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Children’s mental health a year into the pandemic, and what parents can do to help

By Ish Bhalla | August 9, 2021 | Healthy Lifestyle, Coronavirus, Mental Health

Child hugs her father with mom smiling in the background

Children’s Mental Health a Year+ into the Pandemic

As parents, we’ve had to navigate a lot over these past sixteen months. From adjusting to more time at home to trying to teach our kids how to properly wear a mask, we were all swimming in uncharted waters.

But we weren’t the only ones experiencing these adjustments. Our kids were feeling the impacts of the pandemic as well, whether they showed it or not. Changes like less time with friends, virtual learning and overall uncertainty can weigh on a child. Just six months into the pandemic, Kaiser Family Foundation found 31% of parents said their child’s mental or emotional health was worse than before the pandemic.

It’s more important now than ever to check in with your child to see how they’re doing mentally. To prepare yourself for those conversations, learn about the most common challenges contributing to poor mental health in children. We’ll give you some signs to look out for and steps you can take to keep your child healthy.

What mental health challenges are kids facing?

The CDC’s COVID-19 Parental Resources Kit lists 5 things contributing to children’s mental health problems:

  1. Change in routines: Daily routines provide children with structure that can support their development and well-being. Over the past year and a half, those established routines have been greatly disrupted. This can cause additional trauma and anxiety in kids. Children may also struggle with changes to their social routines, with social isolation being a key contributor to mental illness.
  2. Adaption to virtual learning: While many were able to adapt to virtual learning, some kids were not. Inequities in resources, access and connectivity across families and communities prevented some children from continuing their education. Daycare and school closures have also forced children to stay home, while parents or caregivers have juggled caretaking and work responsibilities.
  3. Break in continuity of health care: With many concerned about getting COVID-19, some parents have avoided seeking medical care due to stay-at-home orders. As a result, many kids live with untreated mental health conditions. Mental Health America says 59.6% of youth with major depression do not receive any mental health treatment.
  4. Missed significant life events: Birthdays, graduations and prom, are just a few of the many significant life events teens and children may have missed since the pandemic began. Limited gatherings have affected the ability of friends and family to come together in person to celebrate and/or grieve in typical ways. When parents or caregivers experience grief, young children may also experience emotional challenges.
  5. Loss of security and safety: Young children living in families experiencing economic troubles may feel unsafe. Worry about access to healthy foods, safe transportation, housing, and threats of violence may contribute to poor mental health among children.

What should I look out for?

Signs of poor mental health greatly depend on the developmental stage of your child. The National Association of School Psychologists recommends looking for these signs of anxiety or concern.

Signs of mental health concern in children by age. In preschoolers, look for thumb sucking, bedwetting, clinging to parents, fear of the dark, etc. With elementary age children, look for irritability, aggressiveness, clinginess, nightmares, school avoidance, poor concentration and withdrawal. In teenagers, look for sleeping and eating disturbances, agitation, increase in conflicts, physical complaints, delinquent behavior and poor concentration.

What steps can I take to support my kids’ mental health?

As parents, we want to do all we can to ensure our kids are happy and healthy. The following steps from the CDC’s COVID-19 Parental Resources Kit offer four ways to help eliminate sources of stress and anxiety.

  1. Recognize and address fear and stress: Children might worry about getting sick with COVID-19, and about their loved ones getting sick, too. Monitoring TV viewing and social media use can help prevent anxiety. Adults can take steps to provide stability and support to help children cope as well as provide access to professional help and distress emergency hotlines, as needed.
  2. Take care of yourself: Children can mirror their parents’ behaviors. Adults should seek mental health services if they are experiencing worry and stress.
  3. Keep up COVID-19 preventative behaviors: Be a good role model and encourage kids to do so as well. Continue washing your hands often, staying at least 6 feet apart and wearing a mask in public spaces, even if you are fully vaccinated. Children will likely start mimicking these behaviors.
  4. Help keep children healthy: Seek mental and occupational health care through your child’s school or doctor. Encourage your child to lead a healthy lifestyle. Eating healthy, drinking water, and playing outdoors are great for physical and mental health.
  5. Help children stay socially connected: Reach out to friends and family via phone or video chats. Write cards or letters to family members they may not be able to visit. Schools may have tips and guidelines to help support social and emotional needs of children.

If you need help finding a mental health professional for your child, call the number on the back of your insurance card. A customer service representative can help you learn more about the benefits available to you. You can also use our Find a Doctor tool to help locate a physician. If you are a Healthy Blue member, use Healthy Blue’s Find a Doctor resource.

While the pandemic may not be completely behind us, we are starting to better understand the mental toll it has taken on our overall health. As a parent, you can do your part to support your child’s mental health. And remember to give yourself grace. We will get through this together.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina offers several decision support tools to aid you in making decisions about your health care experience. These tools are offered for your convenience and should only be used as reference tools. You should consult your own legal counsel, tax advisor or personal physician as applicable through your health care experience.