Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic is enough to stress anyone out - and the mental strain is increasingly landing children in the hospital.
The number of children’s visits to hospital emergency rooms for mental health treatment has increased by 24-31 percent since the start of the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This is all happening at a time when traditional avenues for child mental health are difficult or unavailable for access, such as school resources, in-person mental health visits, and non-emergency treatment.
There are ways parents can help their children cope with pandemic stress. The first is to spot when your child is struggling.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Every child responds to stress differently, but there are some common signs. The CDC says parents should watch for changes that include:
- Excessive crying or irritation in younger children
- Returning to behaviors they’ve outgrown
- Excessive worry or sadness
- Unhealthy eating and sleep habits
- Irritability or “acting out”
- Poor school performance
- Difficulty with attention and concentration
- Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past
- Unexplained headaches or body pain
- Use of alcohol or other drugs.
HOW TO SUPPORT YOUR CHILD
The key to helping children cope during the pandemic, the CDC says, is to give them ample opportunities to talk about how they’re feeling and ask questions in a supportive environment. Children need to feel heard and have their concerns validated and addressed.
Here are some ways to support a child struggling with mental health right now:
- When talking to your child, remain calm. Children react to both what you say and how you say it.
- Reassurance. Children need to feel safe. Let them know it is okay to feel upset and share with them the healthy ways you deal with stress.
- Be available. Whether it’s listening or talking, children need parents’ attention to feel heard.
- Avoid language that blames others. No single person or group is more likely than others to spread COVID-19.
- Pay attention to what children see and hear. Be mindful of what is being said on the TV, radio, or online about the pandemic. Too much information on the topic can lead to anxiety.
- Be truthful. While too much information can be daunting, children should understand some stories about COVID-19 on the internet and social media are based on rumors or are inaccurate. Children may misinterpret what they hear and become frightened.
- Everyday ways to cope. Teaching children what they can do to stop the spread of COVID-19 will help protect them from the virus, but also allow them to feel some control over their situation. Also showing them how to perform relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and exercise can go a long way to helping children achieve balance.
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