There is no doubt the mental health of children and adolescents has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our youth have experienced fears, uncertainties, changes to their routines and physical and social isolation, as well as high levels of parental stress during this abnormal time.
Understanding your child’s emotions and responses is essential to properly addressing their needs. Additionally, parents need to deal with their own mental health needs and model positive coping in order to best support their kid.
Andrea Konig, M.A., Ph.D., a Bon Secours pediatric psychologist, is here with some tips on how to help your child navigate mental health during a pandemic.
Address any concerns with validation and compassion
- Listen carefully to your child’s concerns and learn where they heard their information.
- Reassure that they are safe. Let them know it is OK if they feel upset.
- Gently correct misconceptions and encourage them to continue to ask questions.
- Answer questions with developmentally appropriate explanations.
Model positive behavior
- Parents who show good coping skills can help reassure their child that they are safe. Adolescents learn from their parents about how to react in new situations.
- Remember that kids make mistakes. If they accidentally do not wash their hands, gently remind them.
- Parents should model self-care behaviors such as maintaining activities and sleep schedules, as well as eating healthy.
- Limit media consumption on COVID-19 and stick to a few trusted resources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to prevent information overload and anxiety.
Provide stability and support
- If normal activities like school or day camp are not back in-person yet, create a daily schedule at home for learning and fun things to do.
- Encourage video chat. Make sure your child is building and maintaining relationships with family members and friends.
- At the same time, limit your child’s screen time. Make sure youth have a variety of activities daily, including time outdoors and exercise.
- If child is sad about missing social events, validate feelings of sadness and frustration. Listen empathically to their thoughts and collaboratively explore alternative solutions for engaging in social activities.
Watch for major behavior changes
Not all youth respond to stress in the same way. However, some common changes to watch for include:
- Excessive irritability or “acting out” behaviors
- Excessive worry, sadness or excessive crying
- Avoidance of activities they previously enjoyed
- Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (for example, bedwetting)
- Changes in appetite, eating or sleeping habits
- Difficulties with attention and concentration
- Poor school performance or avoiding school
- Unexplained headaches or other pain
- Use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs
If you are becoming worried about your child’s mental health during this time, reach out to one of our Bon Secours behavioral health professionals. And if your child is experiencing a mental health emergency, always call 911 right away.