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10 Signs You Have Parental Burnout

Any parent is susceptible if there’s an imbalance between the stress and their resources.

Have you ever felt like you can’t parent any longer? Like you’ve given everything you’ve got, and there’s nothing left? These feelings are a reality for many parents. They are simply exhausted. And if they don’t address it, exhaustion can lead to burnout.

What is parental burnout?

Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger describes burnout as a severe stress condition. It leads to extreme physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. Burnout goes well beyond stress or fatigue, though. With burnout, navigating day-to-day responsibilities can be a challenge.

Burnout is often discussed in professional circles. But parents are at risk, too. Board-certified neurologist, Dr. Puja Aggarwal, defines parental burnout as “the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that one feels from the chronic stress of parenting.” 

Continual exposure to stressful situations brings on this state of mental and physical exhaustion. For some parents, burnout is all too real. 

All parents are at risk, though. Parenting is tough. And parenting can be stressful, especially during the early stages of child development. But what do we do? 

Being aware that parental burnout is real and being mindful of the signs can help you get the help you need.

In recent years, Drs. Isabelle Roskam and Moïra Mikolajczak have extensively researched parental burnout. After surveying more than 900 burned-out parents, they developed a Parental Burnout Assessment (and anyone can use it). They’ve also studied more than 17,000 parents in 45 countries to learn more about what causes burnout.

“Burnout is the result of too much stress and the absence of resources to cope with it,” Roskam said. “You will burn out only if there is an imbalance between stress and resources.”

Here are five signs of burnout according to the Parental Burnout Assessment:

1. Constant exhaustion.

Parenting is tiring; we can all agree on that. But feeling tired or drained all the time is a whole other level. Studies show that parents may experience different types of exhaustion based on their children’s age. Parents of younger kids are often more physically tired. Parents of teens often experience emotional fatigue caused by conflicts with their children.

Frequently, burned-out parents stress over how they will get everything done.

2. Distancing yourself from your child(ren)

Burned-out parents may do this to preserve energy. Have you ever heard a parent say, “I love my children, but I can’t stand being around them anymore”?

3. Loss of fulfillment.

Parents often find they are not the parents they used to be or would like to be. They see a difference in who they are. This can lead to extreme guilt and stress.

4. Suicidal thoughts or ideas of escape.*

With job-related burnout, you can find another job. But leaving is not an option for burned-out parents. Some parents reported feeling trapped and had thoughts of escape or even suicide. These thoughts were more common among parents than in those experiencing job burnout. 

5. Being violent or neglectful toward your child(ren).**

Even if a parent opposes being violent or neglectful toward their child, burnout can cause them to be. 

Psychologists have also identified other signs of burnout. They include:

  • Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or self-doubt
  • Headaches, neck pain, and muscle aches
  • Loss of motivation
  • Changes in appetite or sleeping habits
  • Feeling isolated or alone

It’s essential to know and recognize the signs of parental burnout. 

Any parent is susceptible to burnout if there’s an imbalance between the stress and their resources. Burnout is preventable, and help is available, too. 

You can take steps today to stop the cycle. Here’s How to Stop the Cycle of Parental Burnout.

*If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are a number of websites and organizations with excellent resources for you. HelpGuide is a great place to start, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

**Contact the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) for more resources or to report abuse.

Other blogs:

Is It Normal To Have A Bad Day With Your Kids? – First Things First

6 Keys to Being a ScreamFree Parent – First Things First

5 Mistakes Parents Make With Teens – First Things First

My Spouse and I Disagree About Parenting – First Things First

Sources:

Roskam I, Raes M-E and Mikolajczak M (2017) Exhausted Parents: Development and Preliminary Validation of the Parental Burnout Inventory. Frontiers in Psychology 8:163. 

Burnout Research: Emergence and Scientific Investigation of a Contested Diagnosis

How to Identify and Prevent Burnout

The impact of parental burnout

Parental Burnout: What It Is and How to Cope

How to Stop the Cycle of Parental Burnout

These 5 tips may be just what you need.

