By Dr. Kristyn Gregory, D.O.,
Medical Director of Behavioral Health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, adults have a wealth of information available to understand the importance of face masks, social distancing and frequent hand washing. From reading the latest news and recommendations for staying healthy to receiving prevention tips from health care providers, adults are more likely to grasp the greater context of staying vigilant during the pandemic.
However, a child’s perspective on the COVID-19 pandemic is much narrower, especially depending upon their age. For many school-age children, their school day has changed significantly whether it’s in-person or virtual. Students miss socializing with their friends and participating in school functions like sports and other extracurricular activities that may now be big question marks.
As the rituals of a traditional school year have been adjusted to keep everyone healthy and safe during the pandemic, many children may be feeling disappointed with their current experience. Navigating these feelings is a significant challenge for families and caregivers, but there are ways to help guide children through their emotions:
• Ask Children How They Feel: Keep lines of communication open, regardless of the child’s age. Caregivers may have to repeat basic explanations about face masks or the need for frequent hand washing for younger kids. Be prepared for questions from older children who may be confused and want more information. Ask them how they are feeling about changes, and don’t assume to know their thoughts. Let them know their feelings are normal.
• Don’t Project Emotions: Adults should refrain from projecting feelings of fear, stress and anxiety onto children as it can fuel or worsen any concerns they may already be experiencing during this uncertain time.
• Put it in Perspective: If a child’s disappointment over canceled events or a switch to online classes seems excessive, talk to them and help them put it into perspective. Gently remind them that they are healthy and have a family who cares about them, and that some people are experiencing much more difficult hardships.
• Stay Upbeat: Though the world may be filled with uncertainty, parents and caregivers need to keep the mood as light as possible. Positivity can help build resiliency to difficult situations.
Watch for Changes in Behavior
Often, parents and caregivers can tell if something seems off with a child’s behavior. There may be changes in their eating or sleep routine. While these changes could be caused by simple stress, ongoing issues may be a sign of a deeper problem.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are some common things to watch for including:
• Difficulty with attention and concentration
• Excessive worry or sadness
• Unhealthy eating habits
• Unhealthy sleeping habits
If your child is exhibiting concerning behavior, talk to their pediatrician or health care provider. They may refer you to a mental health professional who specializes in working with young children or teens.
For immediate help, mental health resources are just a phone call away. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan offers a free crisis hotline at 833-848-1764 and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services also offers assistance every day from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. at 888-PEER-753 (888-733-7753).
Dr. Kristyn Gregory, D.O., is a medical director of Behavioral Health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more mental health tips, visit ahealthiermichigan.org.