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HEALTH PLUS MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT

“Despite global progress, one person still dies every 40 seconds from suicide,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Every death is a tragedy for family, friends and colleagues. Yet suicides are preventable.”

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people.

Recently, our country lost a 14-year-old student. Referencing the Sunday Guardian article, “According to the police report, the student and a relative allegedly argued over his schoolwork before she left the house to purchase food. Upon her return about an hour-and-a-half later, she found him with a bandana wrapped around his neck and tied to a doorknob.”

COVID-19 has tested our emotional grappling as adults, but it has also affected our children drastically. Parents may not be familiar with how to help their children manage if they themselves are having a difficult time adjusting and coping with the new reality that COVID-19 presents.

According to a recent National Survey of Children’s Health, CDC stated that:

– Approximately 4.4 million children aged 3-17 years (7.1%) have been diagnosed with anxiety related disorders.

– Approximately 1.9 million children aged 3-17 years (3.2%) have been diagnosed with depression.

Anxiety worsens in children as they may not always communicate their worry or fears directly to their parents. It is well documented that parents miss the symptoms when they themselves are enveloped in their daily struggles and are not open-minded to notice short-term behavioural changes. These symptoms such as irritability, mood swings, acting out, changes in sleep patterns, or bedwetting, can be pertinent hints of a “stressed out child”. Others have trouble completing assignments or concentrating on exams. Some children have physical effects, including stomach aches, headaches, asthmatic events, skin allergies, alopecia or disruptions in their menstrual cycles.

Many anxious children keep their worries to themselves and thus, the symptoms are missed or deteriorate into depression.

Here are a few helpful strategies to help your children conquer these anxieties.

Be an intentional listener.

Be available to just listen and find out what is on their minds. Listen to understand their concerns. As you listen to their stories of the day’s events, be sure to ask your children what they think and feel about what is happening. If your child seems to be worried about something, ask about it. Encourage them to put what is bothering them into words. Be willing to explore those emotions and concerns, validating what they feel. Sometimes just sharing the story with you can help lighten their load.

Offer reassurance and comfort.

Sometimes when children are worried, what they need most is a parent’s reassurance and comfort. It might come in the form of a hug, some heartfelt words, or time spent together. It helps children to know that, whatever happens, parents will be there with love and support.

Show your care and understanding.

Being interested in your child’s concerns shows he/she is important to you too, and helps him/her feel supported and understood. Reassuring comments can help — but usually only after you’ve heard your child out. Say that you understand your child’s feelings and the problem.

Keep things in perspective.

Without minimising a child’s feelings, point out that many problems are temporary and solvable, and that there will be better days and other opportunities to try again. Teaching children to keep problems in perspective can lessen their worry and help build strength, tenacity, and the optimism to try again. Remind your children that whatever happens, things will be okay.

Highlight the positive. Ask your children what they enjoyed about their day, and listen when they tell you about what goes great for them or what they had fun doing. Give plenty of airtime to the good things that happen. Let them tell you what they think and feel about their successes, achievements, and positive experiences and what they did to help things turn out so well.

Schedules are busy as parents cope with the adjusting environment of COVID-19 but make sure there’s time for your children to do things they feel good doing. It may be conquering a digital game, building a lego skyscraper, creating jewellery designs or learning the latest dance moves. Engage your children in creative activities that will give needed timeouts from the stresses of the upcoming exams.

Don’t fix everything.

You can help reduce worries by helping children learn to deal with challenging situations. When your child tells you about a problem, offer to help come up with a solution together. In most situations, resist the urge to jump in and fix a problem for your child — instead, think it through and come up with possible solutions together. By taking an active role, children learn how to tackle a problem on their own. Problem-solve with children, rather than for them.

Most importantly, keep in mind that children mirror what behaviours they observe so the final and most important strategy is:

Demonstrate Resilience.

Sometimes children need parents to show them how to let go of worry rather than dwelling on it. Know when it is time to move on, and help children shift gears. Lead the way by introducing a topic that is more upbeat or an activity that will create a lighter mood. Your response to your own worries, stress and frustrations can go a long way towards teaching your children how to deal with everyday challenges.

Be aware that your own reaction to global events or news affects your children too. If you express anger and stress about a local or global event that’s beyond your control, children are likely to react that way too. But if you express your concern by taking a proactive approach to making a positive difference, your children will feel more optimistic and empowered to do the same. Being a role model for your child is possibly the best way of helping your child cope with unnecessary stress, so recognising your own deficits and seeking help if necessary is crucial.

The best way to teach resilience is to model it. The most powerful lessons we can teach our children are the ones we demonstrate in our daily habits and behaviours.

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