In recent months, coronavirus (COVID-19) has turned the world upside down. Parents and kids alike have had increased feelings of anxiety and depression. But this can be even harder for kids with pre-existing mental health concerns, like anxiety, depression or ADHD.
“It really can be a harder time and I’m noticing that as I’m working with my patients. The things that they used to count on and be able to predict are not there,” says Dr. Sarah Jerstad, associate clinical director of psychological services at Children’s Minnesota St. Paul hospital.
Dr. Jerstad shared more about COVID-19 and mental health with KARE-11
According to Dr. Jerstad, children with mental health concerns will need extra support from their parents at this time. She wants parents to know that it’s OK to let kids know that you are struggling, too.
“It’s just a matter of being yourself. Don’t try to be too tough or too strong for these kids or pretend that this is not a big deal. It is and they’ll recognize that you’re feeling that too,” said Dr. Jerstad. “And if you’re honest about it and if you can model that for your kids – it’s actually really helpful.”
Keep your children’s minds and bodies healthy
Here’s more of what you need to know about keeping your children’s minds and bodies healthy as we work together to get through the time of COVID-19:
Children who have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety, social anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) will need extra support during this time. The news, especially news related to COVID-19, can exacerbate some of their feelings and symptoms. Here are some coping strategies that may help you help your child:
- Set aside “worry time” so your child knows that there is a time to talk to you about what is going on in the world, and there’s still a safe space to talk about their feelings.
- Utilize distraction and relaxation techniques.
- Help your child find social interaction virtually, through FaceTime or Zoom, or at a safe distance outside. This is especially important for children experiencing social anxiety.
- If your child has OCD, work with your child’s therapist to reset exposure practice to something more realistic.
Children with depression have the tendency to isolate, and social distancing makes this even easier. Make sure your child joins the family for meals, walks or other family activities. It’s critical for kids to be engaged in activities, but this may be more difficult than ever before. Be sure to work with your child to come up with a list of family activities that will help them feel engaged.
Feelings of hopelessness may also be fueled by constant bad news. Be sure to check in with them regularly, and consider helping them avoid watching or reading the news.
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be struggling with the lack of structure COVID-19 has caused. They may have a really hard time focusing on online school. Kids really need to have structure to thrive, but children with ADHD struggle to implement structure in their lives. Here are some ways that may help you introduce more structure to your child’s daily life:
- Regularly check in with your child to see if they need a break from school. If they need extra breaks during the day, ask your child’s school or teacher for handouts to review with them later in the day.
- Set up opportunities for frequent breaks during the day, especially for physical activity.
- Make sure they are taking their medication as prescribed.
Children’s Minnesota is here to help
Children’s Minnesota behavioral health services are still available. We are offering virtual visits so you can keep up on your child’s mental health needs. We can offer a variety of services online through telehealth:
- Follow-up visits with their therapist.
- New therapy appointments.
- Psychological evaluations (651-220-6724).
- Preschool autism evaluations.
- Consultations for online school problems, ADHD and more.
- Medication management (651-226-894).