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UCHealth Memorial Hospital’s director of spiritual care offers advice on helping kids cope with stress and during COVID-19 pandemic

April 8, 2020

Colorado Springs, Colo. (April 8, 2020) – This is a stressful time for anyone, and it can be especially hard on kids, who have fewer coping mechanisms than adults. Our children don’t need us to be perfect, says Nathan Mesnikoff, director of spiritual care for UCHealth Memorial Hospital. They do need us, though, to be good role models and sources of support and information.

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Here are some tips from Mesnikoff, who, as a father himself, is experiencing many the same stresses and anxieties as the rest of us.

  1. Role model. Demonstrate good self-care, honesty about your feelings, and compassion for yourself and others. Our kids are always watching how we react. It’s good for our kids to see we feel worried, sad, or frustrated, but keep control and show how we can deal with those feelings in healthy ways. If you need to have a meltdown, try to do that “off-stage.” Model kindness for family, friends and community.
  2. Routine. Try to keep some normalcy in the household schedule. Get up, get dressed, do chores, schoolwork, play, etc.
  3. Connection. Put the phone down, step away from the computer, and just be with them. Twenty minutes of focused attention does more good than an hour of distracted partial engagement. As kids get older, their peers become more and more important. Support connection (through technology for example) while still keeping them safe.
  4. Exercise. Help kids get some exercise every day, outside if possible.
  5. Sleep and healthy food. Keep relatively normal bedtimes and rules about snacking, candy, etc. Enough rest and a good diet reduce stress and support the immune system.
  6. Information. Provide age-appropriate accurate information about the pandemic. Ask if they have questions. Uncertainty makes stress worse. There’s a lot of bad information out there, especially on social media. Turn off the TV. Kids can misinterpret what they hear and get needlessly frightened. Empower them with ways to be safer: physical distance, masks when appropriate, handwashing/hand sanitizer.
  7. Love and Validation. Kids’ stress can come out in a lot of ways. They may regress, act out, cry, or be defiant. They likely will need more hugs, attention, and support. Listen to them. Let them know that feelings of stress, worry, anger, and frustration are normal. Then show them healthy ways to deal with their feelings by talking, journaling, exercising, and accepting help and affection.
  8. Realistic expectations about schoolwork. Most parents don’t have the time or expertise to re-create anything resembling a normal classroom. Academics are important, but emotional support is more critical right now. Learning right now may be more about coping skills than calculus.
  9. Fun and Distraction. Have some downtime: puzzles, Legos, games, family movies, etc. Provide healthy outlets and distractions from the worries of the day.
  10. Extra help when needed. If you’re concerned about your child, get help. Pediatricians and counselors can be tremendous resources. Watch for signs that the stress is becoming overwhelming: significant sleep problems, repetitive behaviors like excessive hand-washing, or inability to be soothed/need for continuous reassurance. Kids with underlying mental health challenges may need more proactive support.

Resources:
Colorado Crisis Services: 1-844-493-8255 or Text “TALK” to 38255
Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746
CDC Website – Daily Life and Coping
Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment – COVID-19

About UCHealth

UCHealth is an innovative, nonprofit health system that delivers the highest quality medical care with an excellent patient experience. UCHealth includes more than 25,000 employees, 12 acute-care hospitals and hundreds of physicians across Colorado, southern Wyoming and western Nebraska. With University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus as its academic anchor and the only adult academic medical center in the region, UCHealth is dedicated to providing unmatched patient care in the Rocky Mountain West. Offering more than 150 clinic locations, UCHealth pushes the boundaries of medicine, providing advanced treatments and clinical trials and improving health through innovation.

For Immediate Release
Contact: Cary Vogrin
[email protected]
719.213.3287