Addressing the Potential Impact of the Pandemic on Children

January 11, 2021
Girl at computer for remote learning.

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged us all—adults and children alike—in so many ways, and everyone deals with these challenges differently.

As the pandemic continues, many children may struggle, and they may not know, or want, to ask for help. Being around family more, and in a confined space, can lead to more arguments and conflict; virtual learning can be difficult; and there are fewer activity and social options. The list goes on. Children can fall behind in school and become fearful when they hear negative news or lack hope that the pandemic will improve. They may not have as much opportunity to exercise or move and get headaches, fatigue or dry eyes as a result of increased screen time. If they do experience the death of a loved one due to COVID-19, that can complicate things further.

What to look for

As a parent or caregiver, Middlesex Health’s Family Advocacy Program recommends that you help your child learn to cope as they navigate the pandemic, and watch for signs that they might be struggling. These signs include:

  • Frequent tearfulness
  • Lack of feeling emotions, or indicating they feel “numb”
  • Isolation
  • Low energy, feeling more apathetic
  • Loss of interest
  • Sleep troubles (too much sleep or too little sleep) or sleep reversal (up at night and sleep during day)
  • Lack of appetite and eating or overeating
  • Increase in OCD-type behaviors
  • Difficulty attending to hygiene and self care
  • Not being able to complete simple, basic tasks
  • Increase in anger and irritability
  • Increase in defiance that seems more out of proportion
  • Overuse of social media, phones and video games as a way to “escape”
  • Cutting behaviors or making comments about not wanting to be alive
  • Drug use, especially vaping and marijuana use
  • A suicide attempt
  • Increase in separation anxiety and clinginess (more so for younger children)
  • Behavioral regression (bed-wetting, etc.)
  • Controlling behaviors
  • New behavioral issues at school
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nightmares
What to do
Mother listens to son.

If you do notice any warning signs, ask your child how they are feeling and if they are okay. Make the conversation safe and supportive to allow for a non-judgmental dialogue. As your child shares their feelings, listen and validate those feelings. 

“Do not try to problem solve at that moment,” says Annie Calamari, manager of the Middlesex Health Family Advocacy Program. “Kids just want to be listened to.” 

Calamari says it is important to let children know that many people around the world are working hard to bring the pandemic to an end. However, she says it is equally important not to minimize or dismiss a child’s experiences or emotions. Show compassion and care, and see if you can do anything to help them. 

As you go about your day, be sure to communicate regularly with those directly involved in your child’s life, and allow your child to maintain communication with family and friends through phone, email and video calls. 

Be creative. While structure is important, you may also want to try new things and change routines to get children out of the house. Also, be aware. Your child may look up to you as they determine how to respond to current events.

And ask questions. Find out what your child knows, what their concerns are and how they are feeling about the coronavirus, but buffer them from adult concerns and conversations and minimize their exposure to negative media to lessen their worry. 

Where to go for support

Sometimes, children may need more support than just one person can give. Reach out to your child’s doctor; their guidance counselors or social workers at school; or a trusted coach, teacher or other adult. Contact a professional counselor for a psychological assessment, and if needed, call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. The United Way’s mobile crisis hotline, 2-1-1, is also an option.

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