CareNow® - July 22, 2021

The coronavirus pandemic has had far-reaching impacts to groups of people all over the earth. With over 114 million cases worldwide and counting, the effects of COVID-19 can be felt far and wide. While adults have been impacted in many obvious ways, one group that may be slightly overlooked is kids.

Data suggests children are relatively safe from the physical impacts of COVID-19; however, the mental and social toll the virus is taking on the younger population is in some ways most serious. 

Required social distancing, although beneficial as a whole, can also make us feel more socially isolated, depressed and lonely at times, and the impact it has had on children is still a fairly big unknown. 

In this article, we will take a look at the impact COVID-19 is having on children and the long-term effects the virus may have in the future. 

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Major Causes of Mental Health Strain on Children During COVID-19

As a whole, mental health problems are not all that uncommon in children. In fact, mental health concerns affect around one in six children, even during times many would consider “normal.” 

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for cases of mental health problems to actually increase during times of community crises. The COVID-19 pandemic would definitely qualify and may be one of the largest impacts of community crises ever seen. 

Specifically, when looking at mental health in children and teens, an increased number of the population are prone to developing long-term illnesses like:

  • general anxiety
  • depression
  • outburst or disruptive behavior problems
  • sleep disorders
  • substance use disorders 
  • suicidal thoughts or symptoms

Recognizing Signs of Mental Health Strain in Your Child 

Although mental health changes and illnesses are not always easy to spot, it is important to keep an especially close eye on children during these times. 

Signs of increased stress and mental health challenges may not present the same way for every child or teen, but there are some common symptoms all parents should be looking for.

Common especially in infants, toddlers and younger children, regression of previously mastered skills or key developmental milestones is especially common. 

For younger children these problems may manifest themselves and typically lead to increased problems with:

  • Trouble being content. Fussiness ​and irritability increase in frequency. You may see your young child startling and crying more easily. In addition, children may be more difficult to console once they become upset.
  • Difficulty falling asleep or waking up more frequently than normal during the night.
  • Widespread feeding issues. These include things such as disinterest in food, acid reflux​, difficulty expressing bowel movement, diarrhea or complaints of stomach discomfort.
  • Clinginess or separation anxiety. Your child may have difficulty being alone or seem distant from others they may have previously been comfortable with. Children may be hesitant to try new things or new places.
  • Physical frustration expressed as hitting, anger, biting and more frequent or intense temper tantrums​.
  • Increase frequency of bed-wetting for older children who have been potty trained.
  • Expressing needs in a more animated way. It is common for children to begin expressing needs in a more urgent manner.
  • Dark or uncomfortable expression of conflict and aggression. This may include interest in themes like illness or death. ​

How to Reduce the Impact of COVID-19 on Your Kid

Acknowledging when your child may have had their mental health impacted by COVID-19 is extremely important. Once an issue is identified and you seek help from a medical professional, you can begin playing a key role in helping them develop healthy coping mechanisms. 

While these times may be difficult for kids and parents alike, having a plan for each day or situation is crucial as it forms a foundation for consistency and predictability needed to combat the fear and worry a child may be feeling in times with so many unknowns. Here are some tips to keep in mind during the process.

Come up with a game plan

As mentioned above, having a plan is very important in dealing with any mental health issues . In general, the steps a parent should follow will include, committing to staying engaged; only control as much as you can, become involved and learn over time to grow from adversity.

Prioritize daily routine

For a child, predictability and stability is extremely important for overall mental health . With a little bit of planning, you can help your child feel as though they have a bit more control over their situation. 

Some tips for doing this include: planning meals the child is comfortable with, eating around the same time of day and having a consistent sleep schedule.

Keep focused

With the unpredictability associated with the pandemic, keeping a child on task is difficult at best. One tip for staying focused is to make lists. 

No matter how easy or difficult the task, lists can go a long way to keeping your child busy and their mind off potentially damaging thoughts. Making a list can also help children feel a sense of accomplishment as they are able to complete tasks throughout the day.

Maintain a focus on general health and well-being

As a result of uncertainty and living a somewhat hectic lifestyle during the pandemic, many parents may feel the need to get out of routine, causing delayed or missed health checkups and vaccinations with your child. 

Although you may think missing these appointments are good, even using social distancing as a justification, these visits are as crucial as ever for children and adolescents. 

Routine visits provide an opportunity for screenings and immunizations that may even allow healthcare professionals to identify potential behavioral health and mental problems before they become a larger issue.

Remember that you are not alone

The heightened sense of social isolation in these times can be as dangerous for a parent as they are for children. Although you may feel alone, it is important to set a good example for your child and seek professional help when it is needed. 

The pandemic may have caused uncertainty in a lot of places, but professionals are equipped with the training to assist even in these unprecedented times.

Although these times may be unprecedented, it is important to be highly aware of the impacts they are having on your children. The mental health impacts COVID-19 is having on children may occur gradually, and unfortunately, for most children with mental health problems, treatment may come too late, if at all. 

As a parent, it is crucial to be an advocate for your child and assure their symptoms are evaluated and addressed by a medical healthcare professional.

If you have concerns about your child’s mental or physical health, consider a visit to CareNow Urgent Care. We have four kid-friendly clinics in the DFW area, each staffed with qualified physicians who are ready to serve you. We’re also open after hours and on the weekend.

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Before your visit, be sure to take advantage of our Web Check-In® feature so you can avoid the waiting room.

Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.