While the COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful for most of us, children and teens often have an especially difficult time dealing with the lack of activities and social interaction if they are distance learning.
Depression has skyrocketed during the pandemic as a result of isolation, lost jobs and/or having family members that have fallen ill or died from coronavirus. Also, mental health visits are at an all-time high, even if many people are seeing counselors remotely by video conferencing.
The ongoing stress, fear, grief and uncertainty created by the pandemic can wear anyone down, but children and teens may have an especially tough time coping emotionally. That's why it's important for parents to check with them often and watch for signs they may be having a hard time.
Getting them to open up
Don't be shy about asking your child how they are feeling. Don't be satisfied with "I'm okay" if it's clear they are not. You can start by telling them how you are feeling, such as frustration and sadness. If you start first, it can help in getting them to talk about how they are feeling.
Remember that pre-teens and teens may not open up because they feel ashamed about what they are going through, and young kids may not be able to express themselves as well. If you gather that they are feeling depressed, hopeless, anxious or angry, they may benefit from seeing a counselor to help them process those feelings.
What to look for
Different people will have different reactions to the stresses that the pandemic is adding to their lives, and signs of stress and emotional challenges may manifest themselves in various ways. That said, there are some common signs to be on the lookout for, including:
- Changes in mood that are not usual for your child, such as ongoing irritability, feelings of hopelessness or rage, and frequent conflicts with friends and family.
- Changes in behavior, such as stepping back from personal relationships.
- A loss of interest in activities they used to like.
- A hard time falling or staying asleep, or starting to sleep all the time.
- Changes in weight or eating patterns.
- Problems with memory, thinking or concentration.
- Less interest in schoolwork and a drop in academic effort.
- Changes in appearance, such as lack of basic personal hygiene.
- An increase in risky or reckless behaviors, such as using drugs or alcohol.
- Thoughts about death or suicide, or talking about it.
Contact their pediatrician
If you have any concerns about your child, schedule an appointment with their pediatrician to check on their social and emotional health.
Their doctor can screen them for depression or other mental issues they may be struggling with. The physician may also ask about these symptoms in other family members, as this can impact your child's health, and whether they know anyone who has become sick with COVID-19.
You may want to leave the room to let your child speak freely with the doctor as your presence may inhibit them expressing themself fully.
If you are concerned about your child or you contracting COVID-19 during a visit, many doctors are offering telehealth visits at this time.
The risk for a mental health crisis increases dramatically for children (and adults) who have lost a family member to COVID-19. This could require grief counseling to help them deal with the loss.
What you can do
Try to keep the communication lines open with your child if they are having emotional challenges.
Whatever you do, be patient and don't make them feel bad or guilty for how they are feeling. You can try to think up activities you both can participate in and talk at the same time, such as going on a bike ride or taking a walk together in a nature area.
Consider exploring relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and yoga or stretching. Build in down time for the whole family with activities, movie time or board games and puzzles.
Also, don't express doom, fear or helplessness about the pandemic. Try to stay positive and set an example and express confidence that there is a brighter future ahead and that life will get back to normal.