I have a confession to make: I’ve been stressed and exhausted many times. I’ve felt burned out and ready to quit, but not from work obligations – from being a parent.

Parenting is tough. It’s demanding. Before our son was born 10 years ago, I recall people telling me everything would change. I don’t remember anyone telling me I’d be taking 2AM walks to stay sane. No one told me there would be days I’d question whether I could continue. The list of things I wish I’d known then is long. 

Parental burnout is a real thing, but don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t trade being a dad for anything. Researchers Hubert and Aujoulat found that “parental burnout results from situations where exhaustion occurs as a result of being physically and emotionally overwhelmed by one’s parental role.”

If you’ve been a parent for at least a couple of hours, you know that parenting stress is real. But when it consumes you, burnout sets in. There’s hope, though. You can stop the cycle of parental burnout. 

The stress isn’t going anywhere, but there are some healthy ways to lessen the pressure.

Surround yourself with a community.

“It takes a village to raise a child.” 

I never quite understood that until we had our first child. But it’s true. Raising a child isn’t easy. Mine didn’t come with a how-to guide. 

Surround yourself with people who want what’s best for you. Think about grandparents, other parents, or friends who care about your well-being. You need people in your life to help care for your child when you need it and to help you care for yourself. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak or less than. Any person who has raised a child knows the stress involved.

Today’s action:

Text one person and invite them over. Ask them to hold you accountable for taking time for yourself.

Take care of yourself.

When you’re responsible for a little one, it’s easy to put all your energy into making sure you meet their needs. When they get all your energy, there’s nothing left for you. 

Have you ever been on a plane and heard the safety speech? If the airbags are deployed, put yours on before you try to put on someone else’s. That sounds counterintuitive to parenting, but it’s so true. If you don’t care for yourself, you won’t have anything to give. Being a parent is the best reason I’ve ever had to take good care of myself.

Exercise, eat healthy foods, get rest (when you can), or meditate. Will it be easy? No. Is it important? Extremely!

Today’s action:

Put down your phone. Go get a glass of water, and take deep breaths as you drink. Make it your goal to do that three times today. 

Give yourself grace.

You won’t be a perfect parent, and that’s ok! We all mess up. I don’t think I could list all the mistakes I’ve made. As my kids have gotten a little older, I ask them for lots of grace, too. I apologize when I make a mistake. 

Don’t fall into the social media comparison game, either. You may see someone who looks like the perfect parent – but remember, social media usually shows the best moments. You may not see all the tears it took to get that perfect photo.

Today’s action:

Allow yourself to make mistakes. Tell yourself, “My child doesn’t need a perfect parent – they need a present parent.”

Take a break when you need it.

If your child is in childcare or school, take a day off every once in a while to be alone. Enjoy doing what you like to do. Maybe that’s getting outdoors, taking a long bath or chilling with a movie. And don’t feel guilty about it. You have permission to take time for yourself.

Today’s action:

Schedule an hour this week to take a break. Right now, ask your support system to help you make this happen.

Set boundaries. 

Boundaries help to protect your time and your relationships. You may have to say no to some good things. As my children have become more independent, I’ve found that I can say yes to more things I want to do.

Prioritize your well-being and relationships when opportunities come your way.

Today’s action:

Ask, “What have I said yes to that I don’t have margin for?” Then do your best to take that off your list.

Parenting isn’t easy, but you can do it. If you already feel burned out and have nothing left to give, reach out to a professional, coach or counselor. You don’t have to walk this road alone.

Other blogs:

How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent – First Things First

Can Self-Care Become Selfish? – First Things First

5 Signs You Need Some Alone Time

Sources:

Parental Burnout: When Exhausted Mothers Open Up. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 1021. 

Breaking through the loss cycle of burnout: The role of motivation. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 84(2), 268–287.

Beating burnout. Harvard Business Review, 98-101. 

