired with COVID-19 in the last week. They might be feeling higher levels of stress, anxiety, and fear due to the uncertainty of what the future holds. This is because of the perceived loss of control that we are all feeling as media outlets release more and more information and the government mandates more restrictions.
From the students I’ve had an opportunity to speak with thus far, generally, they all feel a sense of confusion, tension and frustration around how their school year will pan out. They are left wondering how they will stay connected with friends, continue their school routine and maintain structure within the organizations and clubs that they are a part of. They’ve never experienced something like this before and are looking to adults for guidance.
So, what can you do as the parent, to prepare your student to be successful in these uncertain times while considering your child’s mental health?
As a mental health advocate, national speaker and college success coach diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in 2016 who travels the country educating thousands of students on the fundamentals of mental health, there are seven core actions that you can do as parents to make their transition to home and to the online college model as smooth and successful as possible.
1) Encourage sharing of thoughts and feelings.
Constant news updates and seeing their friends panicking on social media could cause feelings of increased levels of stress, fear, and anxiety. However, they might not know how to cope and open up about their emotions. Make it clear to your child that it is okay to discuss their feelings. You can even lead by example by expressing your current thoughts and feelings about recent events related to COVID-19 to demonstrate to them that it’s okay to feel unsettled and confused.
2) Encourage social connections.
With all of the sudden changes taking place like social distancing, your son or daughter might be feeling isolated and cut off from their friends. They might be spending extended periods of time in their room or dorm (if still living on campus) with very limited or no real human connection. For those students already coping with a mental health issue, this social isolation has the potential to increase symptoms of anxiety and depression. Thus, it is important to check up on them. Encourage connecting with friends via FaceTime or other video chat tools to facilitate social interaction.
3) Make sure they are getting enough sleep.
During periods of increased stress and anxiety, it can be difficult to relax and fall asleep. Lack of deep sleep can lead to lower energy levels, an inability to focus and a weakened immune system. You want to keep your child performing academically and also to stay healthy so they don’t fall behind. For those reasons, ensure that they are going to bed at a reasonable hour and getting between 7-9 hours of rest daily.
4) Try to keep them on a routine.
Being home might be a mental trigger that signifies they are back for summer break. As a result, they might be prone to more periods of laying around, sleeping in, binge-watching shows, and relying on you to provide meals. It is important that they stay on a schedule. This will help them maintain momentum to stay focused on their academics so they don’t fall behind and to finish the semester strong.
5) Help them build coping strategies.
My recommendation would be to make sure they are getting physical exercise (keeping in mind the COVID-19 protocol) every single day. In addition, they should be developing stress reduction techniques like meditation (Headspace) and journaling to process their feelings. Reading is also a great tool to help relax and focus the mind on something productive and non-stressful.
6) Watch their social media use.
There are a lot of different media outlets sharing a variety of information that can cause feelings of fear and anxiety. This information is being consumed by your children and then being discussed amongst their social circles via Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, text, etc. It is very important that you understand what information they are consuming, the conversations they are having, and how all of this is impacting how they feel.
7) Help them find an accountability partner.
The current college landscape is more stressful and challenging than ever before. Students are struggling to connect, stay disciplined, manage their mental health, and thrive in school. They need to have a team of support around them during these tough times. That team should consist of you (or whoever they consider their guardians), a therapist/psychologist, their close friends, and an accountability partner. The accountability partner should serve as an ally, listening ear, and somebody who can guide them and help them stay on track academically, socially, physically, and mentally. They need holistic support now more than ever.
It’s important that your children understand that they are not alone at times like this, and that help is always available. Let them know, too, that you are always there to listen. They can also reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or The Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. If you are interested in learning more about my College Success Coaching program, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.