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Caring During COVID: How Parents Can Help Their Children Handle Pandemic-Related Stress

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – For the last year, the coronavirus pandemic has taken a serious toll on parents and children, and teenagers especially. CBS2 Los Angeles's Suzanne Marques spoke to an expert who provided some tools to help.

A mother hugs her daughter goodbye as she drops her off for the first day of in-person instruction at Garfield Elementary School in Oakland, Calif., on March 30, 2021. (Jessica Christian/The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images)

Neuropsychologist Dr. Rita Eichenstein says parents need to be kind to both themselves and their kids.

"I say that the mental health of children is significantly correlated to the wellbeing of their parents, but I hope that this allows parents to give yourself some slack, some self-compassion, and to say, 'You know what? We survived today. It wasn't perfect, but we survived.' We are living in a global pandemic and the word for you Type A parents out there is just do the best you can."

Teenagers have it the hardest because they're at a pivotal moment in their lives.

"Adolescents are wired to start to separate away from their parents, and that their social group creates their mental wellbeing," she says. "Well, kids have been robbed of that this year, and they know it. And so there's a lot more anger and feelings of being cheated. But that doesn't take away from the fact that they need social connection. So Instagram and TikTok are not social connections. They are the teen's ways of coping with their lack of social connection."

She says parents can be that connection with a kind and open approach.

"Teens do not need you to fix anything," Eichenstein said. "They need you to validate them, and empathize, and listen to them and feel validated. So try something like this, 'I can really understand why you're feeling like isolating, why you're feeling angry, why you're feeling depressed."

She says its not always obvious that your child is stressed out or depressed.

"Don't mistake a kid being hyperactive for a kid who's feeling good. Now look they're jumping around, they look happy. Don't mistake it. If you actually speak to them, you might find something different. It might surprise. And so these kinds of conversations are very important for families to have. And if they don't want to talk about it, at least they heard you, they heard that you understand be that parent that understands. Don't criticize them for being on their phone so much. It's a healthy mechanism. We can worry about bad habits later."

Parents also need to be aware if their child might need to talk to a therapist or doctor.

"Parents tend to veer on one or two extremes. One extreme, 'Oh, it's nothing.' Another extreme is, 'Oh, they're faking for attention.' I would caution both types of denial as that, this is parental denial because they don't want to shake up their ship by having to bring one more factor into an already crisis-driven situation in their family."

If you or anyone in your family is struggling, there are lots of avenues of help available.

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