Are you noticing this pandemic effect?
Since the start of the pandemic and the beginning of life looking different as we all know it, many parents have noticed an increase in behavioral problems with their child. Why is that?
Dr. Malcolm Vandrevala, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Advocate Children’s Hospital, weighs in.
“Behavioral problems being seen by parents vary widely based on a number of factors,” he explains. “Younger children may have a hard time expressing their feelings during this difficult time, resulting in tantrums, irritability and oppositional behaviors. Older children and adolescents may be more oppositional and irritable as they navigate a new world where the little independence they had feels like it is being stripped away from them.”
Dr. Vandrevala says there is not a “one-size-fits-all” answer and that the types of behavior and intensity can be very different.
So what’s going on?
“Whether they care to admit it or not, kids and adolescents like rules, boundaries and structure. That last piece has been upturned in our current situation. Kids are trying to figure out how to best cope, adapt and navigate in this new normal. In some cases, they are looking to find some control in such an uncontrollable situation. This can often lead to outbursts and other behavioral issues.”
Dr. Vandrevala offers this advice for parents:
“First, take a step back and understand that we are in uncharted territory. This is a huge change all of us are adapting to, and it’s important not to beat ourselves down and blame ourselves for this situation. I tell parents the more structure and routine we can provide for our children, the better. Try to come up with ways that you can realistically introduce some consistency to your child’s schedule. Don’t go overboard and try to map out their day to the minute, but have certain tasks, activities and chores integrated into their daily schedule. This allows for more predictability and peace of mind for everyone from day to day.”
But how do you know if your child’s behavior is becoming something that needs to be addressed?
“First and foremost, parents should follow their gut,” he says. “No one knows your child better than you do. If you feel that there is something that’s not right, it is probably worth discussing with a professional. The main thing to look at is impairment. If you are seeing significant problems in social, academic or behavioral domains, it doesn’t hurt reaching out for another opinion. The most important thing for parents to do is reach out for help.”
Dr. Vandrevala says it can sometimes be hard to parents to admit they need help and support.
“Reaching out and saying there is a problem that is over your head doesn’t make you a bad parent – quite the opposite. It shows how much you love and care for your child, and how you want to do everything you can for them. Initially, the most practical things to do would be speak with your child’s pediatrician to have them evaluate and weigh in on the child’s behavior. Based on their impressions, they may then recommend different follow up options for the child.”
About the Author
Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is the public affairs coordinator at Advocate Children's Hospital. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.