The habitual lifestyle of parents and children has been disrupted due to the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19). All family members have a hard time school closures and physical distancing. We spoke with adolescent psychologist, best-selling author and columnist for the monthly New York Times, Dr. Lisa Daymour, to learn how family members can support each other and make the most of their time in this new ( temporary) normality.
UNICEF: How can teens and parents take care of their mental health during the outbreak of coronavirus infection (COVID-19)?
He (doctor) first thing parents can do is make [adolescents] understand that anxiety is a normal response. Many adolescents mistakenly believe that feeling anxious is always a sign of a mental disorder, while psychologists have long concluded that anxiety is a normal and healthy function that warns us of potential danger and helps us take action to protect ourselves. Therefore, you can help the teenager if you say, you are reacting correctly. The anxiety you feel is perfectly justified in this situation. This is how you should react. And this feeling will help you make the only right decisions at the moment. Practicing social distancing, having to wash your hands often, and avoiding touching your face will help you do what you need to do now to feel better. This is one example of what we can do.
What else can we do to help teenagers look at the problem from the outside? Tell them: Look, I understand that you are worried about the fact that you can get infected with the virus, and we ask you to follow the rules of behavior – wash yourself, not go far from home – also because in this way we show concern for others members of our community. We think about the people around us.
And then entrust them with useful things, such as bringing food to people in need or buying food for them, finding out what help is needed in the local community, supporting people living in the neighborhood, while maintaining a social distance. Caring for others will help young people feel better.
And the third thing that can help to cope with anxiety is to find a way for teens to switch to something. Psychologists are well aware that people who are in a chronic difficult situation, and today’s situation is certainly such, and it will last for some time, it is very useful to divide the problem into two parts: the first is when something can be done with it, and the second – the opposite – when nothing can be done with it. Much will now fall into the second category, since children will have to live for some time in these rather difficult conditions.
Researchers have found that positive distraction can help us better deal with the second part of the problem: doing household chores, watching our favorite movies, reading a novel in bed. This strategy is very appropriate now. There is a lot to be said for talking about coronavirus and anxiety as a way to get relief, and not talking about these topics in order to reduce anxiety. Helping children find the right balance while doing this is very important.