COVID-19: Helping Kids Cope

COVID-19: Helping Kids Cope

The pandemic has altered life in many ways, and these changes are especially affecting our kids.

“Children may now need to socially distance from friends, attend school remotely or virtually celebrate major life events like birthdays and graduations,” said Betsy Beckman, MD, a pediatrician with Holland Hospital Pediatrics & Internal Medicine. “These adjustments, combined with ongoing uncertainties, can take a toll on a child’s mental health.”

Cultivating Coping Skills

Every child reacts differently to stress, depending on their age and ability to handle unexpected or challenging events. “Children also take cues from their parents and other grown-ups around them on how to react in certain situations,” Dr. Beckman added. “Try to stay calm and confident, and don’t forget to nurture your own mental health, too.”

Here are some other tips to help kids cope:

  • Be ready to talk—and listen. Children may have many questions about COVID-19 and other aspects related to the pandemic. Keep your responses simple, honest and age appropriate. You can find more tips for talking with children on the CDC website.

  • Check in regularly with your child. Ask them how they feel. Doing so can help you spot problems before they become serious. Try giving your child creative ways, like drawing or painting, to express their emotions.

  • Set limits with the news. Letting a child watch or read too much about the pandemic can increase anxiety levels.

  • Build a framework. Not going to school every day may leave a child feeling lost. To give some direction, add structure to their day. Ask your child to help you with planning. Along with time for schoolwork, be sure to also include periods for play and relaxation.

  • Maintain old routines as much as possible. For example, try to make sure your child still goes to bed and wakes up at the same time each day.

  • Play together. Choose activities everyone can enjoy, such as biking, cooking, or playing video or board games. Keeping social distancing in mind, get active outside for some fresh air and a change of scenery when possible.

  • Stay connected. To prevent loneliness, encourage your child to virtually reach out to family members and friends through social media or with video chats, text messages, or phone calls.

  • Remind your child they aren’t powerless. We all can do a lot to protect ourselves and those we love, like wearing a mask, washing our hands often and socially distancing.

Signs of Distress

It’s normal for children to feel unsafe, anxious, lonely and even bored right now. But some of the following signs of distress may indicate a more serious mental health problem:

  • Being very worried or sad
  • Crying a lot or being clingy
  • Resorting to past behaviors they already grew out of, like bedwetting or throwing temper tantrums
  • Not eating or sleeping well
  • Acting out toward family and friends
  • Withdrawing from friends or family
  • Having trouble with school
  • Having problems focusing
  • Being very tired all the time
  • Being angry more often
  • Not doing activities they once enjoyed
  • Complaining about headaches, an upset stomach or other physical symptoms with no known cause
  • Using tobacco, alcohol or illegal drugs

If you’re concerned about your child’s behavior, talk to their health care provider right away.

Holland Hospital offers access to more than 80 physicians and advanced practice providers in 16 different specialties, all ready to meet your primary and specialty health care needs. To find a pediatrician, visit hollandhospital.org/findadoctor.

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