The Cost of Caring Without Self-Care

How to Recover from Burnout and Love Your Life Again

7 Expert Tips to Handle Difficult School Drop-offs

You can help your kids feel safe and secure about school.

Day one of school came, and we were ready to rock. Excited to see friends, make new friends, and launch into a new adventure. But then we got to the front door, and our kindergartner lost it. She didn’t want to go, and the tears flowed. We made it through days one, two and three, and then we were a week in. As we figured out routines for a successful school morning drop-off, each day was better than the one before.

Then, quarantines hit, and school closed for a time. We had to start the process all over again. School drop-offs can be difficult for many kids (my 5-year-old despises it). It becomes more challenging when you have to alter routines due to things out of your control, like a pandemic. 

It’s important to recognize and validate your children’s feelings. They may be anxious about a new place, new people, or the ever-changing schedule.

These tips from experts can help you  navigate school drop-offs like a pro:

1. Talk about what’s going to happen.

Know your school’s drop-off policy and where your child will go. Create a morning routine that works for your family. Also, let your child know when you’ll be back to pick them up. The more comfortable they are with the daily routine, the more likely they’ll be able to accept and even look forward to the morning drop-off.

2. Make sure everyone is rested.

Good sleep goes a long way in preparing for the day. When you’re crafting the morning routine, give yourself plenty of time to get ready too. We’ve found that we need to get up at least 30 minutes before our kindergartner to make the morning less stressful. 

3. Create a goodbye ritual.

When my son started school, we came up with a secret handshake. He looked forward to it every day, and it helped him mentally transition. My daughter has crafted her own goodbye ritual. Work with your child and come up with a goodbye ritual that makes them feel more comfortable. Maybe it’s a secret handshake or a hug at a specific spot on the way to school. 

4. Offer a comfort object.

A source of comfort can be helpful if your little one is anxious about going to school. Check with their teacher to see what they can and can’t have. Maybe it’s a small stuffed animal in their backpack they know they can’t take out during the day. Perhaps a keychain clipped onto their bag or a family picture can remind them of home.

5. Arrive early.

School mornings are stressful, and that stress level can go through the roof when you’re running late. Plan to arrive early. Schedule in a buffer time so your child isn’t feeling rushed. Whether that’s getting to the car line early, arriving at school in plenty of time to walk them to the door, or getting to the bus stop in time to talk for a few minutes. Arriving early can lower everyone’s stress levels.

6. Make it quick.

I had a friend tell me recently that when she dropped her son off for his first day of daycare, the teacher said the best thing you can do is say bye and leave. This is so true; painful, but true. The longer you linger, the harder it is on them. Often, when a child enters school, they are mentally transitioning to the day ahead. My daughter’s emotional drop-off on the first day of school only lasted a couple of minutes, and then she got busy with her day.

7. Stay positive.

Another thing you can do to help your child have a successful drop-off is to stay positive. Our stress and anxiety can quickly transfer to them. If you’re confident and optimistic, they are more likely to do the same. 

This school year looks to be full of unknowns. Each week, we don’t know how many days we’ll be in school or how our routine will be thrown off. We may experience that first-day drop-off anxiety numerous times, and we can help by being upbeat and positive. It may not be easy, but our kids don’t need easy; they need safety and security, and we can help them feel safe about school.

Sources:

How to handle difficult school drop-offs, according to a maternal wellness expert

Crying at Drop-Off – Perfecting the Preschool Separation

Other blogs:

How to Help My Child Handle Anxiety

8 Back to School Parenting Tips

Back to School Tips

How to Start School Routines

4 Ways Having a Routine Contributes to a Happy, Healthy Family

How To Find a Counselor for Your Teen

Here's what you need to know to make a great choice for your teen.

If your teen is struggling, you want to fix whatever’s wrong and try to help. And maybe they need help, but chances are, they’re going to talk to someone else before they talk to you. Right? Well, if they need to talk and they won’t talk to you, you’ll want to do everything in your power to find someone who will lead them in the right direction and encourage them to make good choices. That’s why finding a counselor for your teen just may be the answer you’re looking for. 

A counselor can be a great resource to help your teen manage any number of issues they may be dealing with. But the process doesn’t have to be overwhelming. 

Think about this: finding a counselor is a lot like interviewing folks to fill a job position. When hiring someone, you want to find the right fit. 

It’s the same with choosing a counselor for your teen. You wouldn’t want to hire the first person to walk into a job interview. It’s the same with choosing a counselor; it’s wise to “shop around” and find the best fit for your teen. 

But how do you go about doing that?

Here are some helpful tips for finding a counselor for your teen: 

Do a search.

Finding a counselor in your area can be as easy as an internet search. But be sure to look at reviews. Check over their website, and ask around about counselors you may be interested in. 

Don’t underestimate the power of a good recommendation. Ask people you know who have used counselors. Therapists often specialize in adults and adolescents, so don’t discount the ones adult friends have seen. 

Pay attention to the credentials. 

You wouldn’t want to hire a person without the right qualifications, and it’s the same with choosing a counselor. Except this is your teen who needs help. Here’s a simple breakdown of what counselor credentials look like:

  • Counselors are either licensed or unlicensed by the state where they practice. Licensed counselors have initials after their names, like LPC, LPCC, LCPC, or LMHC. They hold a master’s degree or higher, have completed a certain number of supervised training hours, and have passed a licensure exam. Ideally, you should seek out a licensed counselor.
  • Some unlicensed counselors are working toward either their advanced counseling degree or licensure. They usually offer cheaper rates and must disclose the status of their services. Because they work under the direct supervision of experienced therapists, these counselors can also be very helpful. 
  • Some counselors are psychiatrists (PsyD or MD). This means they hold a medical doctorate, can diagnose mental illnesses, and can prescribe medication.
  • Some people advertise themselves as counselors but are not licensed. These professionals may or may not hold advanced degrees in areas of counseling or psychology. When seeking the services of unlicensed counselors, it’s wise to use caution. 

Ask a potential counselor questions before the first session. 

Consider questions such as: 

  • Do you specialize in child and adolescent therapy? 
  • How long have you been in practice? Are you licensed by the state? Is your license current? 
  • What issues do you specialize in? (Counselors will typically specialize in depression, LGBQT+ issues, addiction, or other issues that may pertain to your teen’s situation. These are usually spelled out on their website if they have one. Be sure to ask if you don’t see an issue that pertains to your teen.) 
  • What kind of approach do you use with your teen clients? (Most counselors have theoretic approaches they use, but don’t let the psycho-babble throw you off. Get a sense of how the counselor relates to their clients in a way that’s understandable to you.)

Consider the financial aspect.

Check to see whether a counselor accepts insurance and, if so, whether they are in-network. Some counselors base client fees on household incomes (called a sliding scale). Fee payment schedules can also vary from counselor to counselor. Some require payment at the time of each session, while others allow a certain number of sessions to go by. Be sure to ask about how the counselor handles their client fees. I understand that many parents don’t plan for the expense of counseling, but it’s well worth the investment. Mental health is that important.

Ask what to expect with confidentiality. 

If a counselor chooses to conduct sessions privately with your teen, ask how they handle confidentiality. Don’t assume the counselor will share everything your teen says in the counseling room. Counselors work under the state laws and codes of ethics that direct them as to how to handle client confidentiality. Ask the counselor about this before the first session so you will know what to expect. 

As a parent, your teen’s mental health is a top priority. And you want their counselor to be effective. Good counselors are out there; it takes a little digging to figure out who can best be helpful. If you feel there’s no connection between the counselor and your teen after a few sessions, keep looking for a counselor who will be a better fit. Your teen will be more open and make better progress if they feel comfortable with their counselor.  It’s worth it! 

Other resources:

How You Can Help Prevent Suicide

How to Prevent Depression in Teens

Five Strategies to Help Your Teen Deal with Post-Pandemic Anxiety

*If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are a number of websites and organizations with excellent resources for you. HelpGuide is a great place to start, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

“Why am I so bad at this?” 

