5 Ways Kids & Teens Can Take Back Joy During COVID-19 (& You Too!)

Author and child care expert By Caroline Maguire, M.Ed.
Author and child care expert
Caroline Maguire, M.Ed., is an author of Why Will No One Play with Me?: The Play Better Plan to Help Children of All Ages Make Friends and Thrive and child care expert who primarily works with ADHD children and families.
Family Playing Board Games

It's six months into the pandemic, and your child is feeling the effects. Social distancing, virtual school, the loss of sports, chorus, and connections to friends are overwhelming your child or teen. His energy level is down. She hardly sees friends. All of their "free" time (which is quite a lot lately) is on screens. And most places are likely entering another phase of the COVID-19 lockdown, similar to last March.

They're likely in need of a few ways to find joy—maybe you are too!—so here, my tips to help take back your happiness.

Joy is hard to come by lately. Wouldn't it be great to order a big box of it on Prime? With so much out of our control, don't get discouraged. There are things you can do as a parent to create joy and help your child or teen stay centered: 

  1. Empathize. Do you remember what school was like when you were a kid? Were you more concerned with grades or friends, parties, dances, sports, or popularity? Yes, your daughter might be acting as if COVID-19 was introduced only to ruin her life, but don't overreact. Take a moment to put yourself in her shoes. It really is a tough time, and she doesn't have the life experience you have. Whatever means you use—meditation, deep breathing, exercise, hiding in a bathroom—try to get your emotions in check. This balance will enable you to manage your own emotions and be empathetic to your child. 
  2. If you are OK, they'll be OK. As parents we are our children's social and emotional coping models. You, too, are tired of COVID-19, and you miss your friends. Don't try to pretend that all is well in the world. Holiday festivities are either canceled or are virtual—bummer. Show your children you are human too. Share your frustrations. Commiserate. Hold a mini pity party with your child(ren). Eat popcorn, dance, and try to embrace this time when they are in the living room with you, not out with peers.
  3. Promote a respectful tone and banter. We all have times when our tone does not reflect our intentions. Chances are you have used that tone of voice. Model using a tone that communicates respect, when humanly possible. Start by asking the whole family, (this includes you), to pay attention to wording and tone. This way the child who struggles the most with tone is not singled out. The whole family should try to be more considerate. Be sure to share with your children what respectful looks like, and admit it when you struggle. Consider a reminder or code word that family members can use when "the tone" is used. Eventually, you will catch it before you will need to be told. 
  4. Continue to emphasize your child's interests and strengths. Part of your teen's grief process is that the activities, social connection, and past infrastructure that she loved is not available right now. Now is the time to put on your creative hat. What did your son enjoy about hockey? Why is there a spark when she steps on the stage? How can you tap into those sources of happiness? Identifying and harnessing strengths is invaluable and produces positive energy while reducing the feelings of being trapped. Winston Churchill painted in order to improve his mood. If she is already aware of her passion and interest, great, but if not, she may want to take the Via Character Strengths assessment.
  5. Collaborate and pick a daily activity to cope with frustrations and emotions. Each day that is unproductive or in solitary can potentially be a day that brings disappointment. Teens are notorious for rejecting advice, but if shrouded in fun, they may be amenable. When your teen is in an environment and in a mood to talk, jot down some ideas together. What activities can he do each day of the month? Perhaps a sporty child can do more outdoor activities or add other interests. A trip to the craft store can foster some much-deserved creativity. The point here is to build on strengths, develop new interests, and strengthen relationships. 

The takeaway.

Parenting in a pandemic is not easy. Exhaustion can bring out the worst in anyone. Breaking the mold of same-old, same-old may be just the ticket to getting over the hump and creating the family ties that nurture each member.   

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