Life is slowly returning to normal after over a year of lockdowns and quarantines, but that doesn’t mean everything is perfect just yet — especially for parents. Luckily, Dr. Phil McGraw has plenty of advice for helping children readjust to the way things used to be before the coronavirus crisis.
“This pandemic has had a devastating impact on children, and it’s on multiple fronts,” the Dr. Phil host, 70, told Us Weekly exclusively during Mental Health Awareness Month. “These kids have lost so much that’s important to their development. We’re seeing problems with isolation, loneliness, depression, anxiety, developmental delays, and when you look at how children evolve, predictability is a real stabilizing force in their lives — and that’s been hugely disrupted.”
On Thursday, May 27, the Oklahoma native teamed up with the Congressional Mental Health Caucus for a Facebook Live event about how Americans can find mental health solutions in the coming months. He was joined by the caucus cochairs, Congresswoman Grace Napolitano and Congressman John Katko.
“When we say, ‘OK, quarantine is over,’ some people think it’s going to be like that scene in Grease where they kick open the school door, they all come running out for the carnival at the end and they just can’t wait,” McGraw explained. “It’s not going to be that way. People are going to stick their toe in the water like, ‘Is this safe? I kind of don’t really remember how to engage in some of these things,’ and they’re going to question themselves.”
The TV personality believes that this will be even harder for kids, who’ve had their routines disrupted by school closures and the inability to see friends and family, among other things. To counteract this, McGraw recommends that parents watch children closely for any changes in their behavior.
“Parents are faced with preparing their child to go back out into a post-pandemic world, and parents need to watch and see, ‘Is my child intimidated?'” he told Us. “First off, think about their baseline. What was your child like before this? Were they outgoing? Were they initiators? Were they engagers? Did they have social confidence? … Then ask yourself, ‘OK, how do they compare to that baseline?’ Are they more withdrawn?”
His best advice? Just talk about things. “You need to sit down with your kids and say, ‘Look, school is reopening, or camp has opened, or you’ve been invited to this birthday party, or it’s time to maybe have some friends over — tell me how you feel about it,'” he said. “If they say, ‘Well, you know, I don’t really want to go.’ Say, ‘Look, I understand, but let’s talk about it. What is it you’re afraid of? What is it that makes you nervous? What could go wrong?’ Get them to give a voice to the fears.”
After discussion, the next step is cautious reentry, but there’s no need to rush to do everything at once. “Go to the park with them, ask them to go to the store with you, expand your circle,” he suggested. “Start to expand their world, kind of like peeling an onion. … Let them ease to it, and if they have an anxiety problem, pull back, try it again in a few days, maybe in a more scaled down version. It’s kind of what we call successive approximations. You don’t have to leap tall buildings in a single bound.”
Whether you’re a parent or not, though, there’s one thing McGraw thinks everyone can do to help the world heal: “Whether you’re a politician, or a teacher, or an employer, you really need to lead with compassion, and you need to listen and really strive for empathy because you don’t know what [everyone’s] quarantine experience has been.”
With reporting by Travis CroninListen to Hollywood's top stars dish their best tips and tricks on Glam Squad Confidential
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