“I don’t know if I can do this.” 

“Why don’t I feel that overwhelming loving feeling toward her? Is there something wrong with me?”

These are the thoughts that raced through my mind as I was sobbing at 2 a.m., trying to rock my 4-week-old baby girl back to sleep.

I’ve always wanted to be a mom. As a kid, if you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have answered, “a mom.” In friend groups, I’ve always been the “mom” to everyone. When I thought about motherhood, I felt totally confident and prepared to become a mother. 

But the day she was born, all those things I thought would come naturally never came. And even now, 3 months into it, I’m still struggling with those late-night thoughts.

Let me clarify something before you get any further — I’m not here to give you any advice. I can’t share a list of steps to help you out of these feelings because I’m still in it myself. And I don’t have it figured out (not even close), but I can offer you this: You’re not alone. I see you. 

And I see you questioning yourself and your baby, wondering if you’ll make it through this in one piece, struggling to understand how different motherhood is than how you thought it would be. And I’ve realized, for me at least, that these feelings aren’t just rooted in sadness or sleep deprivation, but grief.

Grieving What Used to Be and Accepting the New

After my husband, my daughter, and I survived those first 3 weeks of postpartum and the fog *somewhat* lifted, I had this unshakeable feeling that the Caroline I had known 3 weeks earlier was gone. The super type-A, confident, reliable person I had been was just upheaved, and a new life — a new person — had just begun. And while I was told to enjoy it, to celebrate having “mother” as my number one descriptor, and to lean into this person I was becoming, I couldn’t do it. I liked the person I used to be and the life I had before motherhood. I didn’t want anything to change. But it had to.

I’ve grieved things as they used to be. I can no longer be on-call for everyone’s every need. I can’t go out with friends at the drop of a hat. No more snuggling on the couch every night with my husband and our dog. Heck, even the clothes I wore no longer fit, and they probably never will. Now, everything revolves around a feeding and sleeping schedule. I have to look for childcare, turn down calls and visits, and set firm boundaries with friends and family. 

Maybe you’ve changed careers, or maybe you’ve given up your job to stay home with your baby. And maybe you’ve felt ostracized by family and friends because of this transition into motherhood. Regardless of what your life as a mom looks like, we all have to mourn the life we had before our little ones came into our lives. For good and not so good, things will never be the same.

Grieving Who I Thought I Would Be

There is this second aspect of grief that has taken me nearly 3 months to understand. It’s this feeling that I’m not the kind of mom I always thought I would be. My whole life, I envisioned this fun, adventurous mom dancing in the kitchen with her kids. But when my daughter was born and struggled to eat and refused to sleep, I thought I would lose my mind. That vision of the energetic mom quickly disappeared, and what felt like a shell of a person took her place.

For over two months, there was rarely a day without a breakdown from me, my husband, and our baby. It has been hard to bond with and love on my daughter and nearly impossible to feel close to my husband. At times I’ve felt like I just can’t do it anymore.

*I want to take a second here to say something that needs to be said. Since the very beginning, I’ve been in conversations with my doctor to monitor Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety symptoms. Since 1 in 7 women experience PPD, I was very aware that this was a possibility for me. It is always a good idea to talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms or have any concerns. For more resources on Postpartum Mental Health, check out: Postpartum Support International. You can also call the PSI Helpline at 1-800-944-4773 (#1 En Español or #2 English) or TEXT: 503-894-9453 (English) or 971-420-0294 (Español).*

I’ve felt stuck in a never-ending cycle of trying to force myself into who I am “supposed to be,” then breaking down when that pressure is too much for me to handle. After the first 10 weeks of this, I gave up. I stopped trying to force that image on myself and started trying to accept the mother I am right now. This doesn’t mean I can’t learn and grow as my baby girl learns and grows — that will always be my goal. 

