Is the pandemic harming your child’s mental health?
Many teens have missed school dances, graduation or going away to college. Young children started kindergarten at home. There’s no doubt the pandemic and the precautionary measures we are taking to stay safe are taking a toll on children.
“It’s important to remember this has affected everyone in different ways,” says Dr. Malcolm Vandrevala, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Advocate Children’s Hospital. “Just like adults, children are affected differently depending on age, personality or pre-COVID routine, so you’re likely to see varying struggles and impairments.”
Dr. Vandrevala says some young kids may actually view this time spent at home as a positive. Teenagers likely miss friends and feel as though the pandemic is taking things away from them. That’s why he has seen and anticipates more behavioral concerns and issues as the months wear on.
“Fortunately, kids are resilient at baseline,” he says, “They’re adaptable, and we’ll see them improve as circumstances improve.”
Despite being home with family or caregivers, children, just like adults, may feel isolated. But Dr. Vandrevala says this is typical.
“We’re stuck at home, bouncing between work and home life. It’s a difficult time, and everyone’s routine has been upended. The first thing to do is acknowledge this. It’s normal and okay to be feeling this way. We’re all frustrated. We’re all tired. We want this to end, and it’s okay to feel this way.”
He reminds us to utilize quality screen time, which was popular in the early stages of quarantine but seems to be waning.
“Try to use technology in creative ways to help out with loneliness or feelings of isolation. Zoom, Skype, FaceTime calls. Organize virtual playdates for children or online games with peers. Use the technology we have at hand to connect with those outside of our home.”
Many children may not understand what is going on and may be asking adults questions. Dr. Vandrevala recommends using developmentally appropriate language when discussing.
“This is important so we don’t get bogged down with words like the ‘virus’ or ‘Coronavirus.’ My 3-year-old asks why we can’t go out or why we are going to the park less often than normal, and I try to keep it really simple. Saying things like ‘people are getting sick’ or ‘masks help people not get sick’ can make things more understandable.”
He offers advice for parents of children who are experiencing anxiety and express concerns about leaving the house.
“Meet the child where they are. Gradually encourage them to do things. With anxiety, one of the worst things you can do is let anxiety be a driving factor and not let children do things that are a little more challenging. That actually promotes more anxiety. Remember, you aren’t throwing them into the deep end. Say things like ‘What makes you nervous? Anxious? How can we handle that?” and then encourage small steps and offer pointed, positive praise when they take those steps.”
Dr. Vandrevala made these comments during a Facebook Live event when top doctors gave parents advice and took their questions as they continue to navigate life during the pandemic. The full video is below.
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.