“Children can be very fragile, but they can also be very resilient”— TV show

As the current school year wound down to the holiday break my child and adolescent clients became more engrossed in the ongoing stress and anxiety of the world we are living in today. The number of COVID cases continued to rise, the social injustice tensions increased, and the election (no matter which side you were on) became more contentious.

As the quarantines began to hit, more children were either at home distance learning or were left in school with their friends at home. The referrals I have received from the community were due to increased signs of anxiety and depression. Disruptions to daily life during the pandemic and social isolation are all taking a toll on children’s mental health. From the middle of March to October, the proportion of emergency room visits related to children’s mental health rose dramatically for school aged children and adolescents compared to the previous year, according to a CDC report.

Currently, there is little hard data about how the pandemic is affecting children’s mental health, because the outbreak is still unfolding and research takes time. The little that scientists have measured is worrisome. The pandemic is replicating a form of trauma that kids living through this global health crisis will have to handle for years to come.

We believed that it would be over in a short time, but as weeks passed into months, it became clear that the pandemic had its own timeline and everyone’s relationship to it was different. Some of us set up home offices, surfed social media or perhaps we soothed ourselves with the idea that it was great to have children home. Others continued to work outside the home in an increasingly frightening world, masked but still doing what we have always done. Feeling anxious is a natural reaction to having your whole life upended for an undetermined period of time.

We cannot underestimate the role of news and social media on our children’s emotional states. But when their worlds are reduced to these sources anxious feelings can result. You can set the emotional tone, talk to them about their media, delve into their feelings and have an open line of communication. My advice to parents is to look for sudden changes in their kids when deciding whether to seek help. Those can come in the form of changes in appetite, outbursts, changes in sleep patterns, withdrawing, or more serious issues. Young children can act out and cause more problems than they typically do, adolescents might isolate in their room for hours and have less interest in their normal activities.

If you have reason to be concerned about your child contact your health care provider and counseling may be an option. And most important; all your kids really need from you right now is to be their parent.

Brenda-Lee Duarte is executive director at LifeLine Counseling Center. Contact her at 981-7400.

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