But I want you to hear this: It’s ok to rest in who you are right now. Take the pressure off yourself to be the mom you feel like you’re supposed to be. Ignore the people who tell you to enjoy every moment, because not every moment is enjoyable. If no one else has, I want to tell you that it’s ok to need a break, to ask for help before you get desperate, and to be honest when people ask, “Don’t you just love being a mom??”

I know it gets better. But until it does, I don’t want to pretend that I’m loving this stage. People give new moms an unrealistic expectation to immediately bond with their baby, to be joyful about the many challenges of motherhood, and to appreciate all the fleeting stages their child will go through. 

But what happens when none of that feels possible? Most new moms are left to wonder if there’s something wrong with them. But I firmly believe that these feelings of grief are ok to process through. I’m content with where I am right now. But I’m also looking forward to growing into the mother I know I can be. And I’m ready to take this journey one baby step at a time.

Other Resources:

What They Don’t Tell You About Postpartum Depression

6 Ways A Husband Can Support His Wife Through Postpartum Depression

How To Feel Confident As A New Mom

Teens experienced a lot of stress during the first round of the COVID-19 pandemic. They switched to virtual learning. They were isolated from friends. Sports got canceled. Celebrations were delayed or just didn’t happen. All these things had a significant impact.1 We thought it would all be over by now. And it looks like it is all on the verge of happening again. And it looks like it is all on the verge of happening again.

After COVID seemed to come to an end, many teens started experiencing symptoms of what scientists and doctors are calling “post-pandemic anxiety syndrome.” Yep, it’s a thing.

This syndrome is marked by an overwhelming sense of worry during this post-pandemic/repeat period. For some, the anxiety may stem from a lingering uncertainty about safety. Is the virus still a threat? Are we sure I can take this mask off? Am I still in danger? Should I put the mask back on?

For others, the cause of anxiety seems to be a product of flip-flop thinking. We know that our brains can train themselves to think in a certain way.2 Your teen has had over a year to adjust to new and sudden precautions, rules of social distancing, and risk management during extreme uncertainty. 

As if that’s not stressful enough, now we’re experiencing an almost equally instantaneous shift back to pre-pandemic life while there’s so much uncertainty about the variants. Take off the masks, go back to the ball fields, get ready for school. Some teens are celebrating. But for many, the anxiety increases.3

If your teen is showing some signs of post-pandemic anxiety, you can help them. Try these strategies to help them deal with what they may be experiencing. 

1. Keep the dialogue open.

Be open to your teen voicing their worries, fears, and stress to you. Let them know you’re a safe place for them to express their thoughts and feelings without judgment. Avoid pushing the issue if they don’t want to share, but keep that open door in their sights. If they know you are in their corner, it makes a difference. 

2. Normalize their feelings.

Your teen may feel weird or abnormal because of their anxiety. They might think that no one could possibly understand what they’re feeling. Reassure them that our whole world has been through a lot, and those anxious feelings are normal. There’s nothing wrong with them; they’re not “less than” because of their worry. Remind them that it’s how we go about coping with anxiety that is important. 

3. Coach them to get plenty of sleep.

In general, teens typically get less sleep than they need for proper health and development. But a healthy amount of rest is vital for coping with anxiety. Evidence is strong that sleep deprivation negatively affects mental health.4 The CDC recommends 13 to 18-year-olds should get 8-10 hours of sleep a night for optimal health.5 Encourage your teen to hit the hay at a decent hour so they can take care of themselves.

4. Avoid making your own diagnosis.

You’re worried about your kid, and that’s completely understandable. You can see signs and symptoms of anxiety or stress. But professionals are trained to translate these signs into what precisely the problem is — not us. You want to be careful not to jump to “anxiety disorders,” “depression,” or other conditions in a knee-jerk reaction, especially to your teen. They can easily feel labeled. They may also interpret the label as an identity that can’t be fixed (e.g., I have an anxiety disorder; it’s who I am). This is obviously detrimental to how they feel about themselves, and it can magnify the troublesome feelings they are having. 

