While the COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful for everyone, many children and teens are having an especially difficult time. They’re struggling to deal with the lack of activities and social interaction, especially if they are attending school online. Depression has skyrocketed as a result of isolation, lost jobs, and/or the illnesses or deaths of family members who have contracted the coronavirus.
The ongoing stress, fear, grief, and uncertainty from the pandemic can wear anyone down, but children and teens may struggle to cope emotionally. That’s why it’s important for parents to check in with their children often and to watch for signs that they may be having a hard time.
Getting them to open up
Don’t be shy about asking your child how they’re feeling. Remember that pre-teens and teens may not open up quickly, which may be partly due to feeling ashamed about struggling with their emotions. If you think that they are feeling depressed, hopeless, anxious, or angry, it may be beneficial for them to see a counselor to help them process their feelings.
What to look for
Different people will have different reactions to the added stress of the pandemic, and signs of stress can manifest in a variety of ways. In regard to your children, here are some common signs to watch for:
- Unusual mood swings, ongoing irritability, feelings of hopelessness or rage, and frequent conflicts with friends and family
- Changes in behavior, such as stepping back from personal relationships
- A loss of interest in activities
- A hard time falling or staying asleep, or sleeping all the time
- Changes in weight or eating patterns
- Problems with memory, thinking, or concentration
- Less interest in schoolwork and a drop in academic effort
- Changes in appearance or a lack of basic hygiene
- An increase in reckless or risky behaviors
- Mentions of suicide or death
Contact their pediatrician
If you have any concerns about your child, schedule an appointment with their pediatrician to check on their social and emotional health. Their doctor can screen for depression or other mental illnesses. The doctor may also ask about these symptoms in other family members, and whether you or your child knows anyone who has become sick with COVID-19.
Many doctors are also offering telehealth services.
What you can do
Try to keep communication lines open with your child, even if they say they are fine. Whatever you do, be patient and don’t make them feel bad or guilty for how they’re feeling.
Here are other actions you can take to encourage communication: you and your child may enjoy activities where you can get out of the house and talk at the same time, such as going on a bike ride or taking a walk. Consider exploring relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and yoga or stretching. Build in down time for the whole family with activities, movie time, or board games and puzzles.
Try to stay positive and express confidence that there is a brighter future ahead and that life will get back to normal.