Mental health effects during a global pandemic are very important to monitor, especially in children. Although it has been estimated that youth and young adults have the lowest mortality rates from COVID-19, they are not immune to its consequences.
Many students across the nation are dealing with sudden changes to their social lives and daily routines, the inability to access education, food insecurity, and some may even experience unsafe (emotional or physical) home environments. These challenges can present feelings of sadness, despair, anxiety and stress, said Dr. Gil Noam, founder and director of The PEAR Institute (Partnerships in Education and Resilience) at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
Parents, who are already struggling to balance telework and childcare, should try to focus daily on creating a positive home environment and continuing to build quality relationships with children to help them feel secure and confident in uncertain times. Regular family meals are one way to nurture relationships and check in with your children.
“The feeling of a safe environment where the relationships really matter in a positive way is essential and will have a strong effect in the long term,” Dr. Noam said.
Here are more suggestions from Dr. Noam that parents can tailor to age and developmental levels:
- Young children: Be available and in close distance as much as possible. Parents should practice their own self-care so they are rested and patient with little ones who need them throughout the day.
- School age children: Parents should choose their battles over school-work. Don’t pick a fight when it will compromise the quality of the parent-child relationship and try to transition a potential conflict into something more positive. Do not set low expectations or avoid creating needed structure - just remember that consistent criticism can create a bad environment for everyone. Playing games, listening and providing hope are other constructive ways to build a stronger connection.
- Teenagers: When possible try to watch movies and listen to music together with your teen. Learn their world, but also respect their need for privacy and time alone as they are used to spending more time with their friends.
Research suggests times of crisis can have long term effects on a child’s behavior as well as their mental and emotional well-being. However, we also know that with the right support, hard times can build resiliency in young people, giving them the ability to better handle stress and rebound from a setback or challenge, said Dr. Noam.
While it is completely normal for youth to experience a wide range of emotions during uncertain times, severe or prolonged feelings of depression or sadness may be an opportunity to provide them with additional support.
If a young person you know is experiencing intense worry or sadness about current or future events, and it is disrupting their ability to cope with everyday life, there is support available. Here are helpful resources to offer additional support:
Learn more about how Boys & Girls Clubs of America is supporting youth and communities during COVID-19.