The Mental Health ‘Coping Box’ for Children During the Pandemic

Mental health box
Image: Alysha Tagert

Image: Alysha Tagert

(ABC NEWS) – As the United States enters a third year of the coronavirus pandemic, children’s mental health continues to be a growing problem.

children’s health, school and extracurricular activities continue to be disrupted by the pandemic, while more than 200,000 children under the age of 18 in the United States have lost a parent or adult caregiver to COVID-19.

A report released late last year by the US Surgeon General warned of a growing mental health crisis among young people amid the coronavirus pandemic, while the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Association of Children’s Hospitals – which collectively represent more than 77,000 physicians and more than 200 children’s hospitals – said children’s mental health issues were a “national emergency”.

With these statistics in mind, and as a mother of four herself, Alysha Tagerta licensed clinical social worker in Washington, DC, shares with parents a concrete way to help their children.

Tagert, whose children are between the ages of 3 and 8, said she noticed anxiety not only showing up among the families she worked with, but also in her own children, especially her 8-year-old son, as they came back in person. Activities.

“There was so much transition,” Tagert said, describing the difficulty of being away from friends, then back to school and having to follow different mask requirements in different places. “He kept saying, ‘I really have a stomach ache,’ over and over again.”

Acknowledging her son’s physical symptom as a sign of anxiety, Tagert said she worked with him to create a coping toolkit he could take with him to places such as school and work. baseball practice.

“It’s a tangible thing you can hold on to that contains simple, everyday elements that help engage your five senses in an effort to calm you down and be present in the moment,” Tagert said of the adaptation toolbox. “My son was an old tin lunch box with a dinosaur on the front.”

Tagert’s son put items like headphones, a joke book, a family photo, chewing gum and a spinning top in his toolbox.

“I asked him, ‘What are the things that really help you calm down? “, Tagert said. “And those are his favorites.”

Tips for creating a coping toolkit with children

Tagert said it’s essential to include your child in the making of the toolkit and to do so at a time when they are removed from an anxiety-provoking situation.

“It’s the same as if you were going to strike up a conversation with someone, you don’t want to do it when they’re really, really activated,” Tagert said. “So do it at a time when they’re not feeling very anxious.”

Tagert recommends using this as a teachable moment to explain to children that not all anxiety is bad — it can even be helpful in emergency situations — but it’s important for them to know how to identify. and manage their emotions.

“It’s important for kids to understand, ‘I’m starting to feel this is what anxiety looks like, or this is what worry is, I’m going to name it, and now I have tools to fix it,'” Tagert said. , citing symptoms that may include sweating, rapid heartbeat and stomach pain.

Parents, she says, can start a conversation by naming and normalizing what their children are feeling and finding ways to help themselves.

When her son showed signs of anxiety, Tagert said she asked him what his stomach aches were like, then gave examples from her own life.

“Normalize that and say, ‘You know what, here are some things I’ve done before that have helped me when I have that same pit in my stomach or worry me. Do you have any ideas about what helps you when you worry about certain things,” she said. “And then just start engaging.”

According to Tagert, the second most important thing about making a child’s coping toolkit is to include items that touch all five senses – touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. .

In his son’s case, he told Tagert that one thing that excited him about baseball was being able to chew gum, so that went into the toolbox. They also listen to his favorite songs on the way to baseball practice.

Here are more examples from Tagert of what to include in an adaptation toolkit.

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Image: Courtesy of Alysha Tagert

Image: Courtesy of Alysha Tagert

Something that provides body awareness of himself and his limbs, such as a weighted pillow, vest, or stuffed animal;

Something to squeeze and keep your hands busy like a stress ball or a fidget spinner;

Items to support breathing and relaxation like a bottle of bubbles or a pinwheel;

Olfactory sensory supportthat is, something that smells good, like a soothing essential oil spray;

Something that requires movement like a book of yoga poses or a skipping rope;

A favorite music playlist and noise canceling headphones;

An article for sensory support of oral motor skills such as sugar-free chewing gum;

Something that requires thought or concentration like a puzzle or a reading book;

And something visually soothing like an hourglass or even an eye mask to block everything out so they can focus on their self-soothing efforts.

Tagert added that it’s also important for parents to recognize that they too are going through a difficult and exhausting time during the pandemic, and to take care of themselves.

“What’s really important to us as parents is that we also need to do these things to help us in our times of anxiety,” she said. “As a parent, you are the single most influential person in your child’s life, hands down, and our job as parents is to teach our children how to live in this world. They’re watching us work through things. They’ve also seen us work through the pandemic.

If you are in crisis or know someone in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. You can reach Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (US) or 877-330-6366 (Canada) and The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386.