By Misty Bottorff, LCSW
The year 2020 brought with it a plethora of crises—including wildfires, a global pandemic, political unrest, and uncertainty—which have had an astronomical impact on children and teen’s mental health.
Children learn and communicate through play, social interaction, and modeling from peers and adults, but COVID-19 guidelines on social distancing and school closures caused many children to be isolated over the past year. When schools closed last spring, families struggled with the transition to online learning and the loss of extracurricular activities. Many kids weren’t able to see friends, no longer had healthy outlets for socializing and learning teamwork, and were now living in uncertainty and fear of getting sick.
As an integrated behavioral health clinician at the CMH Pediatric Clinic, I have seen an increase in anxiety and depression among children and youth that I see. Parents are reporting that their kids are spending more time on screens, are less motivated to do activities they used to find enjoyable, and have more behavioral and mental health issues.
However, there are ways we can help children cope with these stressors and help build their resilience. Parents and caregivers should check in with children often about how they are feeling and how they are managing stress. What I have noticed right now is that most children and teens just need someone to really listen to them—without trying to fix the problem.
Setting and keeping routines in the home is also very important for children’s mental health. I encourage you to set regular bed and wake up times, schedule time for physical activity and limited socializing with other children, spend more time outdoors together, and start new family rituals. Now is the perfect time to learn and teach new skills like cooking, gardening, playing games, and to just spend quality time together.
If your children are struggling with anxiety or depression, talk with their pediatrician. There are many great therapists in our area who treat children and adolescents. Help is also available from the integrated behavioral health clinicians at any CMH Primary Care clinic.
Proving support, building resilience, and teaching healthy coping skills are all ways that we can help our children through this difficult time.
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