TORONTO — The parents of five-year-old Zara and two-year-old Marley have turned to yoga to counter the signs of distress the girls developed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their mother, Vanessa Moniz, says yoga has helped the girls deal with anxiety amid the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic.
“They are more anxious when we go out and do things, and when we are getting close to people makes them a bit anxious,” Moniz told CTV National News.
Since taking up yoga, either doing virtual classes or in-person when permitted, Moniz’s daughters have told her that it makes them feel stronger and happier.
Moniz said the practice has taught the girls how to normalize emotions when they feel out of sorts.
“There’s lots of changes and they need tools navigate,” Moniz said. “They are not resilient just because they’re resilient; they’re resilient because we teach them tools.”
Michelle Faber, who runs Little Yogis in Toronto, told CTV News that she is hearing similar stories from parents about newly developed anxiety in children, specifically anger outbursts.
Faber said stress around the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic has created “a lot of big emotions” that kids don’t necessarily know how to deal with, especially amid the return to school.
With some eight million children across Canada heading back to school — some who haven’t been in the classroom for up to five months or longer — experts are suggesting parents prepare their kids with coping strategies to deal with ongoing pandemic-related stressors that may interrupt their school year.
“I have two sons myself and I have seen a big change in them over the past year and a half, but I think as long as we arm them with these tools, they’ll be able to thrive,” Faber explained.
Faber said she teaches kids a breathing technique comprised of three, belly breaths that helps them to calm down in a stressful situation.
“It’s so great to be able to do something right now that’s really helping the children got through this really tough year,” Faber said.
As children head back to school, families are once again facing a September of uncertainty.
Studies are showing record high levels of stress and anxiety in school-aged children as routines and classrooms have been disrupted by the pandemic.
In response, health experts say they have been mobilizing in various ways to prepare teachers, parents and children for another school year of unknowns.
Those at McMaster Children’s hospital in Hamilton, Ont. have created back to school videos help parents address any pandemic-related anxiety their children may have.
McMaster Children’s Hospital CEO Bruce Squires says the videos provide children with tools to help the navigate re-socializing with friends and school etiquette, as well as how to cope with challenges that might not have faced in a while, such as bullying.
In a video program by Schools Mental Health Ontario, children share their own tips on how to address these issues.
As well, most school boards have been adding training for teachers to assist with identifying stress in kids.
Kathy Short, the executive director of School Mental Health Ontario, told CTV News that it is important for teachers and parents to also watch for less obvious symptoms of a disrupted lifestyle in children, such as problems with gaming and social media.
When it comes to helping kids manage stress, Short said it is important for parents to first manage their own anxieties.
“Hard to do, but try to take time to nourish your own spirit in the ways that are meaningful for you,” Short said. “Studies show that when parents feel more steady, their children feel more steady.”
She said parents also need to “really listen” to their child’s fears.
“Provide factual information to replace worry thoughts that may not be true. Reassure them and inspire confidence,” Short said.
She added that the progress child make in regards to their stress should be taken “one day at a time.” Short suggests parents remind kids that they are there for them and to ask for help when they need it.
“Try not to spend time in worry spirals, it doesn’t actually help. Choose to focus on the present and how to make each moment the best it can be,” Short said.
While these tips can help, Short said parents need to anticipate some bumps in the process.
“Transitions are always challenging, but look for the glimmers of good and celebrate the successes, even when the path is bumpy,” she said.
Dr. Tyler Black, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and an assistant clinical professor at the University of British Columbia, told CTV News Channel in August that parents and schools need to remember that “kids are kids.”
Black said heading back to school can be stressful for children even when there isn’t a global pandemic, and suggests parents and educators take a “gentle” approach to easing kids back to class.
“Coming back to school after all the times of social isolation and having to take time off, it would be really nice if the focus was a little bit less on the arithmetic and the ABC’s and a little bit more on the social connection,” Black said.
“This is going to be a stressful time. They’re going to want to go do their favorite activities. They’re going to want to do things to relax and let’s try not to put too much pressure on them,” he added.
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