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Minimizing the Negative Impact of the Pandemic on Children and Adolescents

July 29, 2020


(Part 2 of a 4-part series)

In this installment of "Coping During COVID-19," Psych Congress Steering Committee member Julie Carbray, PhD, FPMHNP-BC, PMHCNS-BC, APRN, discusses how families can minimize the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and adolescents.

Dr. Carbray is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Nursing, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Administrative Director, Pediatric Mood Disorder Clinic, Pediatric Brain Research and Intervention Center, Department of Psychiatry, Chicago, Illinois.

"Coping During COVID-19" is an initiative designed to provide content and connection to mental health clinicians during the global pandemic.

Part 1: How COVID-19 Is Affecting the Mental Health of Children and Adolescents

Read the transcript:

Clinicians can advise families during this time to keep up routines for their children. This could be challenging, because there's a whole day ahead of you. When you're quarantining, there's a lot of distractions.

There's television. There's iPads. There's gaming. It can be a challenge trying to navigate some of those areas that are more comfortable and calming for children, along with getting outside, getting exercise, eating healthily, and connecting with family members or friends, whether it be virtually or at a distance.

It's important to keep up routines, primarily for kids. Kids thrive with routines. In this time of unpredictable social life and this unpredictable world, a routine becomes even more important. Routines of sleep, bedtimes should try to be as normal as possible.

That's been one area we've really been trained to help families with, because kids don't have to wake up for school right now. If they are waking up for school, their schoolday is compressed into only a couple of hours, rather than being an entire day.

Kids are staying up later, and they're sleeping in later. That's OK, as long as you maintain a predictable routine. The other thing clinicians can do for families is really encourage families to help their children express feelings.

This can be done in a journal format. This can be done with a daily check‑in. Kids are taking in a lot about what's happening in their world, and they need the opportunity to just talk about it. Helping kids, whether it's through drawing, journaling, or even through play.

Talking about their experience during this pandemic, some of their fears, and some of their thoughts, so that parents can really help their children in coping with some of the stressors that they hear about.

The other thing that parents can do is keep in good care of themselves. If parents aren't taking care of themselves, they can't really adequately help their children. This is critical. If a parent is incredibly anxious or very emotional about what's going on, the child will follow their lead.

They'll also have some of their own concerns about the parent’s inability to manage their stress during this time. The more that parents can care for themselves, the better it is for the child, because children really look to their parents to set the tone of how they cope, how they express emotions, and what they do when they're stressed. If parents can also keep their own healthy routines and care for themselves, that's critical.

The other thing, too, is to monitor input that comes into the home. Not only are families monitoring who comes in and out of their homes, but also the information coming in.

If the family has a lot of input, meaning the television's on all the time, the child's going to pick up some of what's going out in the world and will need to talk about it.

There may be more limits that parents can set on the television being on, or how much time they themselves spend looking at social media and information about what's going on with the pandemic and the world across their day.

Lastly, I would say that clinicians can encourage family members to just stay close to their kids during this time. This is a time to just connect with their children in a different way. Now that we no longer have these busy schedules and running kids everywhere, just to take an opportunity during this time to establish a routine of checking in with your child.

It could be just having dinner together. It could be a bedtime that you spend some time just talking about how they're doing, what they're thinking about, what they'd like to have happen over the next several days. Staying close and being supportive is critical as well. Each of these can really be effective in helping to hold the child during this time, when the world seems fairly crazy.

I even mean adolescents, too. Just connecting with them, doing your best to have a calm approach to just check in, and discussing and collaborating together on things like going out with friends, on walking out into the world, on maintaining their routines will really help families to collaborate and navigate stress and coping during this challenging time.

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