November is children’s mental health awareness month. While it has been challenging for all of us as we face the novel difficulties of COVID-19 together, these times presents a unique challenge to our children’s mental health. Since 2020, a survey noted that 55 percent of children felt “more depressed, sad, or unhappy” versus 25 percent of adults (•Osgood, Sheldon-Dean, & Kimball, 2021).
Children experienced great disruptions in structure and routine, two protective factors that are greatly beneficial to children’s mental health. Those children who were already experiencing depression, anxiety, and other mental health symptoms prior to the pandemic had even more difficulty coping with the isolation and changes in routine that occurred. Faced with isolation, family units that were under stress, increased screen time, and increased anxiety about the changes and uncertainty around them, children often had limited resources to draw on during a time when they needed it the most.
Reading statistics and hearing about the struggles our children faced can present a very grim picture, but there is often a source of hope if we look for it. When working with parents, I often tell them that THEY are the best “intervention”, so to speak, for their child. Teens noted that by and large the pandemic increased the frequency of conversations they had regarding their mental health. While it seems simple, taking the time to listen to our children, helping them to name fears and feelings, and providing them with basic structure or routine so they know what to expect are efforts that all add up.
Listening and asking questions about what our children have been thinking or feeling, how changes have impacted them, and understanding and accepting their emotions is especially important as it gives space for our children to bring their interior experience into the open.
Ian Masson, MS, LPC
Director of the IPS Center for Psychological Services
As a father of 5 one of the most helpful things that I have found, both for myself and for my children, is to spend time with each of them on a consistent basis. When I notice that they may begin to struggle with strong emotions or are responding more strongly to transitions, that is an indicator that there may be something going on internally, as children’s emotions often can manifest as external behaviors. During the pandemic this became even more important, and it is amazing to see how taking time to engage in play or a game with a child or is struggling emotionally really can set the tone for the rest of the week. A “bonus”, so to speak, was the impact it had on my own stress levels! In providing this simple gift, we create a “safe harbor” for our children with our presence so that they know even amidst fear and uncertainty we are still there for them and love them.
• Reference: Osgood, K., Sheldon-Dean, H., & Kimball, H. (2021). 2021 Children’s Mental Health Report: What we know about the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on children’s mental health –– and what we don’t know. Child Mind Institute.