Children First: 7 ways to reduce stress while distance learning during COVID-19

Many kids and parents are under pressure, and cases of anxiety are on the rise.
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The pressure of keeping up during the pandemic is leaving many parents and children feeling down.

Our Children First sponsor, Valley Children's Hospital, is seeing an increase in families seeking mental health services.

"A lot of kids right now are dealing with issues of anxiety, depression. A lot of kids are also having a lot more tantrums, they're not getting their school therapies or just as a consequence of being cooped up in the house and not having an outlet for their energy," said Dr. Jennifer Johnson.

The pandemic disrupted normal routines for families in the Central Valley and across the country.

Tim Riche is a Madera Unified educator and a father of three. His son James has autism.

"With James especially, there's nowhere to go. One of his favorite places, you know, it's Chucky Cheese, John's Incredible, loves going to the movies and, you know, they keep, you know is there's nowhere to go," Riche said.

Riche says he and his wife are fortunate to have a babysitter help his kids while they work. Not all families have that kind of support.

"You have kids logging in from daycare. You have kids logging in from grandma's house, your grandma's never used a computer in your life. I've heard a story the other day about a student logging in, and he was at his dad's construction site. Yeah. It's a struggle," Riche said.

Dr. Johnson says kids know when parents are stressed.

"Even if we think we're doing a good job of hiding our emotions, or our anxiety about a situation, kids pick up on it," Dr. Johnson said.

In late June, 40% of adults in the U.S. reported struggling with depression or substance abuse, according to the CDC.

Social isolation, financial worries, plus concerns about getting COVID-19 are all factors leading to a jump in cases of anxiety and depression.

"It's the same principle as when you get on an airplane you have to put the mask on yourself before you can help somebody else so if parent's aren't taking care of themselves, it's going to be really difficult to support their child's mental health," Dr. Johnson said.

Dr. Johnson shared seven ways families can cope during the pandemic:
1. Take care of yourself
2. Give yourself grace
3. Have a consistent routine
4. Make time for family fun
5. Stay connected with family and friends
6. Daily check-ins with each other.
7. Practice mask-wearing and handwashing.

"For example with hand washing and wearing masks, emphasize it's to keep other people safe," Dr. Johnson said.

Riche said students are understandably feeling the loss of sports and social events. He hopes parents can give their children and themselves a break.

"The biggest thing to me about it is not to overwhelm your child with trying to get them to engage and be perfect about everything, but just really just try to get them involved and do their best that they can," he said. "And that's really all any of us can do right now is just relax and do your best. That's really all we need."

Riche said he and his family spent time on road trips enjoying nature, making memories in what's turning into an unforgettable year.

"Somebody early on posted on Facebook says your kids will come out of the COVID crisis, and they will either say to you that was the worst time of their life or some of the best times in their life," he said.

Click here for more Children First stories on distance learning.
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