While health effects and learning loss for children during the COVID-19 pandemic have been well documented, what’s sometimes more difficult to see are the adverse mental health effects students are experiencing across the country.
For younger students, disruptions to established structures and routines that occur with sudden school closures or the need to quarantine have been especially challenging. According to Jena Lee, director of pediatric consultation and emergency psychiatry at David School of Medicine at the University of California, a sense of structure helps them regulate their emotions.
“The consistency of schedules, predictable rules and consequences, and set expectations teach children how to behave, develop self-discipline and impulse control and, importantly, a sense of safety and control,” Lee said in an article for Healio Psychiatry. “Clinically, we often see an exacerbation of behavioral problems in our pediatric patients when their routine or structure is disturbed.”
Though COVID-19 might have upended well-established routines, parents can still help their children develop new ones in their current environment. In a handbook created to help families during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ellen Mahoney, CEO of Sea Change Mentoring, suggests inviting the whole family to get involved in developing a revised daily routine that works for everyone’s schedule. For children especially, having a sense of agency when it comes to deciding how to structure their day will help them feel in control during this unpredictable time.
Feeling scared, anxious and stressed is a natural response to the pandemic, and according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), both parents and educators play a crucial role in helping children cope with these feelings. A few strategies that the organization suggests include:
- Modeling positive behaviors like exercising, eating healthy foods and connecting with friends and family.
- Answering questions about COVID-19 in ways that children can understand and using credible information from reputable sources in order to do so.
- Reassure children that they are safe and let them know that how they’re feeling is completely normal. Sharing a story of how you have coped with a stressful situation can also encourage a child to try a similar technique.
- Limit exposure to social media and news coverage of COVID-19. At a younger age, it’s more likely that a child might misinterpret what they see and become even more worried.
What strategies do you use to support your student or child?
During unprecedented times like these, we are all in this together. What techniques have you used to help your student or child emotionally cope with the COVID-19 pandemic? We invite you to share what’s worked for you on our Facebook page.