Child psychologists on helping children process pandemics and crises

A young child wearing a pink mask with a print of dogs with glasses.
Seven-year-old Rylynn Maxim wears her mask adorned with spectacled puppies in front of a painted mural at Cascade Park on May 21, 2020 in Duluth. She's most often seen wearing it when she has to travel around town with her parents for errands. "I wear a mask to keep others and myself safe,"Maxim said. "These puppies are adorable and they have glasses!"
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Kids understand that COVID-19 has changed nearly everything. School, camps and activities are online, some parents are working at home or have lost their job, and danger seems everywhere.

Two child psychology experts share their insights about managing stress and anxiety.

The moderator is Kate Julian of The Atlantic, who wrote the May cover story, "The Anxious Child and the Crisis of Modern Parenting."

She spoke with psychologists Lisa Damour and Tovah Klein. Some of their ideas are:

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Good mental health provides a recipe for long term coping. During troubling times, it would be strange if we were all “ok!” or “fine!” The important thing is to make sure we can handle the stress.

Anxiety and worry is appropriate, but it’s important to get a break. Humans need to have strategies to withstand emotional distress.

What do children need from adults? Adults feed off the stress of the adults around them. Adults can help children manage the stress. Maintaining rituals and routines is important.

Teenagers have special challenges. They are kids in “transition years” and these are difficult in the best of times. Something to watch for, is teenagers may engage in ”unhealthy coping strategies.” This can include drug and alcohol use, and bingeing on television or social media.

Teens and younger children have an additional problem managing boredom. But overcoming boredom can be important for learning. It means kids come up with their own ideas about how to spend their time. There is a lot of learning and knowledge and insight that results.

One way to help kids manage the stress of the pandemic and other crises is to let them know there is a lot of good in the world. Even though things are hard now, and people are scared, it’s important to emphasize that “we’ll get through it.” Resilience is key.

The program was put together by the Aspen Institute, as part of the "Aspen Ideas Now" series — a remote substitute for the annual Aspen Ideas Festival, which is not happening this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This broadcast is part of APM's "Call to Mind" initiative to promote conversations to improve mental health.