School is coming to an end. Even with the coronavirus pandemic causing camps and the typical summer activities to close, the next few months are indeed summer. With all the cool stuff upended, moms everywhere are wondering what in the world these kids are going to do. “‘I’m bored’ is typical lingo for kids during the summer,” says Kim Stevens, LCSW, cognitive-behavioral therapist. “This is going to be amplified now that everything is canceled.”
Kids have missed their friends (and to the surprise of some moms, even school), and now those summertime experiences they were looking forward to are looking unsure to happen. Stevens says children may become irritable and resentful over this. “The unknowns and uncertainties are overwhelming,” she says. “It would be helpful to have a conversation explaining the reason for cancellations, making sure to only pass along information from reputable sources.” Having these conversations helps kids understand their emotions as well as how to manage them. Children look to their parents as a guide on how to react in a situation, says Stevens. To help kids and parents have hard-topic conversations in a healthy way, here are seven resources to teach kids mindfulness, navigating emotions, and even how to relax a little.
This app is geared toward kids ages 5 to 10, though my 4-year-old was drawn to the animations and animals and quickly learned how to navigate the activities. It uses kid-friendly videos and audio to guide kids through meditations to help them focus and relax. Kids start by checking in with how they feel using one of many emoticons and then starting a mission. This app worked particularly well to get the little one to wind down for bed. The sticker reward system helped him look forward to using the app again the next day. The calming nature of the app is complemented by the good emotional habits it helps build. Children know basic emotions, but being aware of their own emotions in the moment is a learned skill. Stop, Breathe & Think for Kids can help and is available on the App Store or as a web app — both free.
GoNoodle takes a “whole child approach.” The activities combine physical, educational, and socio-emotional learning to grow school-aged kids in a wide range of wellness areas.
The website posts videos with imaginative, guiding exercises to help children manage emotions and breaks up the videos into channels, such as Think About It with videos focused on patience, finding joy, and letting go of stress or worry. GoNoodle’s videos and games are silly and full of energy but they’re also an opportunity for kids and parents to connect. Talk to your kids before and after about how they feel. Stevens says it’s best if parents give children a safe place to express how they feel without naming their feelings for them.
After finishing one of these interactive videos is the perfect time to talk with no pressure.
Maybe you need a little bit more guidance on exactly how to talk to your kids. Are you more of the script type? National Child Traumatic Stress Network has put together a coronavirus fact sheet, Supporting Children During Coronavirus (COVID-19), with details on concrete ways to start and continue the conversation with kids about how the pandemic might be affecting their mental well-being. Stevens says parents should trust their instincts regarding whether their kids are feeling stress or worry. “Just because they haven’t verbalized it doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling depressed or anxious,” she says. “Their lives have also been altered, and unlike adults, they lack the emotional capacity to fully understand what that means.” And even though parents definitely understand stress better than kids, we all could use a little help on having these conversations the right way.
The Committee for Children, a nonprofit focused on social-emotional learning, in collaboration with Sesame Street started the Little Children, Big Challenges initiative to help preschoolers learn problem-solving and emotional regulation strategies. The website includes Sesame Street videos, with their favorite muppets like Big Bird and Abby Cadabby, on topics ranging from resilience to divorce and incarceration. The accompanying app, Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame, walks smaller kids through calming down their monster with fun animations and interactions. While kids are problem-solving and coming up with the best strategy to calm their monster, they’re also learning the vocabulary to help them express their own emotions. The app is available in the Google Play Store and the App Store for iPhone and iPad.
Kids love YouTube. Moms, let’s all nod in agreement. Moovlee is one of those channels that helps you make the best use of what YouTube has to offer. It has yoga and meditation exercises for kids that are led by a surprisingly simple animation of a cartoon monkey. The movements are simple and the monkey’s simplicity makes it easy to translate and mimic what he’s doing. Smaller kids won’t get each movement exactly right, but that’s not the point. The calming nature of the classical music and the serene look on the monkey’s face as he guides you through the yoga poses and meditation block out the chaos of the constant news and tense interactions on TV and social media. It places parents and kids in the moment.
When checking in with your child, the conversation should come from a place of understanding and concern, not fear and judgment, says Stevens. “Structuring the day and keeping with routine is also incredibly important,” she says. “It provides predictability and a sense of security.” A healthy day includes a good balance of education, exercise, social interaction, and leisure time, according to Stevens. During the normal course of a day, you’ll have opportunities to help your children name and understand their own emotions. The Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation’s Ideas for Teaching Children about Emotions is a great place to start finding ideas to make the most out of those moments.
Stevens says children may become irritable and resentful over the disappointment of losing the summer they were looking forward to. Irritability in a 4-year-old might look like a tantrum, and it might look like an outburst in an older child. In both cases, that’s where self-regulation comes in. According to the Child Mind Institute, self-regulation is the ability to manage emotions and subsequently behavior despite unpredictable situations and circumstances. Understood.org has a short but useful list of fun games to help kids learn to cope with their feelings. The games also focus on social skills, something kids could use a little practice on with so much time away from peers.
If you’re concerned that something more serious may be going on with your child, such as depression or anxiety, Stevens says do not hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional.
“If you have a feeling something is ‘off,’ it probably is,” she says. “Red flags to watch for are changes in sleeping habits, appetite, mood, behavior, lack of interest in once enjoyed hobbies, and spending more time alone. Anxiety in children is often manifested as a physical symptom, constant headaches and stomach aches being most common,” she explains. First, reach out to your child, see and hear how they are doing.