COVID and Kids: Keeping Them Happy and Healthy

If you’re living with school-aged children or teenagers, you know—all too well—how the coronavirus pandemic wiped out their academic year and challenged their friendships. And, by now, you’ve become accustomed to e-learning, socially distanced play dates, and a lot more family dinners.

But you’re probably also concerned about the possible emotional toll COVID-19 is taking on your kids. Surely, the disappointment of having their lives upended will affect them, and you’d like to know what to do about it.

We asked two of our child and adolescent psychology experts about those concerns and got some anxiety-easing answers, as well as a set of great tips to help you help your children maintain good mental health during these challenging times.

“I think a lot of kids are doing pretty well,” said Dr. DeLynn Williams of Hancock Counseling and Psychiatric Services. “They’ve been adjusting pretty well to the online classes. And they’re very ingenious, so they’re doing FaceTime and Zoom meetings with their friends. That helps them connect.”

To give them (and you) added peace of mind, Dr. Williams and Hancock Health social worker Christy Harpold gave us few ideas for helping your children navigate COVID-19:

  • Let them know their feelings of disappointment, worry, and even anger, are justified, and help them talk about them. “I tell parents to allow their children to express themselves and ask questions,” Harpold said. “And I also tell parents to be honest with kids: Tell them what they need to know but also remember the age of each child and where they are developmentally.”
  • Remember that they’ll do what you do. The way you, as parents, go into public, interact, and respond to situations during the pandemic is likely the same way your children will react.
  • Let them know they can hold your hand or, for older children, stand close to you if they feel afraid.
  • Give them time to prepare for changes in their daily routine. That includes giving them advance notice about big things—including going back to school—and smaller things, like starting to go to parks or shopping again.
  • Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. There are a lot of questions you just can’t answer, including those about kids’ usual summer activities and when the pandemic will end. But add something reassuring to your response—possibly, “We’re going to figure it out together and it will be okay.”
  • Don’t be afraid to change your mind—about going out or wearing masks, for example. As circumstances shift, so will your decisions about what’s safe for your family. Just remember to explain why you’re changing the plan and add a positive statement to your explanation: “Every day is a new day and every day we learn something new about this.”
  • Maintain a routine. It will become doubly important when it’s time for school to start.
  • During quarantine, give your children assignments to sustain their physical, emotional, and social well-being. For example: Ask your kids to choose two physical activities to complete each day—maybe taking a walk or doing jumping jacks. They can also participate in two social activities—such as talking to friends on Zoom and playing a game with a sibling—and two more activities to support their emotional wellness, like writing in a journal or drawing a picture.
  • Rely on teachers and schools to help with e-learning. If your child is struggling, call teachers or schedule a video meeting and get the support you need.
  • If your child becomes distracted by household sounds while studying, offer headphones or enforce a quiet time in the house for a few hours.
  • Expect that, when it’s time to go back to school, younger children might experience separation anxiety. By then, they will have been with you for a longer period of time than usual, so they might have a hard time adjusting to the change. Be patient.
  • Keep them thinking ahead to better times by asking them to tell you the first thing they’ll do when quarantine ends.
  • Know when to call a professional. If your child is exhibiting extreme anxiety, anger, or is withdrawing from normal activities, you might want to consult a mental health expert. Contact Hancock Counseling and Psychiatric Services at 317-468-6200.
  • Remember to keep all children in mind, even if they aren’t yours. The usual school activities where child abuse and neglect are discovered have been cancelled, so it’s up to all of us to protect children. If you suspect child abuse or neglect, call the Indiana Department of Child Services hotline at 1-800-800-5556.

While the effects of COVID-19 are being felt by everyone, including kids, the good news is that experts agree: Children are resilient. The tips above should help you keep them positive and learning until their regularly scheduled activities resume. If you have questions, please contact us and, remember, we are all in this together!

Dr. DeLynn Williams’ office is at Hancock Counseling and Psychiatric Services, 120 W. McKenzie Road, Suite F, Greenfield. She can be reached at 317-468-6200. Christy Harpold is a social worker at Hancock Pediatrics, 300 E. Boyd Ave., Suite 250, Greenfield. She can be reached at 317-467-4500.