Q: My children are having a rough time as the pandemic drags on. What are the signs that they may need more support, and how can I help?
A: The ongoing stress, fear, grief and uncertainty from COVID-19 have weighed on all of us. Many children and teens have also had a tough time coping.
Over 120,000 children in the United States have lost a primary caregiver to a COVID-19-associated death. Many have lost jobs, and many are having financial trouble due to the pandemic. There have also been unequal effects of the pandemic on Black and Brown people, and increased racism and xenophobia toward Asian families.
The usual supports for children, such as school, health care and community, were also interrupted, in many cases. Check in with your children often and watch and listen for signs they are struggling. Invite your children to talk about how they are feeling. Feeling depressed, hopeless, anxious and angry could be normal reactions to stress. However, if these feelings are constant and overwhelming, or if they affect your child’s ability to keep doing what they usually do (such as go to school, complete their work or have fun), these may be signs they need more support. Keep in mind that younger children may not know how to talk about these feelings but may show changes in their behavior or development. Teens and young adults may try to hide their feelings because of shame or because they don’t want to bother others.
Signs of stress and mental health challenges are not the same for every child or teen, but there are some common symptoms. Young children may start acting like they did when they were younger. They may also have increased problems with:
— Fussiness and irritability, crying more easily and being more difficult to calm down.
— Falling asleep and waking up more during the night
— Feeding issues, such as more nausea/vomiting, constipation or loose stools, or new complaints of stomach pain
— Being anxious when they have to separate from their family, clinginess, not wanting to socialize and fear of going outside
— Hitting, being frustrated, biting and more tantrums