Your Children’s Mental Health During the Pandemic
by Peter Kates
A recent report published in Time Magazine confirms that while COVID-19 is sparing most kids’ bodies, it’s not being kind to their minds. Saba Abaci, M.D. Medical Director of Children’s Behavioral Health Services at Univera Healthcare, and a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist, answers some commonly asked questions to provide parents and caretakers with some guidance.
What signs should parents look for that suggests their children may be having difficulty in coping with the pandemic?
Look for any changes in regular daily activities, including regressive or new troubling behaviors. These can include changes in appetite, motivation, energy, sleep habits, or mood shifts, which can be affected by stress. A child’s age is an important factor in how they express their feelings. Engaging children in playful activities or ones they enjoy such as drawing and painting are often helpful tools in facilitating communication regarding their thoughts and feelings.
Can you suggest healthy ways for children to cope with stress?
Depending on your child’s age, it helps to encourage them to take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to negative news stories, including those on social media, so they are not repeatedly hearing about the pandemic. Try engaging them in outdoor activities, playing a game, and connecting safely with friends and family through phone calls and video chats, or in sending cards and letters to friends and loved ones.
How can parents help build resilience in their children and also help foster an overall positive attitude among all family members during the winter months?
While there is much now that is out of our control, we can help manage our overall physical and mental health by establishing and maintaining healthy habits. This includes getting enough sleep, following a healthy diet, being physically active, and getting plenty of natural light. Consistent daily routines help provide a sense of control, which in turn improves resilience. Make sure to stay connected virtually with friends and family. Finally, keeping the home well-lit during evening hours while enjoying hobbies helps prevent the feeling of exceedingly long nights.
Do you have any tips for dealing with kids who have mental barriers to performing schoolwork at home?
We know that children do well when they are able to follow a clear, consistent schedule. Consider creating daily activity schedules that include a relaxing and fun activity that children can engage in prior to starting their schoolwork. Helping children ease into their work for the day helps ease their stress. Since children’s needs vary, try working together on a list of their unique wishes and goals, and strategies for achieving those goals.
How can parents find additional support for their children if they need help?
If you have concerns about your child’s mental health, a conversation with your child’s primary care provider is always a good place to start. If problems escalate, consider having your child speak with a therapist. For emergencies for all ages, reach out to Crisis Services 24/7 at 716-834-3131.