COVID-19 has created uncertainty, social isolation and parental anxiety, all of which have an impact on the mental health and well-being of our children and adolescents.
Predictability has been a staple of anxiety management for our kids.
We have long known that being able to predict events helps children and adolescents feel safe and secure. But this predictability has been disrupted since the COVID-19 outbreak.
Children and adolescents worry about whether they will be able to see their friends, whether their friends will get sick, and whether they themselves will get sick. There are very few people in our country who have not been personally touched by COVID-19. Some have been sick or have seen their parents sick. Some have lost grandparents or have friends who have lost parents or grandparents to COVID-19.
It's hard to give our kids predictability when we don't have it ourselves.
It is often difficult for parents to calm their children’s anxieties because of their own uncertainty. Parents are typically adept at making plans for their children to see friends and family members, but most future plans are currently on hold. Families who took the risk of traveling over the holiday period are now seeing the numbers rise and finding family members are now exposed or infected. We begin to fear seeing our loved ones for fear we will be the cause of their illness. These novel challenges parents are facing may interfere with their usual ability to address their children’s emotional needs.
Here is some research on COVID-19 and the mental health of our kids:
Online surveys of parents and children have revealed that 85.7% of parents have reported changes in their children’s emotions and behaviors during quarantine. The most frequently observed changes were difficulty concentrating (76.6%), boredom (52%), irritability (39%), restlessness (38.8%), nervousness (38%), loneliness (31.3%), uneasiness (30.4%), and worries (30.1%). About 75% of parents reported feeling stressed about the quarantine situation. Parental stress was associated with increased reports of emotional and behavioral symptoms in their children.
Youth who had a family member or friend with COVID-19 had higher levels of anxiety than those who did not. A problem-focused coping style was associated with lower levels of clinical depressive symptoms, whereas an emotion-focused coping style was associated with higher levels of clinical depressive symptoms.
Overall, the research demonstrates that COVID-19 is affecting the mental health of children and adolescents and that depression and anxiety are prevalent.
So, what can you as a parent do for your child?
Talk to them about the facts. Share with them the things we do know about COVID-19.
1. What is COVID-19? And what is a "coronavirus?"
The term coronavirus actually refers to a group of viruses that causes many different types of diseases, including the common cold.
COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus, which means it’s a new disease unfamiliar to scientists and doctors. Its name is actually a mash-up of the words,
Corona (CO): Corona means crown in Latin. Coronaviruses are named for the crown-like spikes on their surface. We describe the haze around the moon as a corona. The name stuck! Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s.
-19: Comes from the year 2019, when the disease was first detected.
2. How did COVID-19 start?
There are some diseases that can start in animals and spread to humans. These diseases are called zoonotic (pronounced zoh-uh-NAH-tik) diseases.
Cows, bats, and camels are among the animals that have spread diseases to humans in the past.
The COVID-19 disease is also zoonotic. The first time we recognized that humans could get it was during December 2019 in Wuhan, China. The people who got sick were all connected to a nearby market where live animals were sold, and where experts think the disease got its start.
3. How did COVID-19 get to the United States, and why did it spread so fast?
Scientists first began to see cases of COVID-19 in late December of 2019 in China. It has now spread to at least 114 countries and has infected 87.4 million. Of those, 1.89 million have died. But 48.9 million have recovered! Why don’t these figures add up? Well, sometimes people don’t let the doctors know when they have recovered, so we suspect that the number of people who got better is much higher.
The reason it has spread so quickly from country to country is because of how much people travel now. As people travel from one place to another, COVID-19 travels with them. Since the disease is contagious, or can be spread from one person to another, one new visitor can infect many other people with the disease in the places they travel to. That’s why scientists are encouraging people to stay home in order to prevent the disease from spreading so quickly.
4. How does someone catch COVID-19?
COVID-19 can be transmitted by little droplets from coughs or sneezes, which is why doctors say you should always cover your mouth with your elbow when you cough or sneeze. You could also pick it up by touching doorknobs or countertops that an infected person has touched, and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. According to the World Health Organization, there's no evidence that a dog, cat, or any pet can transmit COVID-19.
5. How can I protect myself? Do I need to wear a mask or gloves?
The best protection from COVID-19 is probably something you do every day: washing your hands. Make sure you’re scrubbing them with soap more often than you normally do. Instead of washing your hands just before you eat or after you’ve gone to the bathroom, also wash them after you’ve arrived back home from school.
You also need to wash them long enough. Experts suggest scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds or about as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
It’s also good to stay away from large crowds of people where you can’t be sure who might be infected. That’s why some schools are closing. They don’t want to take the risk of a few students who might unknowingly have the disease spread it to others.
If you go out to the grocery store or other places where there are lots of people, wear a mask and keep at least 6 feet away from other people. They may be healthy, but why take the risk? Take hand sanitizer or wipes and wipe down the grocery cart handle or other things you may touch often. You probably wont get it from touching things on the shelf, so don’t worry about that.
6. OK, but what happens if I do get it?
Most people who catch COVID-19 get better, and their illness is usually mild. Few kids have even been affected. But if you do catch COVID-19, you might have a dry cough, a fever, and shortness of breath. Just like when you’ve had a cold, the best treatment is to stay in bed—and away from anyone who might catch it from you (Like your grandparents! Older people are more at risk for catching COVID-19). You might also not even know you have it, so keep washing your hands, just in case.
7. Will it go away?
Experts are working so hard to figure out how to prevent people from getting the disease and how to help them recover if they catch it. There are vaccines available now. So pretty soon, we should have things under control. The people who are most likely to catch the disease are getting vaccinated first, then it will work its way down to the rest of us. Your parents will choose whether or not to have the vaccine and whether or not you will get it. We will talk about the pros and cons of the vaccine in the next article.
***To stay updated on current data and facts relating to COVID-19, please refer to cdc.gov (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website).***