By: Nanette Kerwick, LMSW, CEAP, CAADC EAC Clinical Specialist – As mental health professionals, our experience in the past with traumatic events such as Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, the 9/11 terrorist attack, and school shootings, has shown us that there is a long-lasting impact for a small group of children. Mental health problems affect one in six children, and rates increase during a community crisis. While children are at a lower risk for developing severe outcomes with Covid-19, a higher number may develop any of the following:
- Disruptive behavior problems
- Sleep disorders
- Substance use disorders
- Suicidal symptoms
Most children will not develop long-term mental health concerns, but their memory of the Covid-19 pandemic may affect them as they get older. Some people compare it to what the depression era generation went through and how it affected their view of saving money or working hard. Children may develop heightened worry about germs or stock up on paper products later in life, but it shouldn’t affect their relationships or functioning as an adult.
There are some things parents and caregivers may not have any control over – like school closings or loss of income. However, caregivers do have some ways they can minimize the impact of this worldwide crisis on their children.
Here are 10 things parents and caregivers can do to reduce the negative mental health impact of the pandemic.
1. Make sure your child gets fact-based information about what we know and don’t know about the virus.
2. Limit exposure to graphic media or frightening stories on television or on-line.
3. Parents should work through their own worries and not pass them along to their child. This may include reaching out to other adults or mental health professionals for additional assistance.
4. Children should maintain a healthy relationship with a caregiver or parent that is consistent, predictable, caring and supportive. Children need the consistency now more than ever.
5. Keep children socially connected through video chats or phone calls with family, friends, or teams. Children may also wish to engage in other extra-curricular activities. Staying socially connected is very important to prevent feelings of isolation.
6. Encourage your child to talk about their feelings. Normalize the anger and frustration of not being able to see their friends. Or talk about how it is hard, not knowing what will happen next.
7. Encourage the practice of mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, journaling, and/or creating artwork. This will help them express their feelings or calm their anxieties and worries.
8. Talk about how to stay healthy by moving around more. We all need to get out, walk, and be active in order to feel normal and work off some energy. Limiting screen time can promote activity.
9. Parents and caregivers need to take care of themselves. Your children do better when you are healthy and managing your stress. Seek help from your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or another mental health professional, if things become unmanageable.
10. Seek help for your child if their emotions or behaviors are persistent, worsening or don’t respond to the usual management strategies. Pay special attention to talk of self-harm, regressive behaviors, increased acting out, anxieties that don’t seem to go away, and nightmares.
Some children are at higher risk of being negatively affected. These include children who already have some mental health issues, have experienced a loss, been separated from a parent, been bullied, been exposed to racism or other traumatic events.
Parents/Caregivers know their child better than anyone, and usually know when to get them the help they need. If the issues a child is experiencing don’t resolve with support and open communication, please contact a health care professional or EAC for some suggestions on how to move forward. We are here to help!