Have a lot of open communication.
Keep a daily routine.
Find safe ways to communicate with others.
These are just a few of the things adults can do to help children maintain good mental health despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And if you’re wondering if the pandemic is wreaking havoc on children’s mental health, the short answer unfortunately is yes, says Brittany Barber Garcia, PhD, pediatric psychologist with Helen DeVos Spectrum Health Children’s Hospital.
She has seen it in her own practice and among her colleagues locally and across the country.
Specific trends she has observed include children who were well before the pandemic and now suffer from anxiety, depression and mood disorders. She has seen worsening symptoms in children who had experienced mental health problems before the pandemic, and she saw younger children needing mental health services.
“Children are often described as being very resilient and able to cope with many changes that come their way,” said Dr Barber Garcia. “True, but realistically these resilience resources have been spent. They relied heavily on these. “
A year after most children started to feel the effects of the pandemic, many of them are in need of help.
The good news is that help is available.
“Do we know that most children will be able to do this? Yes, ”she said. “But do we also know that it becomes more and more difficult for them as this pandemic continues? Yes.”
Dr Barber Garcia urges families to seek services for their children if they need them.
Start with your pediatrician or family doctor’s office. Insurance companies can also help by providing the names of network providers. Providers are willing to work with families for virtual or in-person meetings depending on their specific needs.
Parents and other adults can also help their children around the house. Here are some of his tips:
Maintain as much routine as possible
Whether it’s canceled activities, home quarantine, or going to a virtual school rather than an in-person school, many children’s routines have been turned upside down. And many are forced to adapt quickly when new changes arise.
Dr Barber Garcia said kids would benefit if you stick to as much of the daily routine as you can when these changes throw a curve ball at you. Sleep and meal schedules, regular exercise, and other daily regularities are suitable for all ages.
Check your children’s emotions often
Regular checks are essential to get through the pandemic, she said. It is important that they have a safe place to express what they are feeling.
Ask your children how they feel about specific things. Ask them if their bodies look strange, like their hearts are racing, feeling shaky, or their skin becoming clammy.
“Sometimes these physical changes that come with emotions are easier for children to exploit,” she says.
Encourage them to name and describe what they are feeling. Then offer whatever you can.
“It’s good to accept an emotion as valid and remember that it’s not forever,” she said. “This pandemic will not last forever. And the emotion you’re feeling about it right now won’t last forever, either.
Additionally, a simple redirect to help your kids get rid of their specific worries can be helpful. Take a walk, do an activity together, suggest they take a bath or shower to relax, take a drive, call a friend or family member by video – anything that can help your child learn a new perspective at that time.
Help them find safe ways to interact socially
“The effects of social isolation have been well documented,” said Dr Barber Garcia. “We are aware that human beings are meant to be in community.”
The pandemic has socially isolated many children, especially those who have been attending a virtual school for a year.
“For children this connection is even more important because it is a critical time in their development and they are used to leaning on their peers,” she said.
Dr Barber Garcia urged parents to find ways, virtually or in person, safely, for children to communicate with others. Those options will increase now that spring and warmer weather arrives, she said.
She also urges parents, when weighing the risk and benefits of activities, to consider their child’s mental health as well as physical health.
Aim to educate
Educate your children on the facts of their concerns in an age-appropriate way.
“Anxiety likes to live instead of taking what’s real and stretching it in a place that’s not real,” said Dr. Barber Garcia.
She encourages children and families to participate in what she calls “fact-finding missions”.
“What are the facts about this feeling you are having?” she said. “Sometimes anxiety will tell us something that is not really true.”
So, for example, if your child is afraid of getting sick or a family member is getting sick, have them reminded of the facts by health professionals.
“Remind them what you do as a family to help them stay safe and that we know they are useful,” she said. “We know these things will reduce your risk.”
Watch for warning signs
Dr Barber Garcia also urges everyone to be alert to the warning signs of serious mental health issues, including suicide.
“We all want to think that this is something that is not going to happen in our communities, our schools and our homes because it is too scary,” she said.
Dr Barber Garcia said calls and texts to the National suicide prevention lifeline are up dramatically since 2019 – for young people and adults.
She said parents and other adults should be aware of signs that a child in their life might be having increased suicidal thoughts, including worsening mood – sadness, irritability and anger – or withdrawing from the family. and friends.
They may also show changes in eating or sleeping habits or begin to display unusually harsh, violent or rebellious behavior or drastic personality changes.
Remember that help is available.
“If parents are worried for whatever reason, because they know their children better, they should reach out and ask for help,” said Dr. Barber Garcia. “We are here.”