In this monthly column, therapists from North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center answer your questions on issues related to parenting, mental health and children’s well-being. To submit a question, email NSCFGCexperts@gmail.com.
Question: My sons, who are four and seven, seem to be having more bad dreams than usual. They’ve both woken up during the night saying they were scared that we would die or get sick and they’d be left all alone. Any tips how to handle these nightmares?
—Up at Night
Dear Up at Night: The pandemic is impacting the daily lives of our children in numerous ways, with anxiety related to remote learning difficulties, loss of social activities and fear of illness and death creating a mental health crisis. So, it’s no surprise that COVID worries are also encroaching on their nights.
With our younger clients, we use creative ways such as drawing or playing with toys to help them express and process their fears. Many of them have been drawing scary monsters or big waves that overwhelm them, which reflects the fact that feel they have no control over the virus. Odds are that your boys are having the same thoughts.
There are several things you can do to help your kids at bedtime. First, suggest that they comfort themselves with items that help them feel safe, such as a favorite stuffed animal or a special blanket. You could also try a practice that we use with clients, called “Grounding in the Five Senses,” which involves thinking about five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. This process helps them let go of their worry of the future and focus on the here and now.
Some other strategies:
- Stick to their normal bedtime routine, perhaps reading an extra book that focuses on a happy, comforting topic.
- Validate their worry and other feelings so they feel seen and heard.
- Model reassurance and safety either verbally (“I’m here, I will protect you”) or physically with a hug.
- Encourage them to imagine happy endings for their dreams before bedtime.
- Limit their exposure to COVID-related news—but do respond to any of their questions in an age-appropriate way.
Question: As the mom of a daughter who has depression and anxiety, I feel guilty thinking about spending time on my own needs. Is it selfish to want some me-time?
Dear Exhausted Mom: Have you ever heard that if an airplane loses cabin pressure, parents should put on their oxygen masks first, so they are able to help their children?
It’s way past time that moms (and dads, too) learn that self-care isn’t selfish, especially if you have a child with special needs. If you are depleted and neglect your own mental and/or physical health, you won’t be able to be there for your family.
Prioritize your wellness, even if you have to tell yourself you are doing it for your daughter. The basics: Get enough sleep; fit in some exercise, even in five-minute spurts (it all adds up!); add a short period of meditation to your daily routine; and eat healthy foods. Most important of all: Ask for help! Family and friends rally around you if your child has cancer. Chances are, they’ll want to be there for you when the issue is mental health.
During the pandemic, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is seeing clients remotely via telehealth platforms or, when deemed necessary, in person. To make an appointment, call us at (516) 626-1971 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.