Kids Warning Signs: Cheat Sheet for Parents During the COVID Pandemic
THE GOOD NEWS
- Many studies, since 9-11, have shown that the majority of disaster survivors show resilience and adaptability more than depression or post-traumatic stress. COVID has presented long-term disruption to day-to-day life; however, most children and adolescents will bounce back from this with only minor scrapes and bruises.
- Kids take their cues from the parents. If you can model good self-care, a hopeful attitude, and show your own flexibility and strength (even humor!), it will go a long way. Be honest, but don’t dwell on your dire fears of financial collapse or job worries around the kids. “Keep calm and carry on”…and if you need a meltdown, do it in private.
- There is always an upside. Make the most of the increased time available to hang out with your kids. Even if they complain you are a terrible teacher and they demand a change of staff, remember it is a unique opportunity to see your child in a different light and become closer as a family.
Of course, they are BORED to tears. Yes, they are FRUSTRATED and MISS their friends, and at times they will be downright GRUMPY (Aren’t you?). Don’t expect to swoop in like Mary Poppins and create wonderfully creative adventures every minute of the global pandemic. Cheerfulness and compliance 24-7 is not going to happen, but we can work toward greater adaptability, and try to roll with the punches COVID dishes out every day.
WARNING SIGNS of Anxiety and Depression
- Sleep disturbance, difficulty getting to sleep or waking up early, wanting to sleep excessively to escape.
- Ruminating constantly about the virus and the death toll, excessive worry about germs, fear of separation or that someone close will die (hand washing is a good thing right now, but not 45 times a day, that’s OCD).
- Moody, irritable, inability to regulate own emotions and mood, frequent outbursts.
- Emotional numbness, mood appearing “flat”, or often sad, tearful.
- Lacking pleasure in things they usually enjoy, listless, uninterested.
If changes in mood or behavior are persistent, or worrisome to you, call seek a professional therapist, such as someone on the team of My LA Therapy, who specialize in children’s mental health even if just to assure you that their symptoms are within normal range.
Your child’s “pre-pandemic” adjustment will influence their current response. If they tend to be anxious, perfectionistic, rigid, these personality factors will likely get worse. Previous traumas also tend to increase reactions to a new trauma.
WHAT PARENTS CAN DO
- Quality parent-child time daily, play a game together, reading aloud, cooking, doing a craft. Explore some new joint activities together. Organize old pictures, do an ongoing game or puzzle.
- Structure and routine at home goes a long way so they know what is expected, time for school -work, rest, active free play outside (don’t forget to schedule your own “self time” to relax, face time with your own friends, meditate, take a walk).
- Schoolwork should be done. Expect them to do it, but don’t be too hard on them if its sub par. Focusing is really tough these days. Let them dive into some subjects of particular interest. Watch documentaries together. Give them support and assistance to complete assignments. Kids don’t focus even 6 hours a day on learning when they are at school; don’t over do your new teacher role.
- Relaxation vs. activity – They may need more “chill” time or more “active time” or both. Try yoga together or guided meditation. Play ball in the yard. Run laps!
- Play therapy can bring out their feelings of fear, isolation, or sadness better than words. Give them tools for drawing, painting, playdoh, writing stories.
- Normalize their feelings. Everyone is missing their friends right now, but its important we stay healthy. It is a hard time for everyone. It’s ok to acknowledge your own boredom, and stress but only to a point. Remember, you are the role model for strength and coping skills.
- This too will pass – This won’t last forever. It has been a long time, but when it is safe, your life will get back to normal (it only seems like forever). Realizing a stressor is temporary is helpful, and believing you have the coping skills needed. The uncertainty of “when?” is a key issue with COVID.
- Strengths – Build on them and notice when they are coping well or looking on the bright side. You are being strong in the way you are handling it, hang in, we are all in it together.
Paula Jones is Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has worked with children and adolescents both as a therapist and a special needs teacher in four different countries. She was on the Los Angeles Red Cross Mental Health Disaster Relief team, is a trained EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Therapist and was featured as an expert guest on a TV show called “Kid Tips” in Indiana. She was teaching in Nairobi during the Westgate Mall terrorist attack and lost one of her 8th grade students in the shooting.