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Maintaining physical and mental wellness in the age of COVID-19

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Helping children and families maintain physical and mental wellness during the age of Distance Learning and work-from-home schedules

For families 

Establish a Routine

Families, especially school children, are spending significantly more time at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic – and the shift has taken a toll on what we formerly considered to be our routines. Although our days look and feel a little different than they used to, establishing routines in this new normal can be a good first step in fostering consistency and connectivity to ultimately maintain both mental and physical wellness.

 A few tips to help build a routine:

  • Make sure that it fits your family’s lifestyle and values – your family will find it easier to stick to.
  • Model healthy habits for your family – get outside, eat regularly, drink plenty of water, and spend time together.
  • Balancing expectations set by your employer, child’s school and other factors can be challenging, but remember that establishing a caring environment to ensure that your family’s needs are met is the top priority. You can do this!

For children

For Younger Children

Younger children are experiencing the same upheaval as their older counterparts but may not be able to put into words their feelings. This may present in wiggly or impulsive behavior, emotional outbursts, or inattention. It will be important to model emotional regulation and help your child develop good problem-solving strategies. 

Supporting Positive Behavior

At school, teachers use Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) to teach students the appropriate behavior in a given situation. At school, we expect children to be safe, respectful and responsible learners. This is probably the same expectation that you have at home, but have not had to explicitly teach. It would be good to review with your child what is safe, respectful and responsible look like in different parts of their day now that learning, playing, and letting parents work are all happening in the same place.

Social/emotional learning

Every day children are learning how to socially and emotionally interact with their environment. Knowing how to gauge the size of a problem, initiate an interaction with peers, problem-solve disagreements and regulate their emotions are things that don’t come naturally to a lot of children. Teachers spend much of their school day integrating social and emotional instruction into their classrooms and on the playground. Without these social environments, children will need to learn these skills at home. Modeling appropriate social interactions, naming emotions, creating opportunities to allow children to challenge themselves with problem-solving in a low-risk and structured way (e.g. if children are fighting over a toy, have them attempt to solve the problem on their own with your guidance rather than solving the problem for them).

For Children with Special Needs

  • Provide increased access to comforting activities and sensory soothing needs
  • Offer short, clear answers with factual information that match a child’s developmental level and understanding
  • Limit preoccupation with getting ill by providing clear, appropriate information about what you and others are doing to keep the child safe, healthy and secure
  • Provide visual supports of commonly used coping strategies. It may be difficult for children to access their strategies in this heightened stress environment

For Older Children

Adolescents and teens often rely heavily on their social networks for support. Their support system has now suddenly been taken away and they are grieving the cancellation of activities, events and milestones. It’s good to validate their feelings; it’s also important to promote self-care and coping strategies. Be aware of when to seek out additional supports for your teen and recognize emotional and behavioral changes that are outside of your teen's typical patterns.                        

Staying connected with peers

Allowing teens to stay connected with peers is critically important. Encourage the use of video messaging, group calls, and interactive games. It will be important to monitor the use of these programs as you would your teen's social media account and make sure that teens are also spending time outside and away from screens as part of a healthy life balance. 

Being creative  

Use creative outlets to allow children to learn new things about themselves and others, or learn new ways to communicate. Examples of creativity in action include cooking or baking together, doing puzzles, playing an instrument, coloring or art projects, playing board games, or writing a poem or a song together.

(Information provided by SPS School Psychologists Kristin Rush and Sheri Childers)