Your Child’s Mental Health Now

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How’s your little guy zooming up the sidewalk doing? Take a step back and peer into what he may be experiencing during this unprecedented time.

Your child’s mind right now has taken a 180 turn. Everything he knows is different, and for him to understand why he has to wear a mask to school or tackle homeschooling once again, is mindboggling.

Changes are taking a toll on our kids’ mental health and as adults, we are going through it, too. So to be there for our kids and deal with dramatic changes, isn’t easy, but we must. In fact, according to Rebecca Strayer, MA, LPCC, clinical counselor at Naya Clinics, in the face of trauma and change, a kid’s mind responds very similarly to an adult’s brain.

“Kids learn how to trust and feel safe through structure and consistency,” she continues. “Many of us have heard of the flight, fight, or freeze response to change and trauma. The first “f” is less talked about: Flock. This response is when we want to feel connected and feel safe through knowing we are not alone in the crisis,” she says.

Therefore, this may be why your kid is feeling so uncomfortable with the social distancing and COVID-19 changes, plus, facing school with an all-new look and feel.

Your Kids’ Behavior

Notice your child being a little extra clingy lately? Or stopping at nothing to really catch your attention? This can be caused by a natural “Flock” response, but because of social distancing, this response may go in a different direction — you may see an increase in irritability, isolating in bedrooms and not wanting to talk to anyone, or not being as active.

So what can stressed out parents do? Start by simply speaking with your child to find out what knowledge he already has of the current events going on around him, according to Strayer. The way your child responds to change and stress depends a lot on his personality and age; and the way you communicate with him changes, too. Tracy S. Cummings, M.D., psychiatrist at the Lindner Center of HOPE, explains that although kids all deal with change differently, trauma can be tricky.

“You and I can experience the same situation and yet our responses to it can vary dramatically,” she explains. “Young children may not have the knowledge of what might be going wrongly nor the language to be able to express how they feel about it.”

Talking to Your Kids

Staying up to date with all of the changes in your school district and allowing kids to ask questions galore is one way to begin a conversation — and be sure to keep it age-appropriate. In the situation where you don’t have the answer, don’t try and make one up, says Strayer. This can lead to false information.

“We also want to validate our children’s feelings,” she continues. “Let them know that it is OK for them to have their feelings.”

Model healthy behaviors to teach your child resilience, keep a consistent routine and schedule to help him feel safe and remember to stay calm, no matter how old your child is; kids easily pick up on your emotions, says Strayer. Take a deep breath and communicate calmly through your body language, volume and tone of voice; and don’t forget family time.

“Test out an activity together (cards, puzzles, cooking) and feel proud of the result,” suggests Cummings. “It is important for families to remember what makes them unique and recognize that COVID does not change that.”

Helpful Resources

Dealing with our emotions while trying to stay positive for our children can be just plain hard. Stay current and involved with your kids. If a child displays concerning symptoms at-home, seek counsel with your pediatrician.

Amanda Hayward is editor of this publication. She is from Cincinnati, Ohio, a military wife and mom of two. If you don't see her writing for Cincinnati Family, you'll find her running, juggling kids, teaching group fitness classes and cooking up healthy recipes.

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