When COVID-19 led to the sudden shutdown of public gatherings, kids were pulled out of schools, isolated from friends and challenged with figuring out an entirely new style of learning.
The lack of predictability in daily routines and uncertainty about when normalcy would return has taken an emotional and mental toll on children, youth, and families. Children’s hospitals across the country are seeing a spike in behavioral health visits as families seek mental health services and support for their kids. Pediatricians and mental health experts say there is no doubt about the negative effects of long-term stress induced by the pandemic and urge families to address the stress as it arises.
A survey conducted by Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio found that two-thirds of parents are concerned their kids will have a more difficult time recovering from the impact of the pandemic the longer it continues. These strategies from children’s hospitals can help families navigate times of uncertainty while at home:
- Communicate openly and often: Nationwide Children’s Hospital advises initiating conversations about what has changed because of the pandemic, why and how kids feel about it. As parents set boundaries based on their individual circumstances, it’s important to talk about why they may be different than other families.’
- Establish a routine: During times of uncertainty, creating structure in activities that can be controlled can provide comfort. Boston Children’s Hospital identifies sleep and wake schedules, daily exercise, and outdoor breaks as ways parents can establish regularity from day to day.
- Keep up well-child visits: One of the best thing parents can do to monitor their kids’ development is to keep up with well-child appointments. Children’s Hospital Los Angeles reminds parents that pediatricians can assess child development through telehealth if families are uncomfortable coming into a pediatric setting.
- Recognize the positive: It’s easy to get caught in a negative cycle, repeating negative thoughts or behaviors. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia recommends parents flip the script. Start recognizing kids’ positive efforts, offering praise that reinforces positive behavior like “thanks for wearing your mask.”
- Check in on your teen’s mental health: Without pressing teens too much, parents should regularly ask how they’re doing and look for changes in mood, advises Children’s Hospital Colorado. Their world has changed, and they shouldn’t have to figure out how to navigate a new reality entirely on their own.