Adults are not the only ones affected by the consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak. Children and teenagers are also feeling the ongoing pandemic stress, fear, and anxiety, and are having difficulties coping emotionally. The pandemic has made some kids more irritable and triggered behavioral changes because of the difficulties with adjusting to all of the changes that happen everywhere.
What Studies Say
Predictability, which refers to repeated behavior patterns and knowing what to expect, is an important factor in a child’s healthy development. This, however, has been disrupted by COVID-19, which has affected kids’ mental well-being. Personal therapist onlinecan be helpful in teaching kids and parents how to cope with pandemic anxiety and post-covid depression.
A recent meta-analysis of 29 studies published in the JAMA Network found that 1 in 5 youth worldwide is experiencing symptoms of clinically elevated anxiety, and 1 in 4 deals with symptoms of clinically elevated depression. This was observed in the first year of the pandemic, but its prevalence has increased and remained high.
There is also some research data on the psychological effects of quarantine in youth. Suchstudies have been conducted in Italy and Spain, with more than 1,000 parents of kids between 3 and 18 completing a survey about how quarantine affected their kids and themselves. Results showed that more than 85% noted changes in their children’s behavior and emotions. The most frequently observed changes and symptoms were:
- Difficulty concentrating (76.6%)
- Boredom (52%)
- Irritability (39%)
- Restlessness (38.8%)
- Nervousness (38%)
- Loneliness (31.3%)
- Uneasiness (30.4%)
- Worries (30.1%)
A rapid systematic review published last year examined the impact of social isolation and loneliness on children’s and adolescents’ mental health. Researchers found out that kids and adolescents are more likely to experience anxiety and higher rates of depression during enforced isolation and after it ends. The effects may become stronger as isolation continues.
So, How Are Your Children Coping?
While COVID-19 vaccines are now available to kids who are old enough, pandemic stress and anxiety may still have long-term effects on the youth’s developing mind. This only makes it important to check in with your kids frequently, monitor their pandemic mental health, and look out for signs that they may need more support.
Talk to your children about how they feel. Some may experience anger, anxiety, hopelessness, and even depression. Keep in mind that, if these feelings seem overwhelming or constant, to the point that they negatively affect your child’s ability to function, they need more support and help.
Younger kids may not know how to talk about their emotions, so you need to look for changes in their behavior or development. Teenagers and young adults may not talk about their feelings or hide them because they feel embarrassed or don’t want to bother other people. Changes in their mood, appetite, and interests could signal that they need more support.
Post-pandemic anxiety, which is familiar for many of us, can also affect kids. This might make them experience more social and performance anxiety, or worry about the illness, even when restrictions ease and things return to normal. Unfortunately, children’s mental health problems maynot just go away once the pandemic is over.
Be Aware of Your Child’s Mental Health
While many kids have benefitted from spending more time with their family, they have missed out a lot in interactions with their friends and other people. This can greatly affect their well-being, with some children struggling with socializing or becoming shy or clingy. It’s important to recognize the signs of stress and anxiety or those that indicate that they need extra support.
Monitor your kid’s pandemic mental health by watching out for these signs:
- Changes in appetite or eating patterns – eating more or all the time, eating less, or never being hungry;
- Changes in sleeping patterns – difficulties falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, and not being able to fall back asleep. Some may also sleep more, return to bedwetting, or want the parent’s company in the middle of the night;
- Difficulties with concentrating – kids may easily get distracted, be unable to sit through a movie, or complete their school work or assignments;
- Mood and behavior changes – these can vary, so look out for frequent or prolonged sadness, anger, irritability, and tearfulness, as well as aggressiveness or intense tantrums.
- Increased aches and pains – stressed and anxious kids may experience headaches, upset stomachs, and various types of aches. They need more support if they’ve been experiencing them for days and these symptoms interfere with their normal routines;
- Clinginess or anxiety when separating – kids may not want to sleep in their bed at night, feel an intense fear of going outside, or be anxious when separated from family;
- Isolation or withdrawal – disengaging by refusing to leave their room or participating in family activities they usually enjoy.
Some may also struggle with depression, especially older kids and teenagers. Many of them may not recognize the symptoms of depression and therefore fail to seek help and support, like therapy for depression. Here are the symptoms to watch out for:
- Persistent sadness or irritability
- Loss of interest in activities that used to bring joy
- Changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Exhaustion or sluggishness
- Harsh self-assessment or being too self-critical
- Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
- Suicidal thoughts
If your child experiences several of these symptoms for at least two weeks, they may have depression. Be sure to take action or see a mental health professional if you notice them. Lifestyle changes, medications, and cognitive behavioral therapy for depression can help kids feel better.
If your child has suicidal thoughts or considers self-harm, immediately contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
How to Support Kids’ Mental Health
As previously mentioned, inviting your kids to talk about their feelings is important. This means sitting down with your kids and having age-appropriate conversations about how they’re doing and their pandemic mental health.
Here’s how you can support your child’s mental health during COVID-19.
Teach kids coping skills
These include regular exercise, limiting social media use, deep breathing, and mindfulness practices. Do these with your kids to help ease pandemic anxiety and allow them to accept the uncertainties that are currently happening.
Maintain a daily routine
Establish and keep a regular schedule to promote a sense of calm and predictability. Daily routines will also help kids and adults feel more grounded and reduce pandemic stress. Knowing what to expect and what to do can also help feel in control even in uncertain times.
Help them challenge negative thoughts
Sometimes, kids may get stuck in negative thinking patterns that may increase their anxiety and contribute to the development of depression. Help them challenge these bad thoughts by asking for facts/evidence their thoughts are based on or helping them find a new way to look at things. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has proven to be particularly helpful.
Spend time with your kids
Engage in fun activities your child likes. You can do family projects, create masterpieces, sing songs, and spend time outside to connect with nature. You can also have your kid choose an activity for the two of you to enjoy together.
Schedule safe playdates
Set up a safe outdoor space for a few of their friends. They can also benefit from family, board, and outdoor games to help them practice their social skills.
Try new activities if needed
It is normal to experience post-pandemic depression or covid anxiety, evenas things slowly get back to normal. If your child has been feeling stressed and anxious, you can reintroduce new social activities slowly. You and your child may also reach out for help by talking to a mental health professional.
Know when to seek help
If your kid shows symptoms of anxiety or depression, seek professional help. The good news is this can be done at home through online therapy platforms like Calmerry, eliminating the need to go out and visit a therapist’s office. You may also be glad to know that teletherapy or telepsychology is as effective as traditional in-person therapy. Learn more about talk therapy to evaluate its benefits.
Make sure to keep open communication with your child. You can also seek support by connecting with other parents who are experiencing the same problems, and more importantly, don’t hesitate to try therapy if your family needs help in managing post-pandemic stress and supporting your child’s mental health during COVID 19.