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'The thing I want the most is for COVID to go away': Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic as a child

Third-grader Hadley Silflow wanted Santa to get rid of COVID-19. While he couldn't, there are ways in which parents can help their children cope with restrictions.

MERIDIAN, Idaho — A third-grader from Meridian made a big, but important, request in her letter to Santa Claus this year -- she asked him to get rid of COVID-19.

Unfortunately, while Santa is magic, he isn't able to vanish viruses or diseases.

"The thing I want the most is for COVID to go away," Hadley Silflow said.

Hadley's wish may not be far off from what other Treasure Valley children wished for this holiday season. The pandemic has been difficult for everyone, and children of all ages are no exception.

Unfortunately, their mental health is at risk during this time as well, according to Hadley's mother, Chalice Silflow.

"When I read it and she said what she wanted was the world to be happy, for COVID to be cured. It broke my heart," Silflow said. "It's making such a big impact on her that she would write it in her Santa letter, but I also felt really proud of her that she was thinking about other people in her Santa letter. It just made me have more awareness about how much it's on her mind."

During this time, it's especially important to find creative ways to continue having healthy family connections, finding a routine and sticking to it, according to St. Luke's clinical psychologist Dr. Roger Olson.

"It's normalizing for kids and they feel more safe and secure in the home," Olson said. "Things like making sure you're getting enough sleep and having a consistent school schedule, and that's even more important if you're learning from home. The boundaries there can get loose and school can be pushed to the side if you're not actually attending school."

Healthy routines are also essential for eating and playing.

"Trying to find some fun connection time and playtime with your family is so important to normalize," Olson said. "Saying 'Hey, there's a lot of stuff going on but we're still going to make time to have fun together.'"

Staying connected to friends is also important for most kids, something Hadley said was compromised when the pandemic began and is continuing through the school year.

"I really don't like it because I live in a cul-de-sac and I have friends that live right by me and it's hard because I can't play with them most of the time," she explained. "Whenever we do get to play we have to wear masks and stay six feet [apart] so it's not too fun."

Realizing that children are struggling with pandemic restrictions as much as adults are is very important, according to Silflow.

"I think for us, just realizing that the kids are going through a lot and a lot has changed for them and so listening and being compassionate towards them (is important)," she said. "Also, just reassuring them. There is light at the end of the tunnel. There's a reason to believe things will get better, that she's going to play with her friends in the cul-de-sac again, her friends can come over, she'll be back in school."

Like most people, Hadley is already preparing for the day she can play with her neighborhood friends like she used to.

"It's going to sometime be over and when it's over we're probably going to have a huge party," Hadley said. "It's going to be super fun."

If your children aren't bouncing back from stressors and you're seeing behavior that's more disruptive or emotions that are hard to regulate, reach out to your pediatrician or a counselor. School counselors are a great resource.

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