The Vernon School District has offered up tips and advice for helping kids deal with stress anxiety over the COVID-19 pandemic. (Morning Star - file photo)

Vernon School District offers parents tips on managing kids’ stress anxiety

Three educators, doctor pen letter telling parents excessive worry over COVID-19 ‘is not normal’

The Vernon School District has ideas for parents to manage stress anxiety and support the children in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A letter has been written by superintendent Joe Rogers, Dr. David Smith, Natashia Bacchus, district behaviour specialist and mental health consultant, and district substance abuse prevention counsellor Doug Rogers telling parents that while it’s important to remember that fear and anxiety about disease is normal, excessive worry is not.

“All individuals will respond differently during stressful times, and anger, confusion and guilt are common ways children respond to world events,” wrote the quartet. “However, there are many things we can do as parents to support our children during these extraordinary times.”

All individuals manage stress in different ways. When stress becomes unhealthy certain actions may arise such as significant fear or worry, change in sleeping patterns, change in diet or eating patterns, change in overall health, and even substance abuse.

When talking to kids about the current situation, the professionals say a solutions-focused approach is crucial.

Things to keep in mind when having these discussions include:

* Many things are being done to help the current situation (governments, doctors, nurses, schools, …);

* It will get better;

* Life will return to normal;

* Focus on caring for family and friends.

READ MORE: Vernon school district responds to coronavirus fears

Here are some ways to support children:

1. All Children

* Routines are important and can help to create a sense of predictability and security. Some examples of routines include scheduling daily academic time, outdoor activities and family time. Focus on the moment, mindfulness (sit quietly and focus on breathing and your senses);

* Role model calmness, routine, and a focus on family and friends;

* It is appropriate to provide a fact-based discussion on the changing landscape of COVID-19. This discussion should be done in a calm and reassuring tone conveying the message that we are safe. We take precautions, but we are safe. Listen, provide age-appropriate information and focus on prevention (daily handwashing, social distancing);

* Focus on the positive, change in outlook from: ‘we are stuck inside’ to a focus on family and home.

2. Older Students

* Social Media: limiting social media and news watching. Watching the news together can provide an opportunity for conversation and help to keep things in perspective. Moderation in gaming time;

* Nutrition: eat as healthy as you can. Make balanced meals that you can prepare together;

* Sleep: try to ensure that older students are still getting enough sleep.

3. Younger students

* Stress: younger students may show their stress in different ways. For example; crying, irritation, ‘acting out’, reduced attention and concentration, regression to an earlier age such as bedwetting, and ceasing activities that they previously enjoyed.

4. Strategies to help reduce stress in younger students

* More time with trusted adults;

* Increased playtime, inside and out;

* Routines;

* Quiet times, to read books, listen to music, puzzles and playing board games;

* Adequate sleep.

“Younger children may scare more easily than older children so focusing on the positive can be very helpful,” said the writers. “As an example, the American Television personality, Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers), had a famous quote: ‘When I was a boy, I would see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me, look for the helpers, you will always find people that are helping.’”

Kids will feel safer if they express their feelings in a safe and supportive environment.

“One of our jobs as parents is to role model resiliency, and during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can do our best to be calm and caring,” said the educators. “Our children are looking to us to see how we react. Therefore, if you are struggling with stress and anxiety over this pandemic, then it is important that you also seek help.”

Local supports:

Kids help phone: 1-800-668-6868;

Child Youth and Mental Health: (250) 549-5404;

School counsellors: after the spring break, please contact your local school;

Crisis Line: 1-888-353-2273;

Family Resource Centre: (250) 545-3390;

North Okanagan Youth and Family Services Society (NOYFSS): (250) 545-3572.

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