McNerney: Helping Our Children Remain Strong

By Neil McNerney, Parenting With Purpose

I wish I had some good news this October. Since we are still in the midst of this distance learning, low socialization era, good news is hard to find. Since this whole time period is also new to us, we don’t have a frame of reference to guide them. We can’t say: “I remember when I was cooped up in my house for seven months.” This is uncharted territory for us and our kids.

The burden is real. Our children are dealing with a myriad of stressors. Many are worried about family income. They have heard stories of people being laid off, and they are probably worried whether they have mentioned it or not. For those children who are already at risk for depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder etc., this time is especially difficult. Kids are lonely, worried, sad, and insecure.

But we can still help them. They look to us for answers, guidance, and leadership. In this column, I will provide the best advice available to help our children cope.

Listen to them. Our children need to know that we understand what they are going through. As parents, we often find it hard to talk about the hard things in our children’s lives. We want to skip to the “look on the bright side” conversation. We fear that if we focus on the negative, it will make things worse. But there is a very healing thing that happens when you spend time letting your child know that you understand how hard their life is. Try responses like: “This must be so hard,” “I know how lonely you feel,” “I know that school is so hard right now.”

Reassure them, but don’t reassure until you have tried listening to them. Don’t jump too quickly to reassurance. Children 10 years old and up are probably worried about the family finances, and they could use some reassurance that you have this issue under control. If your job is safe, let them know. Obviously, if you are worried about finances, don’t share that worry.

Let them know that they are heroes. I know this sounds odd, but I think there is some truth to it. No generation of children has had to deal with such a unique challenge. I would estimate that we, as parents, were probably born between 1960 and 1985. There were no issues that occurred during our childhoods that could compare to this and how it is affecting almost every child on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, it is important to let them know how impressed you feel about how they are coping.

Take some stress off academic expectations. The amount of stress in my clients in dealing with school assignments is incredibly high, especially high school students. The amount of work seems much higher than previous, and teachers are often putting all tests and assignment due dates on Mondays. The AA BB schedule has made learning information even more difficult. Things are due either the next day, or almost a week from now. It’s OK for students to be more strategic this year. Don’t expect excellence. I would suggest that you sit down with your student and work out what assignments can be skipped or finished partially. Yes, I know this advice might be heresy, especially with my teacher friends, but the mental health of our children is on the line. I would rather a kid have a letter grade drop than risk their mental health. It is too high a price to pay.

Find some way to socialize. Children are social beings. They not only crave time with friends, they need it. It is important that we find some way for them to spend time with friends. Of course, I do not recommend violating any local/federal guidelines, but there are ways that kids can still be around their friends and be safe, especially on a nice afternoon.

Get in some physical activity. Yes, I know, this is the typical piece of advice given in every column: Eat right and exercise regularly. But even sedentary kids get a certain amount of exercise every day. Even a little can have a big boost in mental health, especially if it gets the heart rate up. Challenge your kids to run up the stairs 10 times in a row. Start up push up challenge in your house, or a sit up challenge. Increased heart rate, even for a little while, has been shown to release more endorphins and other positive brain chemicals.

I hope these ideas will ease some of the pain associated with this October. Feel free to reach out if you have any other questions or suggestions.

Neil McNerney

[Neil McNerney is a licensed professional counselor and author of “Homework – A Parent’s Guide To Helping Out Without Freaking Out!” and “The Don’t Freak Out Guide for Parenting Kids with Asperger’s.” He can be reached at]

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