The COVID-19 pandemic changed life as we know it. From wearing a mask to navigating online school, children were forced to cope with big changes in their normal routine.

Dr. Heather Laughridge
Dr. Heather Laughridge

Navigating through these stressors can be difficult, but there are ways to help. Psychiatrist Dr. Heather Laughridge at Novant Health Psychiatric Associates in Charlotte explains how.

Q: How can we talk to kids about COVID-19?

A: Even with little kids, you want to be honest, but you want to talk at their level. So you might not say, "There's COVID-19 – it's making a lot of people sick and it's causing a lot of deaths.” Obviously, we don't want to say that to a 6-year-old, for example. But you can say: “People are getting sick because of a virus, kind of like the flu, and we want to make sure that everybody stays healthy. So, we're staying in our home for now and doing school at home.”

Teenagers will obviously have a better understanding. They're more aware with all of what's going on. If they ask questions, help answer those questions honestly to the best of your ability. And if you don't know the answers, sit down together and look the answers up on a trusted government website like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or a reputable news site. What you don't want to do is make something up or mislead your children, because they will find out the other story and then they'll be more confused. You want to be very honest.

Q: Can you offer advice for parents of school-aged children?

A: You don't want them doing their work on their bed or just lounging on their bed with the laptop doing their schoolwork. You really want to have them at a table or a desk, an area that is designated for their schoolwork so that you're keeping those spaces delineated. As well as keeping your child or teen on a regular schedule, like you would during the school week. Bedtime should be the same, getting them up at the same time in the morning.

Being really mindful of those spaces for your children and checking in with them to make sure they aren't getting sad or have worries and questions. A lot of the teens that I've worked with are actually doing quite well with this scenario. They're adjusting probably better than their parents are.

Q: What’s the best way to tell someone you’re overwhelmed?

A: I think those are the exact words you use. You say, “I need a break.” Be very honest and upfront. It's OK to say, “I just need to be in my bedroom for the next two hours, alone by myself, to have some quiet time.” And on the other side of that as a parent or a partner, be willing to hear that and understand that it's not personal. But, you know, we all need that time to ourselves to decompress. And so if your loved one or your teenager says, “You know, I just need to step away.” That's OK. Let them do that.

Q: How can we better manage stress and anxiety overall?

A: Don't borrow trouble – it’s a saying that I grew up with. It means don't go through the what-if scenarios and continuously think “Well, OK. What if this happens? And this is going to happen.” This bad-case scenario will lead to another bad-case scenario. Then all of a sudden in your mind, you're planning for the apocalypse, and we're not there yet. So, don't continuously worry about catastrophes, and things that haven't happened. Slow down a little bit. Take it one day at a time.

I call it going down the rabbit hole of anxiety with my patients, where it's one what-if after another. The snowballing effect is a very good description – getting lost in your train of thought and working up that anxiety.