There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken an overwhelming toll on so many people across the globe. Among the impacts, children’s mental health has proven to be at the forefront of this battle.
During the pandemic, parents with children ages 5-12 reported their children showed elevated symptoms of depression, anxiety, and psychological stress. They’re also experiencing worsened mental and emotional health by 22%.
Our teens are also struggling with this situation. Michigan Health states, “Nearly half of parents noticed a new or worsening mental health condition in their teen since the pandemic started; 3 in 4 say COVID has affected teens’ social interactions.”
Pandemic Burnout and Its Effects
Researchers have been studying the effects of burnout, and even though it’s not a medical condition per se, the World Health Organization does recognize burnout as a syndrome. Symptoms are not just physical, but emotional as well, and include brain fog, loss of energy, depression, and loss of interest in hobbies.
The pandemic has gone on longer than ever expected. So many people are experiencing burnout, but the effects seem to have a stronger hold on children and adolescents.
Here are the top two effects of COVID-19 pandemic burnout:
Isolation and social distancing have created deep loneliness in children and teens. Being isolated from their daily routines and from interaction with others their age leads to depression, anxiety, withdrawal, and even cognitive decline.
Yes, your child may be bored and frustrated, but they could also be scared. Your child might be asking themselves a lot of questions like: “What happens if I get sick,” “Will my parents die if they catch it,” “Will my friends be mad if I choose not to wear a mask?”
The current situation is a lot to process for a child or teenager. You might see red flags such as not wanting to go out and socialize when they have the chance, or they might be going overboard with hand-washing and sanitizing.
Providing emotional support during these trying times has never been more important.
They are just children. Children that are still growing and learning how to develop into strong adults. They need you to come alongside them and give them the resources and tools they need to cope and move forward, despite the circumstances surrounding them.
What They’re Missing
With the pandemic comes restrictions, and a lot of them.
This could look like no longer attending in-class school regularly, months and months of virtual learning, and canceled social and school activities.
Here’s a quick look at what your child/teen could be missing out on right now:
- In-person schooling, including lunchtime with friends
- School/community sports such as soccer, baseball, gymnastics
- Social time with friends like going out to dinner, the movies, each other’s homes
- Clubs/programs like 4-H, boy scouts, girl scouts
- Church involvement from classes to bible studies and hangouts
- School activities like band concerts, dances, and prom
Social connection is vital for children and teens, so it’s no surprise that these adjustments are affecting their mental health.
According to a National Poll conducted by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, 46% of parents say their teen has shown signs of a new or worsening mental health condition since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
Signs of Distress
Watch for signs of distress in your child. They can be different for every child but there are quite a few common behaviors.
With younger children, look out for:
- Angry outbursts
- Unwillingness to share
- Trouble falling asleep
- Waking up during the night
- Separation anxiety
With older children, look out for:
- Changes in mood that are unusual
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Loss of interest in activities they usually enjoy
- Having a hard time falling asleep
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Death or suicide ideation
- Problems with concentration
- Reckless behavior (drugs and/or alcohol)
What Healthy Looks Like
As human beings, we’re hard-wired for personal connection. We have a strong urge to belong and be seen. The deepest motivations of any human being come from the desire to stay connected, it’s as natural as breathing.
Neuroscience shows that your brain is stimulated when interacting with others. Pathways in your brain light up and trigger a ripple effect of emotions and behaviors. This shows that connection is literally part of your DNA.
Now that you understand why social connection is crucial to your child’s overall health, let’s take a look at what connection looks like:
- Experiencing healthy friendships
- Navigating unhealthy friendships/relationships
- Enjoying social gatherings
- Developing skills of trust
- Learning healthy coping skills
- Discovering new interests
- Developing deeper relationships with meaning
- Learning how to handle betrayal
- Discovering their individual beliefs/morals
The years in childhood and adolescence are not easy to navigate, but they’re crucial to development. They’re essentially stepping stones to building healthy friendships and relationships in your child’s future.
This type of development is much harder to accomplish while socially distancing and using screens instead of face-to-face interaction.
How to Support Your Child
1. Check In With Your Child
Ask your child how they’re doing. Open up that level of communication. Never assume how they’re feeling, always ask. Remind them that you’re there to talk to and that you’ll listen.
2. Engage and Interact With Your Child
Whether it’s simply sitting at the table together and drawing, or taking a walk as a family. Foster time together and model healthy social skills.
3. Seek Professional Help
If your child is feeling overwhelmed and you don’t know how to help, a trained therapist can make all the difference. Perhaps your child is young and can’t fully communicate yet, consider Play Therapy. You can read more about Play Therapy here.
COVID-19 seems to be sticking around, and as a parent, you have the opportunity to take steps to ensure your child will thrive today and in the future.
Remember, children and teens are going through a lot in our current situation. They need support. They need to know that they are not alone.
That’s what I do here at Finding Grace Counseling.
I help children and teens overcome mental health challenges. I do that with a variety of approaches including Play Therapy, Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Family Counseling, Trauma-Focused Therapy, and Christian Counseling.