5. Consider getting help from a professional counselor.

If the signs you see are persistent or worsen, it might indicate that you need to seek a therapist for your teen. Keep in mind that it might not be a popular choice in your teen’s eyes. But often, intense feelings of anxiety and worry are so much that we need more advanced tools to cope with them. That’s where a counselor is beneficial.

One last thought from one parent of a teen to another:

There is always hope in conquering mental health challenges. Anxiety is manageable. And your teen stands the greatest chance of overcoming post-pandemic anxiety when they know you’re cheering them on. 

Sources:

1Freed GL, Singer DC, Gebremariam A, Schultz SL, Clark SJ. How the pandemic has impacted teen mental health. C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, University of Michigan. Vol 38, Issue 2, March 2021. Available at: https://mottpoll.org/reports/how-pandemic-has-impacted-teen-mental-health.

2Berg, S. (2021, June 11). What doctors wish patients knew about post-COVID anxiety. American Medical Association. https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/what-doctors-wish-patients-knew-about-post-covid-anxiety 

3Hunter, R. G., & McEwen, B. S. (2013). Stress and anxiety across the lifespan: structural plasticity and epigenetic regulation. Epigenomics, 5(2), 177–194. https://doi.org/10.2217/epi.13.8

4Talbot, L. S., McGlinchey, E. L., Kaplan, K. A., Dahl, R. E., & Harvey, A. G. (2010). Sleep Deprivation in Adolescents and Adults: Changes in Affect. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 10(6), 831–841. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0020138 

5Sleep in middle and high school students. (2020, September 10). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/features/students-sleep.htm 

7 Strategies to Help Your Child Deal With Post-Pandemic Anxiety

Demonstrate your love, compassion, and care while walking them through their challenges.

Children, like adults, were struck with a sudden bombshell when COVID-19 arrived on the scene. Everything changed abruptly. Think about it. One day, they’re at school and seeing their friends. The next day, they’re home for an extended period. They’re isolated. Their world changed: masks, loneliness, increased family time, canceled activities, etc. The structure, predictability, and consistency kids need to thrive: gone. That’s a tough experience for a child to live through. It was even hard for adults.

As kids come out of the pandemic, it’s no wonder that so many are experiencing anxiety. Recent studies suggest the pandemic may be having a more adverse effect on adolescents than on adults.1 According to Dr. Bradley S. Jerson,2 your child may be dealing with post-pandemic anxiety if they are…

  • Spending a lot more time alone
  • Sleeping a lot more or less
  • Withdrawing from family or friends
  • Not interested in their favorite activities
  • Having changes in their overall mood
  • More irritated or angry
  • Stuck on negative thoughts
  • Hopeless about the future

As their parent, you want to help them manage their anxiety and adjust to normalcy.

These strategies can help your child deal with post-pandemic anxiety.

1. Be aware of your own mental health.

The Child Mind Institute states “that dealing with your own anxiety can be the most powerful way to make sure your kids feel secure.”3 Your children take a lot of their cues from you. So do whatever is necessary for you to be in a good space mentally. Practicing good self-care will equip you to help your child.

2. Give your child space and freedom to talk through their emotions.

What young child can do that by themselves? Not many. Try to ask questions in a gentle, non-judgmental way. Try, “What do you feel when we make plans to go to the supermarket or back to school?” This lets them know that whatever they’re feeling is acceptable and even normal. Studies show that after an event like a pandemic, mental health issues such as anxiety are common.4 Child expert Dr. Gene Beresin recommends that parents consistently listen and validate their child’s thoughts and emotions. This can help them transition to post-pandemic life.5

3. Create some routines, predictability, and consistency.

Children thrive when they know what’s coming. And it helps them adjust and know who to turn to for the things they can’t foresee. Morning or nighttime routines are helpful. Picking them up from school at a consistent time is also good. Several studies have shown that eating family meals together is beneficial for kids’ mental state.

4. Ease them back into their norms when possible .

Dr. Jill Ehrenreich-May and Dominique A. Phillips recommend taking smaller, manageable steps to move forward.6 Instead of going to an indoor birthday party, have your child choose a friend for an outdoor play date. Pick people and places that are most comfortable for your child, and use those spaces to help them overcome the paralyzing effects of their post-pandemic anxiety.

