Building Resilience in Kids

Parenting through a pandemic can feel like an extraordinary responsibility, as we try to help our children manage through all the uncertainty it brings. These are unfamiliar challenges, but there are reliable ways to help our children learn resilience, which can help them cope now and learn to take on future difficulties.
I am expecting a baby in a few weeks, and I am so nervous. How do I keep my baby safe while managing my own concerns? 
Raising a newborn can be an isolating time, during a pandemic or not. These feelings may be exacerbated now, as physical distancing remains one of the best ways to limit the spread of illness. Try to establish a routine of self-care, making sure to designate time for yourself in your calendar. For many of us, this requires being intentional in what this time consists of and when it can be scheduled. Reach out to your social networks, and consider exploring new connections with parent groups. Most importantly, seek additional help if you notice mood changes interfering with your daily life. Try to seek support early and often if you need it. Remember that you are not alone.
My toddler is struggling with staying at home. He is even regressing in some of his developmental skills like potty training. How do I help him? 
It is easy to forget that someone so little can have really big feelings, while not having the ability to accurately express them. Because of this, you may see worsening tantrums and/or developmental regressions at this time. A good place to start is by acknowledging what your child is feeling. Using phrases like “I can see you are upset” or “I know it is hard when our favorite park is closed” can really help to break the ice and get your toddler expressing his or her emotions. Toddlers usually thrive with structure, so try to maintain a schedule. Try to also have uninterrupted time to have imaginative and physical play together daily. 
Positively reinforce good behavior, and ignore small acts of defiance. If your child receives most of your attention for good behavior, he or she will likely aim to behave in a way to get this attention from you. Try to find ways to socialize in a safe manner, as social interactions are so important for this age range even while physical distancing remains important as well. 
Your toddler is looking to you for your reaction in this difficult time, so try to model calm behavior and demonstrate problem-solving. You can even ask your little one to help you with this. Try using phrases like “Mommy feels really sad that she cannot go into the office,” and ask your toddler for suggestions on how to cope with this feeling. Once you practice this skill enough, you will be surprised how your toddler will quickly identify his or her feelings and learn to problem-solve – a key characteristic of resilient children! If your child is still in the pre-verbal phase, you could try an emotions chart to get this point across.
My daughter is worried about COVID-19 and struggling with the idea of virtual school. How can I make this experience better for her? 
School-aged children are at an age where they become more attuned to, and sometimes anxious about, the world around them. During this time, they may feel scared for the health of others and sad about limiting interaction with their peers. Take time to discuss what is being done to keep them safe. You could draw pictures of healthcare workers, people washing hands and children wearing masks. Try to talk positively about wearing a mask and model this behavior yourself to make this easier for your child. 
As many transition into virtual school, we are entering uncharted waters. Just like you prepare every year for a new classroom, help your child prepare for this “new classroom” as well. Create a comfortable learning space for your child and work together in decorating it. Try to keep prior school year traditions the same, such as school pictures, back-to-school shopping, etc., as this familiarity is likely to bring comfort. Also, as a parent, remember that we do not have all the answers at this point, and things are likely to change. 
This is an opportunity to help your child manage stress by focusing on the present, rather than worrying too much about the future. It can also be a time to practice mindfulness, by doing a few minutes of meditation or deep breathing with your child daily. Remember to check in with your child often, as his or her feelings are likely to change throughout this process. 
Editor’s note: To learn more about mindfulness, go to:
I am worried that my teenager is withdrawing more because of sheltering in place. How do I reach out without being pushy? 
During your child’s teenage years, you might notice that your role as a parent is changing. Your new role involves guiding your child to make the right choices. Try not to take it personally if your child does not open up to you the same way he or she previously did. Teenagers become quite friend-centric, looking to their peers to help with decision-making. Your goal is a relationship where your teen will come to you if he or she really needs your help. It can be useful to schedule time to discuss issues, rather than having a spontaneous discussion about something concerning you. 
Instead of asking questions like “How was your day?” which may result in your child responding with just “fine,” you may open the door by telling them about your day first. Use empathetic listening. This involves acknowledging what your teen may be feeling, allowing for silence and not offering too much unsolicited advice. 
Choose your battles or “nagging” and/or arguing may come to define your relationship. Screen time is tricky right now, as your teen needs it for school and social interactions. Try a screen-free dinner or other no-distractions time with your family. Exercise can also provide a great way to have low-stress family time. If you are concerned that your child is showing signs of depression or anxiety, please contact your healthcare team right away. 
As parents, we have an important opportunity to help our children take on these extraordinary challenges. No matter how old your child is, you can help him or her learn resilience. Do not hesitate to reach out to your healthcare team as questions arise in this ever-changing time. 

Anita Mantha, M.D., is a general pediatrician with Palo Alto Medical Foundation in the Blossom Hill location. She is a mother of two and understands the difficulties of parenting in a pandemic.


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