Blog

Supporting the Emotional and Behavioral Health of Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As our nation continues to endure the COVID-19 pandemic, many families may be wondering about the impact the pandemic has had on the emotional and behavioral health of their child(ren). In addition to social distancing recommendations and requirements that do not allow for close contact with a variety of individuals (e.g., peers, teammates, extended family members), many children have been, and still are, learning remotely, which also separates them from contact with important community figures (e.g., teachers, school counselors). 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a report that provides guidance to pediatricians, professionals, families, and agencies regarding how to support the emotional and behavioral health of children and families during the COVID-19 public health crisis. The report includes information for families to consider as they support a child who may exhibit signs and symptoms associated with stress.

Some signs and symptoms of stress may include the following (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2021):

Infants and young children – disruptions in sleep, toileting, and feeding behaviors; difficulty with separation; and skills regression.

Older children and adolescents – internalizing symptoms such as withdrawal, fearfulness, and anxiety; externalizing behaviors such as irritability, oppositionality, and aggression; and somatic symptoms such as abdominal pain or headaches.

Adolescents and young adults – verbalization of distress but hiding concerns, which could present as irritability, inability to concentrate, poor school performance, and the use of substances.

It can be common for children to regress developmentally during times of stress, so parents can support their children and adolescents in a variety of ways (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2021).

Maintain open and honest communication. Parents and caregivers should engage in age-appropriate conversations with children about the pandemic and truthfully answer questions children may have.  

Continue to follow mitigation strategies. As the seasons change, children may be encouraged to spend more time outdoors, which could allow for opportunities for children to connect with family and friends in person. While it may be safer to play and visit outdoors, families should continue to follow social distancing guidelines.

Provide screen-time limits. Spending more time at home can mean spending more time on digital devices. Parents should continue to monitor age-appropriate use of screens, and, if usage becomes problematic, parents are encouraged to develop a family media plan.

Be present. Being present and showing empathy can be positive ways to support your child(ren). In addition, parents can find ways to cope with stress as a family, like talking about scary feelings or practicing relaxation techniques (e.g., yoga). For older children and adolescents, parents could encourage their children to volunteer in the community, such as helping load groceries at a local food bank or asking them to choose some toys and books to donate to women’s resource centers.

Identify community resources. There are community organizations that provide support to families. For example, the United Way (https://www.unitedway.org) or the Universal Service Administrative Company (https://www.usac.org) are organizations that may benefit your family or child(ren). For additional information on finding helpful resources, please visit your local organizations (e.g., YMCA, community centers, base service unit) or your local county websites for more information.

If, at any time, you are concerned about your child’s emotional health and well-being, reach out to your pediatrician as he or she can provide additional guidance and resources that can assist you as you support your child.

References

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2021, March). Interim guidance on supporting the emotional and behavioral health needs of children, adolescents, and families during the COVID-19 pandemic. https://services.aap.org/en/pages/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-infections/clinical-guidance/interim-guidance-on-supporting-the-emotional-and-behavioral-health-needs-of-children-adolescents-and-families-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/

Outdoor Safety

In spring, the weather is getting warm, and you and your family can go outside and be physically active. Whether you go biking, geocaching, hiking, walking, or swimming, you should consider some safety measures. Following safety measures like wearing helmets and sunscreen are essential to protect you and your family while you enjoy the outdoors. Here are tips to keep you and your family safe during outdoor activities:

Wear helmets correctly.

Helmets can protect you and your child while you participate in activities like baseball, rollerblading, and bike riding. Helmets should be well maintained, age-suitable, and appropriately certified for use, and they should be worn regularly and correctly. Learn about helmets and how to make sure you are wearing them properly at HEADS UP.

Drink water and stay well hydrated.

Water is healthy and has zero calories and no added sugar. Water is essential for the body – drinking it helps keep joints, bones, and teeth healthy; allows the blood to circulate; and may improve your mood. Drinking water keeps us hydrated while we engage in outside activities. When you sweat, you need to replace the water your body has lost. During activities like running, biking, and playing soccer, your child should drink water before, during, and after the activity. Hereis more information about the benefits of drinking water and staying hydrated.

Wear the proper footwear.

Biking in flip-flops, hiking in high-heeled shoes, and playing soccer in slippers are not recommended. Wearing the right shoe for the activity can decrease your chances of injury. Proper fitting shoes cushion and support the foot, feel comfortable, and fit well. You can learn more about safe footwear from the American Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Society here.

Use sunscreen.

Sunburns and skin damage can happen even on cloudy days. Try to put on sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going outside. Use an SPF of 15 or higher. Remember, reapply sunscreen after swimming, sweating, or toweling off. You can find additional sun safety tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here.

Limit cellphone distraction.

Research says that most playground injuries happen when parents focus on cell phones instead of watching and playing with their children (Lemish, 2019). While playing with your child outside, try to use your cell phone on a limited basis and only as needed.

Getting outside and getting physical activity can be an enjoyable experience for you and your family. Just remember to be safe and have fun!

Additional Resources

American Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Society (2021). How do I choose shoes for my child? FootCare MD. https://www.footcaremd.org/resources/how-to-help/how-to-select-childrens-shoes

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020). Heads-up helmet safety. https://www.cdc.gov/headsup/helmets/index.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020). Sun safety tips for families. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/sun-safety-tips-families.htm

Healthy Children (2020). Choose water for healthy hydration. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/Choose-Water-for-Healthy-Hydration.aspx

References

Lemish, D., Elias, N., & Floegal, D., (2020) Look at me! Parental use of mobile phones at the playground. SAGE Journals, 8(2), 179-187. https://doi.org/10.1177/2050157919846916

 

Healthy ways to celebrate National Nutrition Month

We all know we should practice healthy eating habits for our general health and well-being. Parents want their children to be healthy, so they follow healthy eating habits with their children throughout the year – but March is National Nutrition Month, so parents can use March to dedicate extra time and attention to nutrition! Here are a few ideas to inspire you and your family to focus on good nutrition and healthy eating for National Nutrition Month!

Try choosing one of the following healthy eating challenges during the month of March!

  • Make your own taste test kitchen at home and try new foods! This is one way to introduce your children to foods that they may normally refuse to try or maybe never have had the opportunity to try. Think outside of your regular food items and explore different spices and tastes together. For example, you might try kiwi or star fruit, or even foods made with saffron and cardamom or other spices from different parts of the world.
  • Try to eat breakfast as a family. Eating a healthy, well-balanced breakfast can be a good way to begin your day together. MyPlate is a resource for information on what constitutes a well-balanced meal.
  • Try limiting sweetened beverages by drinking water with slices of lemons or limes and play an educational game! Rethink Your Drink demonstration is a fun way to teach your children about healthy beverages choices.
  • Teach your children how to read a nutrition facts label. This can be an activity for the whole family. Look through your pantry or cupboards for grocery items, read the labels, and talk about the ingredients. Make a game out of it, like the person who finds the label with the least number of ingredients gets to pick the dinner menu for Friday night.
  • Use the MyPlate website to find games and activities for children of all ages. Get creative!

Any small change that you make to improve the nutrition of you and your family this month is a big success!

Additional Resources

Action for healthy kids. (n.d.). Rethink you drink [Activity]. https://www.actionforhealthykids.org/activity/rethink-your-drink/

U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2021) Myplate.gov. https://www.myplate.gov/life-stages/kids

References

Action for healthy kids. (n.d.). Celebrate National Nutrition Month. Healthy Kids Blog. https://www.actionforhealthykids.org/activity/celebrate-national-nutrition-month/

Are you ready to Thrive?