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COVID-19 Pandemic and Mental Health Risks in Children and Adolescents

Updated: Mar 3, 2021

The negative effects of COVID-19 have impacted us all. Unfortunately, children and adolescents’ mental health is at a higher risk of threat; through generally unusual schedule changes, virtual schooling matters, technological issues, and disconnection from social supports, these kids have had their worlds turned upside down; they are unquestionably at a higher risk for depression and anxiety.

Here are a few tips for parents to positively impact their kids’ mental health:

Empathize with them. Put yourself in their shoes; remind them that it is ok to feel sad or afraid – and that those are normal (temporary and fleeting) feelings. Remind them that you know things are not easy for them right now, but that you are on their side and will stand by them if or when things become even more challenging. Reassure them that life will slowly but surely return to some sort of regularity, but until then, we are all having to learn a huge lesson in patience. Relate to them. Listen. Reflect. Offer a safe space where they do not feel judged, where they can share how they truly feel.

Encourage virtual time with friends. Whether it is Facetime, Zoom, texting, or calling, reaching out virtually can have the potential to help kids and adults feel re-connected.

Encourage physical activity. Getting adolescents/teens motivated to do anything that involves physical activity is often a feat of great proportions, but once they leave the comfort of their bedrooms, they can reap several benefits. Physical activity can boost the immune system, lower stress levels, increase healthy habit setting and maintenance, and increase more efficient sleep. Furthermore, it makes you feel good!

Keep a set schedule. Having a routine can be comforting to kids and adults alike; knowing what is happening (and when) can help us mentally prepare for those tasks or appointments.

Keep healthy snacks around. Boost immune system with healthy fruits and veggies. When choosing beverages: water is always the healthier option. If you allow your kids to drink soda, give them a one soda limit and only allow that at a certain time, for example, before 5pm, so that caffeine doesn’t keep them awake at night.

Have Family dinner. At least one night a week, get the family together for dinner. It doesn’t have to be at the kitchen table, but that would an ideal setting.

Make that time to ask about each other’s day, ask about feelings, ask about what they’re working on in school, what they feel good about, what they need help with, what they are overwhelmed with, what they are most looking forward to when they return to being physically present in school.

Use this time to give yourself a mental checklist of things you can touch base about in the following days. Children and adolescents – like anyone else - just want to be heard. Mindfully listen to them. Sometimes simply listening to them helps them work things out on their own. Help with the overwhelming things by offering support, reminding them of their favorite stress relievers, and encourage time management and healthy breaks.

Keep a Tidy Environment. Physical clutter causes mental clutter for some adolescents and adults alike. Set a timer and do two 10-minute tidy periods each day with your adolescents and younger children. Make it a game to see who can get more done faster. Whoever gets more done gets an extra 10-20 minutes on their favorite screen activity.

Set screen time limits. I know, this can be such an unpleasant and unrelenting argument. However, maintain the wherewithal to make this an unwavering rule and you and your children will reap the benefits. Cut-off nightly screen time earlier for younger children but give your adolescents and teens an extra hour or two – especially when homework is their primary reason or need for the screen.

Studies from Harvard show that the blue light emitted from computers and cell phones negatively impacts our ability to fall asleep - and may even cause diseases. The blue light prevents our bodies from producing melatonin – a hormone that regulates our sleep/wake cycle. Try turning off screens 2-3 hours before bedtime every night.

Help Them Find Creative Hobbies! Creating art, making a fun craft, or preparing a healthy colorful meal can all ease symptoms of depression and anxiety. Did your son love chess a couple of years ago? Set up your board and challenge him to a game. Did your daughter have an interest in painting? Break out the canvas and paintbrushes and ask if she will help you figure out what bird you should paint. Get creative with them!

Seek treatment. Sometimes parents don’t have all the answers. If you think your child or adolescent is suffering from depression or anxiety, please reach out to a local mental health professional who can offer a variety of evidence-based skills to cope with these issues.

There are several local mental health treatment options but I am partial to Mindsight Behavioral Group; we are currently accepting new clients. Our therapists are always prepared to assist clients in addressing mental health concerns and help empower them to overcome life’s many obstacles.

Important note: if you discover that your child or adolescent has self-harming behaviors, do not react in anger. Instead, let them know you are there for them and you can work things out together. The self-harm crisis text line is available to persons of any age; they can text for help at any time: 741741.

Laura Cooper, CSW, MSSW, TCADC

Clinical Social Worker

Laura enjoys helping clients empower themselves with stress management techniques, coping skills, and necessary resources along their journey to improved mental health and wellbeing.

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