When should you seek behavioral help for your child?
A pandemic has no respect for the psychological wellbeing of children. But in times of COVID-19 or not, less-than-desirable behavioral patterns can crop up in kids for varying reasons.
“We find that, because of the pandemic, many parents are putting off seeking help or ignoring the warning signs that something may not be quite right with their kids,” says Dr. Elena Petkovska, pediatrician at Aurora Health Center in Marinette, Wis. “This is in no way a negative reflection on the parent; rather, I think we tend to chalk things up to ‘trying times’ rather than what could actually be a fixture in a child’s behavior.”
So, how do you know the difference between a temporary behavior alteration and a semi-permanent behavioral pattern?
“When there are big changes in a child’s life, both happy and sad changes, – like divorce, marriage, moving, the death of a loved one, the birth of a loved one, illness, a pandemic – these things can cause kids to feel confused, frustrated, lonely, and even mournful,” she says. “And some kids have difficulty expressing these feelings. Try to remember that we all process things a little differently, including our kids.”
Dr. Petkovska offers some tips for assessing behavioral problems:
- Try talking straight with your little one to get to the core of what they’re feeling. “And be okay with letting them feel what they’re feeling; be sure not to shame them if they feel something you don’t understand,” says Dr. Petkovska. “Kids need a safe space where they can talk about their worries and troubles. Be that safe space for them. Many times, offering this space and talking it out with kids helps dissolve the behavioral issues.”
- If the obstacle or source of agony is movable, help them get rid of it or help them solve it. This process is helpful for the child, both educationally and emotionally.
- Offer coping techniques and strategies, especially for those obstacles not so easily removed. “You’re teaching them that things happen in life, and when you can’t ‘fix it’, you’re showing them what they can do to control their own environment. Often times, that involves healthy coping mechanisms, like identifying their feelings, breathing exercises, and distraction techniques like reading, going for a walk, painting, or even playing a game.”
Sometimes, though, behavioral problems can’t be resolved without the help of a professional. Dr. Petkovska advises to immediately call your pediatrician or primary care provider if your child:
- Exhibits behavior patterns that are developmentally inappropriate
- Shows violence toward others or themselves
- Engages in risky activities
- Has frequent nightmares or night terrors
- Consistently underperforms in school
- Experiences frequent and dramatic mood swings
- Constantly defies and shows disrespect for authority
“As troublesome as these behaviors are for you, just imagine how your little one feels,” Dr. Petkovska expresses. “Some potential treatment options include therapy – both for you and your child –, medication, or a combination of the two. A pediatrician will be able to help give you the resources for you and your child to improve life for you both.”
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