How has COVID-19 affected children?

COVID-19 has robbed children and adolescents of predictability, which is an important stabilizing factor in daily life for kids. Uncertainty, social isolation, parental stress, etc. all have an impact on the mental health of our children, especially those with previously diagnosed mental health conditions. There are many new worries that children are now faced with including whether or not they will be able to return to school in person, see their friends, visit relatives, become ill, have a friend/family member who gets sick, and it is also difficult for caregivers to assuage these anxieties given the uncertainty of our current circumstances. This can lead to an increase in nervousness, sadness, behavioral problems, sleep disruption, irritability, difficulty with focus and concentration which are several common signs of stress in children.

With increased stress and uncertainty, what do children need most right now?

Love, compassion and kindness can go a very long way to help with reduction of stress. It is not unusual for kids to regress when they are under stress. Younger children may become clingier, may have previously been potty trained and are now having more accidents, it is important to be patient with them.

Children are also naturally curious, which means they will have questions that may be difficult to answer. It’s okay to talk with your child about COVID-19. Answering questions in an age-appropriate manner can help decrease stress and worry your child may be experiencing. Limiting your child’s exposure to news coverage can also help to prevent exposure to unnecessary stress. Children may misinterpret what they hear on TV and can be easily frightened by things they don’t understand. Children are very observant, and are watching how we navigate this difficult time. By taking care of yourself, you are modeling for your child how to manage stress as they get older.

If a child has mental health condition, does that exclude them from mask wearing and/or following social distancing protocols?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children 2 years of age and older wear a mask when in public or around individuals they do not live with. The CDC also recognizes that wearing masks may not be possible for every child in every situation, especially if children have certain disabilities including cognitive delays, intellectual disabilities, developmental delays, and behavioral/sensory difficulties. In cases where children are unable to tolerate wearing a mask there are other protective measures that can be implemented.

It is very important to note that the following measures are not meant to replace evidence based preventative actions like mask wearing, hand washing, and social distancing that are known to reduce transmission of the virus and keep children and families safe.

The CDC recommends that children who are not able to wear a mask or are unable to tolerate wearing a mask should engage in activities virtually whenever possible. If there are activities done in person, choosing a space where there is greater ventilation and the ability to keep six feet from others is also beneficial. It is also important to try and avoid frequent touching of the face. Try your best to prioritize mask wearing when it is difficult to keep a six-foot distance from others to minimize exposure and transmission.  

What can you do to support children who are anxious, depressed, etc.?

One thing we all need right now, especially for our kids is optimism. Anxiety and uncertainty are a part of daily life, but there are ways to help children navigate the challenges 2020 has brought us, whether in our own household or in our professional practice as healthcare providers.

  • Model it – children will look to their caregivers for cues on how to respond to life stresses. As parents, it is important to model the characteristics you would like your child to exhibit. Why? Because kids are constantly watching and listening to you. Healthy habits, including optimism start with having an optimistic mindset yourself. 
  • Practice looking for the positive – daily life is full of unexpected challenges, and celebrating lessons learned from those difficulties can help your children to become more optimistic. Try encouraging your kids to share one positive experience they have every day. This gets them into the habit of looking for the positive as opposed to focusing on the negative. 
  • Encourage kids to accomplish tasks on their own – providing opportunities for your child to be successful goes a very long way with regard to developing a strong sense of self. When children are able to achieve success and are praised for doing so, this builds their sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Age-appropriate activities like chores, baking, art projects, etc. are great place to start. 
  • Allow kids to try new things – as a parent it is natural to want to protect your child from everything. However, it’s important to let kids explore and try new activities. Being too involved, or too supportive can inadvertently send the message that the child is unable to do things on their own and require parental intervention/reassurance to be successful. This is the opposite of what we are trying to instill in our children. 
  • Nip negative self-talk in the bud – just like adults, children can be very critical of themselves. If you hear your child saying things like “It’s too hard” or “I can’t do it” do your best to redirect these thoughts in the moment to statements that are more positive. Instead try to encourage statements like “this might be difficult right now, and with some practice this will get easier.”   
  • Keep it real – optimistic thinking is not the same as sugar coating. The truth is our kids are not going to be great at everything, and things will not always turn out the way they imagined. Struggle and disappointment is a part of everyday life. Optimistic thinking involves looking at a situation and accepting it as is, and choosing to view it with a positive lens. It is important to send your child the message that as long as they did their best, that is all that they can ask of themselves and is something to be proud of. This allows kids to see the innate value in their efforts even if they do not meet their own expectations. 


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