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Let's Talk: Youth Psychology Blog

Pandemic Parenting: Supporting Your Child’s Social Functioning 

by Kirsty Keys, M.Ed. 

​In Canada, we are slowly starting to show signs of life returning to “normal” amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. As physical distancing is starting to decrease, many children are finding themselves socially re-connected, or even socially connected for the first time. On the surface, this appears to be a reason to celebrate. However, many of these children are simultaneously experiencing mental health challenges that can negatively impact their social functioning.

During the pandemic, youth of all ages in Canada (Cost et al., 2022) and globally (Racine et al., 2021; Viola & Nunes, 2022) have experienced increased mental health difficulties, including increased depressive and anxiety symptoms. In particular, Canadian youth who experience more stress from social isolation are more likely to experience worsening mental health, including depression and anxiety (Cost et al., 2022). This research highlights the importance of socialization in promoting youth well-being.

Families also serve as protective factors for their children. Specifically, researchers have found that youth who feel more connected to their parents during the pandemic report lower depressive and anxiety symptoms as well as higher happiness (McArthur et al., 2021). Therefore, parent-child relationships play a critical role in supporting children’s well-being during the pandemic.

Unfortunately, parents are dealing with a lot of their own stressors as caregivers during the pandemic (e.g., online schooling; Russell et al., 2021; Russell et al., 2020). These stressors are related to more parent mental health challenges and, in turn, lower parenting quality and more negative parent-child relationships (Gadermann et al., 2021; Roos et al., 2021; Russell et al., 2020; Thomson et al., 2021). Together, stressors and mental health challenges therefore make it harder for parents to provide emotional support to their children and foster parent-child connectedness (Courtney et al., 2020).

Although the researchers suggest that increasing socialization and parent-child connectedness are important protective factors for youth mental health during the pandemic, the mental health difficulties youth are experiencing can make it hard to do so. Specifically, social withdrawal may emerge as a depressive or anxiety symptom for many youth (Courtney et al., 2020).  

So, what can parents do to support their children’s social functioning at this stage in the pandemic if their children are experiencing these depressive and anxious symptoms? Here are five tips for parents:

  1. Engage in self-care activities to reduce your own stress. You are a critical support system for your child, but you cannot give more than you have. Identify your own support systems and try to block off even 15 minutes each day to do things that bring you joy or help calm you.

  2. Try to maximize your positive interactions with your child. Think of your relationship like a piggy bank. Every time you have a positive interaction with your child, you put in 5 cents. But every negative interaction takes 25 cents out. Small moments of warmth--like validating your child’s feelings or taking a quick moment to give a thank-you, praise, or hug--can make a big difference in the long run.

  3. Together with your child, work on emotion regulation strategies. Breathing techniques (like five-finger breathing), regular exercise, and mindfulness games are some easy strategies that you and your child might find useful.

  4. Meet your child where they are at by gradually working towards increased socialization. Work with your child to identify the first small step they can take to start socializing. Then, work together to set a social goal and make a plan for gradually working towards it. Help them to use their emotion regulation strategies when they are working on particularly stressful or difficult steps.

  5. Know when more help is needed. Normalize mental health by talking about challenges and supports in a child-friendly manner. Sometimes, accessing mental health specialists like a psychologist or psychiatrist can be important pieces for promoting your child’s well-being. Keeping open communication and collaboration with your child’s other supports, like their teachers and coaches, can also be critical in strengthening your child’s well-being.


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Kristy Keys is a doctoral student in the School and Clinical Child Psychology program at the University of Alberta. Kristy’s y current research and professional interests also include parenting and parenting supports; child social-emotional development; social-emotional learning; home visitation; mentoring; and innovative methods for building evaluation capacity in organizations supporting youth

Faculty of Education
College of Social Science and Humanities
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

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Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology