HOUSTON - With students home from school for the Thanksgiving holiday, now is a great time to talk to them about mental health.
From April to October, the CDC says emergency mental health visits for children and teens were up 24% and 31%, respectively.
The United Nations predicts nearly 30 million children will drop out of school because of learning-related stresses from the pandemic. With so much isolation and instability, you can help by offering a safe place for a child to talk through their feelings.
There are ways to make that conversation go well. First, avoid overreacting.
While it can be instinctual to scold a child after hearing them confess to doing, or thinking, something they shouldn’t, research has found parents who scold their children can leave that child predisposed to anxiety for years to come.
A negative reaction can also make a child hesitant to open up to you again. If you become emotional, take a break.
Go to a private space, like a bedroom or car, and vent those feelings away from the child’s view.
While being honest about your feelings is important, a parent’s raw emotion can be hard for a child to process as they deal with their own.
Often the child will not be ready to talk at the moment an adult is willing to listen. In these moments, experts recommend keeping the invitation open. The goal is for the child or teen to know they have an adult willing to listen when they are ready.
Video games may not be the worst indulgence over the holiday break. Research shows they can have mental health benefits, particularly during a pandemic.
New York Times Bestselling author Jane McGonigal is a noted global gaming researcher; her game SuperBetter was subject of a randomized controlled trial by the University of Pennsylvania and proved capable of eliminating six symptoms of depression in six weeks for the typical player.
She shared insight on the online forum Reddit early in the pandemic. McGonigal says playing games online can provide socialization in a time when we cannot physically meet up with friends.
She goes on to point out how games can give families and friends something to talk about, and participate in, free of the stresses of reality. McGonigal says research shows you can train your brain to ditch bad thoughts by hopping into a game for even just 10 minutes.
There can be negative impacts of over-indulging in gaming. Gaming Addiction is a recognized disorder, which is why parents should set boundaries with games just as they do with candy or other tempting indulgences.
McGonigal also notes that it's sometimes more about who you play with than what you play, saying that, “playing very aggressive, competitive games against strangers online can boost your testosterone levels way too high for your own good -- it can make you more aggressive and more of a jerk to people for hours after you play. It's better to play competitive violent games against people you know in real-life. Your testosterone actually goes down after you beat them, the opposite impact of beating strangers online.”
Video games have been a hot commodity for both children and adults this year, in light of the social isolation many are feeling.
Nintendo’s Switch console has become hard to get your hands on; it is popular among all age groups and can be taken on-the-go, or played by multiple users with one system.
The game Animal Crossing: New Horizons has seen record sales numbers since it launched at the start of the pandemic. Nintendo recently asked politicians and businesses to not use the game for campaigning to prevent distracting players from the escape they seek in their virtual world.
Another popular choice is the Untitled Goose Game. You literally play a goose getting into light mischief. It is simple, and made headlines for reportedly being quite soothing.
Minecraft remains popular for all ages. The game earned a perfect 5/5 score from Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that rates media content for young users.
For free options, PBS Kids has an online game portal on their website. They offer a collection of free games for young audiences that include educational components and many well-known characters from popular PBS shows.
A key to a child’s mental health can often be found in the health of the parents.
When a child is going through mental health problems, the parents and other siblings may benefit from having their doctors screen them for mental health issues, also. It’s important we all do our best to care for ourselves.
It helps enable us to best care for those we love.