With a year of lockdowns, virtual schooling, economic downturns, and social isolation, the kids are not all right. They are suffering. They cannot visit their grandparents. They have missed birthday celebrations, vacations, graduations, prom, and class trips. They are lonely, isolated, and sad. Some are depressed or anxious.
They have Zoom fatigue from long hours in online classrooms. Some have parents that have lost jobs. Some have food insecurity. They are fearful hearing that people are dying from COVID-19. Some are afraid to leave the house. They have trouble sleeping. They may have changes in hygiene or behavior. They may not enjoy activities that they once did. They may worry or obsess over small issues. Children have lost their normalcy.
The numbers confirm this trend. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that there has been a 24 percent increase in the past year of children aged 5 to 11 years seeking mental health services at emergency departments. This has gone up 31 percent for kids between 12 and 17 years of age.
A large study by FAIR Health of 32 billion U.S. health insurance claims regarding children from birth to 22 years shows that cases of intentional self-harm have increased 334 percent from August 2019 to August 2020. There was an increase in depression and anxiety in all age groups. There was an increase in drug and alcohol use with drug overdose increasing in ages 13 to 18 years. The kids are not all right.
Parents must act. Here are some tips to help your kids maintain a sense of normalcy at home.
Have frank conversations.
Listen to your kids. Reach out for help to your pediatric health care provider or mental health professional. There are things you can do to help. Limit the news coverage.
Keep structure and routine.
Get up at the same time for school. Have meals together. If Friday night was pizza and movie night, continue that tradition. Make homemade pizza and watch a movie at home. Pick a night for family game night and continue that tradition weekly. Let home be a safe and fun haven.
Exercise helps to decrease stress.
Better yet, take it outdoors. Fresh air is wonderful medicine. Reconnecting with nature has healing properties. Take a walk. Spend time bird watching or have a picnic. Walk your dog. Try yoga as a family.
Eat healthy meals.
Strive for five fresh fruits and vegetables daily, and include whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy in your diet. Eat meals together as a family without the TV. Take turns talking about the high (best part) and low (worst part) of the day.
Encourage new hobbies.
This is a great time to learn to paint, cross-stitch, garden, or knit. Share a hobby that you enjoy with your child. Teach your child whatever hobby you enjoy.
Have a family spa night with healthy stress-relief activities, such as home-spa facials. Light candles and practice guided imagery while you describe walking through a garden or along a beach. Have a Zoom play date with friends. Do random good deeds.
Schedule annual exams.
Many children are behind on their check-ups, vaccines, and dental cleanings due to COVID restrictions. This has impacted the physical health of children. Well exams are vital to detect issues and prevent problems.
Return safely to the classroom.
The Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports a safe return to the classroom. The classroom is needed not just for learning, but for socialization, nutrition, special services, and childcare. The AAP is working with the school system to be sure that social distancing, disinfection, hand washing stations, and mask requirements will help keep kids safe at school.
Things will return to normal.
Schools will be back in session. Grandparents will get vaccinated and be allowed to visit. Friends will one day again to be able to play together. Until that time, watch for signs of anxiety and depression and reach out to a professional if you notice those. Post the National Suicide Prevention hotline: 1-800-273-8255 or text the word CONNECT to 741741 to speak to a counselor.
The kids are not all right, but it is our job as parents to help them be all right. We can guide them through these trying times to a bright future ahead.