RED BANK, NJ – It’s no secret children are missing friends, school, their normal activities and routines since the COVID-19 outbreak forced everyone to stay at home. Enforced social distancing has brought about excessive TV and screen time, sleeping in, isolation and stress.

Fortunately, parents and caregivers can take steps to protect their children’s emotional health and mental well-being during this difficult time.

YMCA behavioral health clinicians who work daily with children and families, offer the following suggestions and guidelines for parents and caregivers during the COVID-19 crisis:

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Establish Routines - Children are used to school structure, which provides time management and a schedule. With later bedtimes, parents can offer some flexibility with waking times, but encourage children to create a routine. Suggest time limits for screen time, completing chores and exercise, and create family time and sharing at least one family meal each day. It may be helpful to create a group text as a reminder.

Go Outside - Suggest an hour outdoors, walking, jogging, biking or walking the family dog in fresh air, sun or even in the rain.  Everyone needs a change of scenery from interior walls! Being in nature helps alleviate stress. Talk about nature and mindfulness so that children are present and experience the beauty of the senses. 

Schedule Activities - Kids and adults need something to look forward to, like family game night, living room karaoke, building an obstacle course in the backyard, a scavenger hunt or video game tournament.  Let each family member have a turn choosing the activity. 

Create Dialogue and Talk Time - Parents should be open to talking to children about the changes that have happened since the COVID-19 crisis started. Silence promotes anxiety. Make sure discussions are age appropriate. Limit news exposure about illness and death counts for younger kids. If children ask about the virus and people who have died, try to explain “how most people survive” and share age appropriate information and offer reassurance.  Talk about how families are working to help flatten the curve by staying home, social distancing and washing hands, etc. 

Breathe - Encourage children to take three deep breaths when they are feeling nervous or worried. For younger children, suggest they breathe in as if they are smelling an imaginary piece of cake and then exhaling as if they were blowing on a pinwheel!  Parents can practice deep breathing exercises as well.

Help Someone - If possible, talk to children about donating food to others in need, or learning how to sew reusable face masks. Ask them to think of ways to perform random acts of kindness for other people in your home. Children can also call grandparents, or aunts and uncles. They can text or e-mail pictures or drawings to people they can’t visit. 

Practice Self-Care - Make sure you are taking time to check in with your own feelings. It’s appropriate and helpful to model how to share feelings. Ask children “how they feel,” naming the emotion and how it feels in their bodies, why they think they’re feeling it and what they’re doing to cope with it in a healthy way. 

YMCA of Greater Monmouth County’s counseling and social services team is continuing to provide essential support to children, teens, and adults in need of outpatient behavioral health services, including mental health care and addiction recovery. Licensed counselors are available in person and via telehealth.

Urgent in-person counseling is available at the Y’s outpatient office locations in Eatontown and Matawan, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., by appointment. For information on telehealth and in-person counseling, call 732-290-9040. A daily answering service is available after business hours, and anyone experiencing an emergency should call 9-1-1.

About YMCA of Greater Monmouth County

YMCA of Greater Monmouth County is here for all – to empower youth and teens, improve health and strengthen community. A leading nonprofit charity, the Y unites 36,000 people of all ages, incomes and backgrounds. In 2019, we provided $875,000 in financial assistance to strengthen approximately 2,820 families in need. The Community YMCA and YMCA of Western Monmouth County formed the countywide Y on Sept. 1, 2019. Our life-changing programs and services are anchored in 10 communities: health and wellness facilities in Freehold Township, Old Bridge and Red Bank; outdoor day camps in Millstone and Wall; a community center in Freehold Borough; counseling and social service centers in Eatontown, Matawan and Middletown; child care centers in Freehold Township, Matawan and Red Bank; and integrated in nearly 100 schools in Monmouth and Ocean counties. We’re based in Shrewsbury, NJ. Learn more at www.ymcanj.org.