According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as countries introduce measures to restrict movement as part of efforts to reduce the number of people infected with COVID-19, more and more of us are making huge changes to our daily routines. The new realities of working from home, temporary unemployment, home-schooling of children, and lack of physical contact with other family members, friends, and colleagues take time to get used to. Adapting to lifestyle changes such as these, and managing the fear of contracting the virus and worry about people close to us who are particularly vulnerable, are challenging for all of us. Mental health effects during a global pandemic are very important to monitor, especially in children. Although it has been estimated that youth and young adults have the lowest mortality rates from COVID-19, they are not immune to its consequences. Studies show that the pandemic could also have negative effects on children’s mental health. Unfortunately, most parents do not have the appropriate mental health or counseling skills to help their children or themselves.
Many students across the nation are dealing with sudden changes to their social lives and daily routines, the inability to access education, food insecurity, and some may even experience unsafe (emotional or physical) home environments. These challenges can present feelings of sadness, despair, anxiety, and stress said Dr. Gil Noam, founder, and director of The PEAR Institute (Partnerships in Education and Resilience) at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
Parents should try to focus daily on creating a positive home environment and continuing to build quality relationships with children to help them feel secure and confident in uncertain times. Regular family meals are one way to nurture relationships and check in with your children.“The feeling of a safe environment where the relationships really matter in a positive way is essential and will have a strong effect in the long term,” Dr. Noam said.
Here are more suggestions from Dr. Noam that parents can tailor to age and developmental levels:
• Young children: Be available and in the close distance as much as possible. Parents should practice their own self-care so they are rested and patient with little ones who need them throughout the day.
• School-age children: Parents should choose their battles over school-work. Don’t pick a fight when it will compromise the quality of the parent-child relationship and try to transition a potential conflict into something more positive. Do not set low expectations or avoid creating needed structure – just remember that consistent criticism can create a bad environment for everyone. Playing games, listening, and providing hope are other constructive ways to build a stronger connection.
• Teenagers: When possible try to watch movies and listen to music together with your teen. Learn their world, but also respect their need for privacy and time alone as they are used to spending more time with their friends.
Research suggests times of crisis can have long term effects on a child’s behavior as well as their mental and emotional well-being. However, we also know that with the right support, hard times can build resiliency in young people, giving them the ability to better handle stress and rebound from a setback or challenge, said Dr. Noam.
While it is completely normal for youth to experience a wide range of emotions during uncertain times, severe or prolonged feelings of depression or sadness may be an opportunity to provide them with additional support. If a young person you know is experiencing intense worry or sadness about current or future events, and it is disrupting their ability to cope with everyday life, there is support available. Psychotherapy provided through a secure telehealth platform may be a helpful resource to offer additional support.