10 Mental Health Tips

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Start the New Year in the right state of mind. Here from Dr. Tyler R. Black, Medical Director of Emergency Psychiatry at BC Children’s Hospital are the top 10 health tips to help grandparents help their grandchildren navigate the “new normal.”

Connectedness matters more than the medium

While traditions, travel, and gatherings have changed, connections are connections. Communication like video calls, online games together, phone calls, cards and letters, are great ways to keep the connectedness of families going strong. For kids, online connection IS real life connection. Take advantage of this!

Listen without judgment

A struggling child doesn’t need to be told what to do. A struggling child needs to be understood, needs to understand that they are cared for, and it is always better when they are part of the planning to help with the problem. Many grandparents dive into “oh are you sad? you should exercise!” and might not understand that a body problem or an insecurity makes that advice painful rather than helpful. Try this approach: “Thanks for sharing, is there anything you can think of that I could do to help with that?”

Remember “the antenna problem” 

Kids are amazing antennas—they pick up on so many emotions, ideas, and challenges. However, they are horrible receivers. They will frequently misinterpret the meaning, over-amplify the seriousness of a problem, or just completely get it wrong. When you are feeling something, your child is feeling you feel it! Don’t “hide” your emotions or pretend that it’s not real—you can be transparent, vulnerable and reassuring all at the same time.

This is a great learning moment for taking care of each other

Remind children that the reason things are hard right now is so that other people can be safer—people you and your child care about. Teachers. Parents. Grandparents. Aunts. Doctors. The awesome people at the supermarket. Children understand the importance of helping others. The marginalized, racialized and underprivileged bear the worst of this pandemic—what a great time to model and teach charitable work and efforts.

School is important, but it’s not THAT important

If a day is particularly overwhelming, it’s ok to have a “sick day” to recover mentally. Consider this your doctor’s note. The pretense we put on that “perfect attendance” neglects the fact that we all, at some point, have taken a sick day to recover when we weren’t up to going in. Worldwide soul-crushing pandemics count too. Let’s focus on connection, play, kid-stuff, mental health and the basics of education.

Traditions are new to them! 

Yes, your family tradition may be disrupted, and you’ve had decades worth, but new traditions can be started! Kids have an incredible ability to adapt to “normal” and you can harness this if you don’t sound bummed or disrupted by it.

Keep an eye on irritability, sleep and appetite

Young kids are notorious for not recognizing the signs of extreme stress, but their body tells the score. A change in sleep, appetite and general irritability are signs of distress and should be taken seriously. At a calm moment, explore what’s happening.

Don’t discard technology

Yes, there is a stigma about kids and technology use. However, that stigma is not borne out by evidence. The best evidence tells us that technology use is a healthy part of a child’s life and does not cause serious harm or mental illness. While some kids can overuse, rarely is the technology itself the problem. During this time of limited connection, getting in the way of online friend groups, online play, social media sharing and entertainment may not be the protector you think it is. It’s great to make sure kids have access to more than just tech (exercise, crafts, chores, etc), but carving tech out of a 2021 kid’s life is putting them at a big disadvantage going forward.

Take care of yourself

It’s so hard to read this if you’re in an overwhelmed position. It might mean asking someone for help. But taking care of yourself and your mental health is NOT optional. It may be time to take a quick inventory on your stressors, your help available and who your network is, and start working to make some changes. If you aren’t in a position to trim anything, I know this rings hollow, but friends and family are a great place to start. If you are in a position of privilege or space, use it to help others. As a physician, I will ironically say to myself “physician, heal thyself.” For you, grandparent, I shall say “grandparent, give caregiving to yourself.”

Pick your battles

If you are overwhelmed, if your grandchild is stressed and they want to stay up a few more minutes, finish a show or keep using the iPad, give yourself a break. We all know the “perfect” grandparent response and the, “I need to get through this moment” grandparent response. Sometimes the “perfect” response is not the best one to choose. You need to have the capacity and reserve to deal with the fallout of a trivial intervention. Take a quick moment and decide if you can pick the best response for you, and don’t worry about trying to be the “perfect parent.”

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