Experts Share Strategies for Mental Wellness in “Life Interrupted: Youth,” a Free HONOLULU Magazine Online Series
The second segment in our talk-story webinar focuses on how to help families sort out stress and anxiety with children and teens.
Pandemic life layered more changes and confusing feelings onto children and teens in Hawai‘i. In a free webinar by HONOLULU Magazine, local mental health experts agree that being open about your own stress and worries and checking in with kids consistently can help them cope.
Anisa Wiseman is the program director for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Hawai‘i. She reaches into her experience as a teacher, business owner, as well as someone in recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression when speaking with others, including her two young cousins she regularly homeschools while working from home.
Recently, she had a day when her two students were upset and unable to focus. One girl was growing more anxious by the minute. “We stopped what we were doing and we put on a 30-minute video of yoga for kids that I also like to do,” Wiseman says. While the girls were initially hesitant, she said they soon relaxed and all three wrapped up the session calmer, happier and ready to move on after the reset.
She also recommends a breathing series with easy to remember animal names. The bunny breath consists of three quick sniffs and one long exhale out to help you slow down. And the cat hiss? Deep breaths in through the nose followed by a long hissing exhale out through the mouth, which has the added benefit of usually ending in laughter, Wiseman says. In addition to the kid-friendly names, when keiki are too upset to listen to your words, Wiseman says holding up a drawing or photo of the animal can cue them to take pause and take a breath.
We recorded the one-hour talk story session so you can watch it (including the breathing demonstrations) or share the tips (see, below). Here are some of the other highlights.
Educator and community connector Danny Goya is a trauma-informed care trainer and resilience coach who serves as an early childhood coordinator for Partners in Development Foundation. At work he continues to do outreach in the community with the houseless community and others who were already struggling before COVID-19. During the pandemic, he and his wife have been mostly working from home alongside their two daughters, ages 12 and 14.
“We’re a nature family, so that helps us,” Goya says. Like many of us from the Islands, getting outside helps his family and students to center and find release from the external pressures. He often recommends finding how you best connect with the ‘āina: gardening, hiking, swimming in the ocean.
Planning each day as a group also helps his family decide how to balance all their needs despite conflicting styles: one prefers a tight structure and doing hard things first, while the other wants to freestyle and knock out some easy tasks early.
Dr. Kevin Kuich is a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist who leads patient care as chief medical officer at Sutter Health Kāhi Mōhala. He recommends taking even short breaks to go outside to simply feel the sun on your face, enjoy the tradewinds, listen to the birds singing and to give ourselves a few moments to recharge.
Once parents and caregivers can catch their own breath, they can help care for others, listen and reach out. “Give the kids a voice,” Kuich says, while you help them untangle their own feelings during this complicated time. Community resources can help connect people to the help they need.
Wiseman says she’s learned to heed warnings of stress rather than trying to ignore them or push them aside. Instead of making the emotional issues go away, that often has the opposite effect, making the stressful situation escalate swiftly.
All three experts emphasize that each person and situation may require different things at different times. So they all echoed the importance of listening to each other, sharing a meal or music, cooking or playing a game. Be aware of warning signs if case sadness, depression and anxiety seem to take over. And make time for self-care.
One question from the audience asked how to talk with kids about the financial difficulties that come with an economic downturn. How can you tell children you just don’t have the money to do things? Different ages mean different approaches. Talk to a high school student about paying bills and canceled events or trips and figure out alternatives that might not have a large pricetag, Goya says. With younger children, you can find pictures of candy, food, a house, as well as things they’d like to buy and explain that the family budget must stretch to pay bills. By showing how each item comes with a cost, you can show children that they can help make choices.
While it might sound abstract to explain the concept of the power of choice, using photos and daily examples helps teach about balance. For Wiseman, her cousins can help determine the day’s schedule. “Math, spelling or reading: which one first?” she asks. “It gives them power.”
SEE ALSO: Life Interrupted: Moments
Watch our whole webinar
It’s OK to feel anxious. Ask yourself, what am I grateful for?
Try positive coping strategies: garden, read, watch a movie, take deep breaths, go outside, move your body.
Take control of what you can control. Let go of those things you can’t control.
Stay updated on the news, but don’t overdo it.
Connect and check in with others by phone, text, video, group chats or texts.
Remember that we’re in this together, so let’s spread aloha.
Resources and hotlines:
NAMI Basics on Demand Nami.org
Mental health help from Mental Health America of Hawai‘i
Domestic Violence Action Center O‘ahu, (808) 531-3771, or toll-free 1-800-690-6200
National Domestic Violence Hotline. 1-800-799-SAFE(7233)
Child abuse reporting hotline O‘ahu, (808) 832-5300, or toll-free 1-888-380-3088
Child trafficking reporting hotline, (808) 832-1999, or toll-free 1-888-398-1188
Hawai‘i Psychology hawaiipsychology.org
ACES Connection Hawai‘i acesconnection.com