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.
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/