Photograph by Peopleimages / Getty Images
Photograph by Peopleimages / Getty Images

Washing hands? Check. Now how do kids stay mentally healthy?

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By Rachel Buchholz, KIDS AND FAMILY Editor in Chief

This weekend I went bear hunting.

Not for real bears, of course. That’s just not something we animal lovers at National Geographic would advocate. But more and more communities are holding “bear hunts,” in which residents place teddy bears and other stuffed creatures in their windows. The idea: While parents take children out to get some much-needed fresh air during these stay-at-home days, children looking out for their “new neighbors” get a surprising—and fun—activity.

A similar idea: a bio blitz—identifying as many living species as you can in a backyard or a block.

These types of activities are becoming more and more important in these increasingly scary times. Parents may be mastering the wash hands, eat right, sleep, and wash hands part, but addressing a child’s mental health is something entirely different. “We’re only starting to understand what the pandemic might mean for children’s mental health and emotional well-being,” writes Jenny Marder for Nat Geo. Her article has insights into what the experts are seeing, as well as tips on how to keep your children mentally healthy.

That means maintaining a flexible schedule and being open and honest about what’s going on. (Here’s an article about talking to kids about coronavirus.) Getting outside is also an important mental health booster.

The hardest one? Exuding a sense of calm yourself—even if you have to fake it.

KEEPING YOU HEALTHY

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Forest bathing: These days, non-parents might miss the socializing of the office and afterwork get-togethers. Some parents, however, might pine for the solitude of a commute, or simply a few hours out of the house. For those of you near uncrowded woods, forest bathing might be for you. This ancient Japanese practice, literally soaking your senses in nature, has been shown to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol. It also increases sleep duration and boosts the number of natural killer cells, says onetime skeptic Kelly DiNardo, who wrote about it for Nat Geo. (Subscribers can read the article here).

I wanna dance with somebody: Virtual dance parties are booming online, including an Instagram Live event last weekend that drew more than 160,000 viewers. Another option: Sing or play a musical instrument solo or with neighbors from rooftops, balconies, porches, and windows as locked-down families have done in places like Italy, Spain, Montreal, and Dallas.

Beyond Zoom meetings: Tired of long video-conference calls during your work from home? Why not revisit your teenage glories on Xbox with a late-night or weekend video game session? Invite friends online around the world you haven’t hung out with for years? Or even friends nearby who you can’t invite over to the house right now? Everyone else is doing it.

Nat Geo's David Beard contributed to this article.