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Psychologist says parents' actions during COVID-19 important to improving mental health

Last Updated Feb 25, 2021 at 5:28 pm MDT

WINNIPEG – This past year, we’ve all lived very different lives. As we approach the March anniversary of the WHO declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic, we’re taking a closer look at the potential effects a year in isolation can have on kids.

“It’s hard to say to both of them like you know you can’t hug your friends because you want them to be affectionate and you want them to be good friends but, you want them to be safe,” said Janina Gerbrant, mom of 6-year-old Nora and 4-year-old Ryan.

She says it’s sad that the pandemic has stolen so much of what she experienced as a child away from her kids.

“My six-year-old started Grade 1 and, you know, she wears a mask every day and I’ve kind of made comments here and there of like, mom never had to wear a mask going to school like–I don’t think that they really understand–that this isn’t anything any of us have experienced before,” she said.

“There are things that I worry about because I want them to have all of those experiences.”

Gerbrant calls it a balancing act–teaching your kids to be safe in a pandemic, while also not showing them the ugly side of COVID-19. And it’s that balance that psychologist Dr. Syras Derksen says is key.

“As a parent, what you’re trying to do is moderate the challenge. You’re trying to help your children to experience the challenge, experience the world and what’s going on and talk about what’s happening. But you don’t want to get it to the point where you’re injuring their mental health where they’ll have a setback,” Derksen said.

While moderating their challenge, Derksen says you have to be aware of your reactions to the pandemic as well.

“They’re going to be looking at the threat of the things that are going on around them and then they’re going to be looking at their parents to see how they need to be responding, whether this is a concern for them.”

Despite the time lost for kids to be kids, Derksen says for most, the effects of living a segment of childhood in isolation won’t be long-term.

“As an adult, you’d have like 42 questions, but they’re just like alright, this is it, and they just adapt so easily that I hope this is just a phase,” said Gerbrant.

“Some of these things are just going to be normal for the next generation and they’re not going to think too much of it. But I do think that children are more adaptable and malleable than we think and just because we spend a year telling them that people are sick doesn’t mean they can’t come back from that,” said Derksen.

As for Gerbrant, she’s hoping a day soon comes, that it’s safe to take a vacation and show her kids Disney World.