This year has affected all of us, including children, whose schooling and way of life have been turned upside down since the pandemic began.
Olivia Kudlawiec is a School Psychologist at North Star School District in Somerset County who says it’s important to look out for your child’s mental state during this uncertain time.
“In general, a big event can be very stressful, and it’s something that’s very unpredictable. That can bring about anxiety and feelings of uncertainty,” Olivia says.
She says there isn’t too much research on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected children’s mental health yet because it’s still relatively new.
Although, she says the pandemic can be approached in the same way as any major unpredictable life event, such as a natural disaster, loss of a family member, or poor economic situation.
But why can COVID-19 be hard for children?
“School shut down so unexpectedly, and there were just so many unknowns. We had no idea was school going to reopen? Was school not going to reopen?”
She says it’s hard to predict how a child will react, and they don’t necessarily have to have a history of anxiety or depression to have mental difficulties during the pandemic.
“Although children with pre-existing risk factors can be more likely to have a more intense reaction to this type of situation, you can have a healthy child who is just overwhelmed,” she says.
For any child, Olivia says watch out for difficulty sleeping, a change in eating patterns, attention problems, or difficulty completing tasks in school. Are they more irritable or withdrawn?
“You really just want to watch for any decline or change in their social, emotional, or behavioral functioning now as in comparison to before COVID-19.”
She says keeping an eye out for those three changes is the biggest thing, and then be open to talking with them.
If your child’s school is on a hybrid or virtual schedule whose routine has been disrupted she says the best thing you can do as a parent is set your child on a routine.
“Being at home for about 5-6 months, and probably not having quite as much structure, or having as many demands placed on you, then coming back to school, and trying to adjust back to that is difficult for them,” she says.
Olivia says kids thrive on structure when they know what’s expected of them, resulting in more motivation.
“You should try to make the day as much like their normal school day as possible, and then when they do transition back to in person instruction, it should be an easier change.”
There are many ways to help your child.
She says you can always reach out to the school or child’s teacher, to see if they’re noticing the same things that you are at home or just ask them for guidance.
“Maybe you want to work with the school and see if they can point you in the right direction as to what support or services might be appropriate to help your child.”