As this pandemic continues there are serious concerns about the effect it will have on kid’s mental health. As a therapist who specializes in issues youths and young adults face, I have seen this impact locally in Morris County with clients and families that I work with.
Further contributing to my concern about kids’ mental health is early research out of China. Research from the Hubei province shows significant increases in depression and anxiety for kids. For reference the Hubei Province is home to Wuhan which is considered the center of the COVID-19 outbreak. Research shows that approximately 20% of kids are struggling with depression and anxiety.
In response to the pandemic schools in the Hubei province had closed for approximately 3 months. During that time kids stayed home and had little socialization outside of their house.
What US Parents Can Do to Help Their Kids
As a researcher and therapist I was not surprised that kids would experience heightened depression and anxiety when socially isolated. I was surprised though that the higher levels of depression and anxiety continued after the kids returned to school.
New Jersey just cancelled the rest of the school year. With most schools closing in mid to late March and cancelling through the rest of the year that will total about 3 months. This is the same amount of time that schools were closed in China.
There are several reasons that kids in China were experiencing distress. There was the social isolation, total disruption of their lives, financial distress of their parents. They were scared of getting the virus. Many children in the Tri-State area face the same concerns.
Fortunately, there are several things that parents and community members can do here to help kids and their emotional health. The suggestions I outline below are simple changes which can have a positive effect.
Maintain a Routine
Kids, like adults, do better when they have a routine. There is nothing wrong with taking a break from your routine. That’s one of the benefits of vacations. However, now that we are several weeks into the quarantine it’s important to establish routines. Work with your kids to build a schedule which includes time for school, play, and family. Kids do better when they have a routine in place.
Talk about Feelings
Prior to the pandemic I knew that youth and young adults were not good at identifying or sharing their emotions. The pandemic has only made these struggles worse. However, it also provides an opportunity for growth. With families spending more time together than before, parents can model how to talk about feelings to their kids.
Sit with your kids and talk to them. Ask them how they are feeling. If they are scared ask them what they are scared about. Practice active listening. Share with them how you are feeling. Clearly communicate to them that it is okay for them to feel whatever they are feeling. This can also help them beyond the pandemic as they move forward in life.
Encourage Them to Rediscover Old Hobbies or Find New Ones
Prior to the pandemic kids were busier than ever before. They had school, sports, and after-school activities. Such structured schedules make it difficult for kids to be kids. With this unique time and space, we should be encouraging kids to rediscover old hobbies or find new ones. This shouldn’t be a time where kids spend more hours than ever on social media or video games. Hobbies are meant to enrich our life. Help your kids get in touch with theirs.
Get Professional Help
Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between a little emotional dip and when professional help is required. Always err on the side of caution. If you notice that your child has been down or not themselves for a week or longer reach out for help. In some instances, your child will benefit from speaking with a professional and processing their emotions. Read some of the articles on this website or reach out to us directly using the contact now section on the right side of this page to learn more. We are happy to help.