Dr. Tyish Hall Brown has always been good with kids, in fact she jokes that talking and understanding their unique point of view has always been her ‘superpower.’ “I enjoy the positive energy and perspective that children bring to life,” she says. “They are not just mini adults. They have their own thoughts and feelings that are often expressed differently based on their developmental stage. As I have grown through my career, I marvel at how resilient they can be in the face of adversity.” It is this fascination that led her to pursue a career in adolescent psychology, and what has ultimately helped her become a leader in her field.

Dr. Tyish Hall Brown

In general, Dr. Hall Brown strives to support children and families by giving them the skills they need to succeed. So, when the COVID-19 crisis hit, she began to notice some new challenges families were facing and immediately stepped in to help us navigate these unique circumstances. “As humans, we are all experiencing a range of emotions with factors such as age, coping skills and social support influencing how we express them,” Dr. Hall Brown explains. “For instance, a younger child may display inappropriate behaviors, a teen may display irritability or retreat to their room and an adult may exhibit classic low mood or tearfulness, yet all may be overwhelmed by the loss of social connections.”

By now, everyone has been feeling the pressures associated with the COVID-19 crisis. For families though, this environment of uncertainty is significantly challenging. Conflicting data on what we should and should not do to protect ourselves from the virus, questions about how to approach the new academic year, job security, food insecurity, and reduced social connectedness are just a few of the stressors that can impact mental health and overall wellness.

“Stressors can be common to most individuals,” Dr. Hall Brown explained. “However, within the family unit we see multiple layers of these stressors which can magnify their impact. For example, if we dissect the return to school issue a little further you will see that it is not just the uncertainty of what the county or state decides. Parents also have to consider what is best for their families which means finding a balance among exposure risk, household technological and oversight capacity, job flexibility, children’s social/emotional needs, and cost. Additionally, parents have to work together to ensure that they are on the same page with these decisions despite potentially differing perspectives.”

So, what can we do to combat these challenges to our mental health?

“Broadly I would say, adjust expectations, be creative when problem solving and be flexible when implementing solutions,” Dr. Hall Brown suggests. She also recommends practicing self-care, reframing negative thoughts, safely connecting with family and friends and creating some order and structure for each day. “Try to avoid allowing children to retreat into their rooms with little daily structure,” she explains. Finding meaningful ways to contribute to the community is another great way to empower each of us to overcome the challenges we are facing.

Most notably, Dr. Hall Brown believes it is crucial to keep the conversation open. “It is so important to talk with your children to determine how they may be coping. Often, they won’t come to you with their thoughts and fears because they don’t want to be burdensome or they think you won’t take them seriously. So, establishing a consistent ‘check-in’ time with them could go a long way,” she says.

Overall, she believes that children should be equipped with the basic facts of COVID-19 and the developing situation in our country. This may mean tempering the details to be age appropriate but helping them understand what’s going on can decrease some anxiety they may be experiencing. This can be a delicate balance though, as you also want to avoid information overload. “Even though we are finding that children may be impacted to a lesser degree physically by COVID-19, they are likely impacted mentally by the current challenges we face at a similar level,” Dr. Hall Brown explains.

“Try to avoid being dismissive of your child’s thoughts or feelings, even if they are contrary to your own,” she continues. “Instead, normalize them. If they say they are sad about never seeing their friends, let them know that many people are feeling that way right now and it is okay to have those feelings. Try to reframe any negative thoughts and help them find ways to be active and productive.”

Lastly, Dr. Hall Brown stresses just how crucial self-care is for parents during this time. “We often liken it to the guidance on airplanes to put your mask on first then help your child to put their mask on,” she says. “Getting optimal sleep, eating nutritious meals, and exercising are a strong base. Add to that base, by taking at least 30 minutes a day to focus on yourself and clear your mind or to do something you truly enjoy.”

No matter how you may be feeling, you are not alone. We are always available to assist you through the American Lung Association Lung HelpLine.

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