Mom on computer while child reads a book on the couch

Local United Way Launching Sessions to Educate Parents on Improving Youth’s Mental Health

One of the residual impacts of COVID has been the effect it has had on children’s mental health. While the pandemic triggered a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression overall, kids in Virginia struggled with a variety of mental health issues. Research tells us that about one-third of youth in the commonwealth reported feeling sad or hopeless for two or more weeks during the past year.

To help address these feelings of disconnectedness among area youth, the United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg is launching a new initiative designed to empower the adults within children’s lives so that they can better support the emotional needs of their kids. In partnership with Greater Richmond SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now) and Petersburg Public Schools, the program is called EveryDay Strong, and it focuses on helping parents provide support in three key areas: Safety, Confidence and Connection.

A predominant cause of today’s mental health challenges has been the loss of regular routines and familiar faces that give children a sense of confidence and belonging. When the mental health crisis forced schools into remote learning, kids suddenly found themselves without the habitual touchstones that reinforced feelings of security and safety. The caring adults they counted on day-in and day-out – their teachers and coaches, their bus drivers and cafeteria workers – were no longer there to provide comfort and continuity.

As a result of this disruption, children’s emotional wellbeing has suffered, continuing these many months after their return to school. Even before the pandemic, many children were not getting the emotional support they needed. A 2019 survey found that one in three Virginia youth did not have an adult to talk to about their problems.

We know, of course, that caring adults make a profound difference in children’s emotional health. Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” describes our collective need for love and belonging, essential building blocks to a sense of connection and happiness.

EveryDay Strong gives parents the tools they need to help their children become more resilient. Through a one-hour training session, instructors take parents through the ways in which they can help their children feel safe, confident and connected. Kicking off in Petersburg, the sessions include practical learning through real-life examples of children who are demonstrating apathy, depression, aggressive or destructive behavior or estrangement from their families.

For example, to help build emotional safety, adults can try to help kids feel safe to fail and make mistakes. Failure is a part of every person’s life, but a child’s early experiences with failure can feel scary, even overwhelming. When a child suffers a failure, rather than heaping on negative thoughts, that adult can share a story about a significant failure or mistake they made in their own life. The most important thing to communicate is that they understand failure, embarrassment or disappointment. Other scenarios can be found in the EveryDay Strong Resilience Handbook.

The next in-person session is scheduled for the Petersburg Public Library on Thursday, March 30 from 6- 7 p.m. Register here.

To learn more about United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg, visit its websiteFacebook and Instagram pages.

At the date of publication, this organization is a client of The Hodges Partnership.

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