5. Talk them through what’s being done to keep them safe.

Young children look to their parents for security, safety, and protection. Asking your child what would make them feel safe can help them address their anxiety. Explaining what makes a situation safe helps build their trust in you as their parent to protect them. 

6. Get support for your child.

If your child continues to struggle, talk to their pediatrician, a school counselor, or find a therapist. Don’t hesitate to ask your child if they’ve had thoughts of self-harm. **If they have, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 (24/7).**

7. Celebrate the positives.

Dr. Jerry Bubrick, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, encourages parents to look for anything positive they can celebrate.7 Sometimes, we spend so much time focusing on what our kids won’t do. Instead, highlight the good stuff they’re doing: the family time you’re spending together, the books they’re reading. This can help shift their mentality and calm their uneasiness.

Each child responds differently to change. Your love, compassion, and care in walking them through their challenges are often the most crucial ingredients to helping your child deal with change, fear, uncertainty, and post-pandemic anxiety. You got this!

Sources:

1 The psychiatric sequelae of the COVID-19 pandemic in adolescents, adults, and health care workers.

2 Connecticut Children’s

3 The Child Mind Institute Anxiety and Coping With the Coronavirus

4 Life in a post-pandemic world: What to expect of anxiety-related conditions and their treatment

5 Gene Beresin, Executive Director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, Full professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School

6 Here’s How to Help Your Kids Break Out of Their Pandemic Bubble and Transition Back to Being With Others

7 Jerry Bubrick, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute

Dear Dad,

Can I ask you a question? When you found out you were going to be a dad, were there parts of you that thought, “I’m gonna crush this. Everything my dad wasn’t around to do, I’m gonna do, because I’m not gonna be like my dad…”? Or did you say to yourself, “I don’t know how to be anyone’s dad. I had no one to show me how to be a good dad…”?

It seems like being a good dad would be a lot easier if you had someone who showed you all the things you’re supposed to do. There’s a part of us that believes we can figure out everything on our own. Every once in a while, you may get a reality check when someone else notices there’s something you didn’t know. 

Without a dad to tell you what you’re supposed to do, it’s normal to make mistakes. 

And it’s ok to not know how to do something. How would you know the right time to just give a good, strong hug if you weren’t shown by your father? Are you a bad dad? Probably not. Could you be better? Couldn’t we all? Is it a bit of a disadvantage to not having someone show you the way? Quite possibly. Is all hope lost? Far from the truth.

Shaunti Feldhahn’s research shows that men often worry that they don’t have what it takes. We fear that one day the people closest to us will find out. When I heard that, it hit my heart. I thought to myself, “When my kid finds out that I don’t know how to do the dad stuff, then they won’t respect me or even like me.” 

So what do you do?

You keep faking it and you keep being there. Keep being present, and keep listening to your kids’ stories. You keep telling them the little bit you do know. You keep making mistakes with them. Keep taking them places with you and keep hanging out. You keep hugging them when they hurt, challenging them when they say something that doesn’t seem right. And next thing you know, they start looking for you because they want to talk. They want to share their success and get encouragement after their failures.

One of the biggest things you can learn from your dad is to never run away. 

Because if your dad did, you know how it feels. And that’s what hurts the most. Instead, lean into your children. Running away could mean leaving the family. It could also mean running away from talking, from dealing with issues, from being open and vulnerable, or running away from what you don’t know.

It seems like every good action movie has an amazing running scene where the hero is running into a dangerous situation. (Will Smith got famous from his Bad Boys running scene.) Fellow dad, run into the situation. Run to your kids. Run to the hard stuff in their lives. That’s how the heroes are made. Not just in the movies, but also in the heart of your child.

Other helpful blogs:

How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent

4 Ways To Be A More Present Parent

How to Be a Supportive Parent

5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Became A Dad