The pandemic continues to affect children and teens. It has interrupted their normal school, social, and athletic activities. Many kids are feeling more anxious, depressed, and stressed. It is understandable kids are disappointed if they can't play their favorite sports with their friends.
To help your kids handle this disappointment, use it as an opportunity to teach them new coping skills. Resilience is the ability to recover from difficult situations.
Here are 10 tips to get started:
Shift their focus. Help your kids focus on what they can control and worry less about what they can't. They do not have control over sports cancellations. But, they can still keep in touch with their teammates, stay
active, and choose to eat healthy foods.
Develop routines & schedules. Give your kids structure during the day. Having a daily routine to count on can help lower stress. Make sure they schedule fun activities to look forward to. Examples of activities include outdoor sports or game night with the family or watching a movie online with friends.
Get creative. Talk to your kids' coach about the possibility of having virtual team meetings and training. The team can stay connected, and your kids won't feel as disappointed about not being able to play in person. Encourage focusing on goals in training instead of games. Instead of winning games, “wins" for your child or teen could mean improving their free throw accuracy, increasing the speed of throws or pitches, and reducing the time it takes them to run a distance.
Stay active. Regular exercise boosts mood, resilience, and self-esteem. Exercise will also help keep your kids in shape for when they can get back to team sports. If there's nowhere to go, try some online workouts. There are a lot of free apps and online videos that your pediatrician, sports medicine physician or park district may be able to provide. Or, consider signing up your family for a virtual walk or run organized by a favorite charity.
Try something new. For some children and teens, being an athlete is an important part of their identity. It is normal to feel a loss when sports stop, especially when it wasn't planned. Encourage your kids to discover new activities that help them relax and feel connected. They could start an art project, grow a windowsill garden, or even try a new sport. Running, biking outdoors, or rock climbing are great individual sports for kids to try. This can have extra benefits for kids in highly specialized sports, since taking one day a week for a different activity can help long-term athlete development.
Give them choices. Allow your kids to make choices whenever possible. This will allow them to feel more balanced. Let them decide and plan what to make for dinner, for example, or choose the route for a daily family walk. If they are older, allow them to plan activities they look forward to.
Prioritize sleep. Getting
enough sleep is important for both physical and mental health. Make sure your grade-schoolers are getting 9–12 hours of sleep and your teens 8–10. Have them put away screens an hour before bed. They can do something relaxing instead like taking a shower or
reading. This helps them wind down and decreases the chance of blue light from electronic devices disrupting their sleep.
Unplug and relax. For many kids, sports are an outlet that helps relieve stress. Loss of that outlet, combined with all the other stress created by the pandemic, can be overwhelming. Have your kids take just a few minutes each day to sit quietly, do
breathing exercises, or gently stretch. This could be a part of their daily routine and it's an activity you can do as a family too.
Keep talking. Check in with your kids regularly to talk about how they're doing. Ask open ended questions. Be nonjudgmental. Offer support even when you don't have the answers. Help them develop some short-term goals. Try self-reflective activities like "rose, bud, thorn." Each person picks a rose (something they enjoyed about the day), bud (something to look forward to) and thorn (something that was bothersome).
Be aware of behavior changes. Feeling stressed, angry, or sad sometimes is common, especially in times like these. More children and teens are finding it harder to cope during the pandemic, and cases of anxiety and depression are rising in this age. Watch for changes like losing enjoyment in activities, becoming isolated and withdrawn, and changes in eating and sleeping patterns. If you feel you can't communicate with your child or teen, or they are at risk for harming themselves, contact your doctor right away or take them to the emergency room.
Even as youth sports and other activities your children look forward to return, be sure to check in with them often. The lingering effects of pandemic shutdowns, once they are lifted, will not disappear overnight. These tips can be applied to any sports or activities. Talk with your pediatrician if you have any concerns about your child's mental health.