Are children experiencing collateral damage during pandemic?

Donna Barnes | Lehi Free Press

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Mental health expert shares parenting tips

Seven-year-old Lily looked up at her Dad and said, “Daddy, am I going to get sick and die?” It would not be surprising if similar questions have been asked by many children in the last few weeks. Some level of emotional distress has likely been felt by many youngsters and teenagers as their worlds have been turned upside down over the last month.

In an interview with Kathy Kinghorn, LCSW, and co-owner of Therapy Utah, she explained, “Kids are not susceptible to the virus itself, but they are susceptible to the mental health issues the virus creates.” Kinghorn is a nationally recognized speaker and expert on mental health matters who owns a mental health clinic in Lehi.

In helping our children through this difficult time, Kinghorn has created an acronym to assist parents and caretakers in supporting children’s mental health. The acronym is S.H.A.R.E. 

S—Show how to manage emotions. Adults can show how to do this.

H—Help them talk or draw about their feelings. The developing brain thrives on predictability. Children need structure. This crisis has catapulted them into an unpredictable environment.

A—Aware of what they are feeling and that feelings can change.

R—Respond appropriately to fears. A parent can say, “I can tell you are scared because you are talking fast. How can I help you right now? What do you need, a hug? Do you want me to read you a story?” 

E—Empathy can be shown. Even small children can pick up on stressors in their parents. They know things are not the same. Some children can express emotions more easily than others. Quiet children tend to hold emotions in.

Kinghorn says this experience can be an opportunity to raise the emotional IQ of children. Use creativity to validate. One example is having children or teenagers make a video of their feelings. Kinghorn’s six year-granddaughter made a video explaining what the coronavirus is. A teenager created a video called, “Pandemic Prom.”

Service is another way to create a healthy brain response. Kinghorn said, “To respond is better than to react. Empathy comes from curiosity. Get into your kid’s world.” Many young people are doing service projects that create feelings of control and satisfaction.”

Regarding spending a lot of time at home, Kinghorn said, “Being home can be a real positive thing for kids. They may find relief from busy schedules, bullying, social anxiety, and other negatives associated with their normal routine.”

“Breathing is important in controlling behavior,” said Kinghorn. “Deep breaths help the brain. As parents, we can show our kids how to breathe deeply. Create a prompt for deep breathing. For example, every time you open the fridge take a deep breath. Saying to your child or teenager, ‘Just relax,’ doesn’t help.”

Kinghorn believes that when this is all over, parents should sit down with the family and weigh in about what worked for them and what didn’t work. She recommends asking family members to respond to the question, “What did we learn from this that will help us and what did we do that was not helpful?” Discussion can focus on how the family adapted to the hard things they encountered during the last month or more. Being adaptable is a key component in living a healthy life.

“I think many families are finding some surprising things about their children’s ability to get through hard things,” she concluded.

Therapy Utah is located at 3051 Maple Loop Drive, Lehi. The mental health facility is open now for Zoom sessions. 

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