Why Children and Teens Are Struggling Post-Covid
Covid-19 has been an absolute nightmare for so many the world over that the ways our lives have been affected truly cannot be enumerated in one blog post. However, today we will discuss one consequence that’s been coming up more and more often. In our sessions with parents or clients who work in education, we have noticed an alarming rise in negative behaviors in children post covid. Children and adolescents exhibit higher rates of stress, anxiety, and depression than in previous years. These struggles result in higher rates of behavioral problems such as acting out in class, fighting, or emotional outbursts. Most concerning, however is the increase in hospitalizations for suicide attempts.
Studies have shown that the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns and school cancellations have vastly detrimental effects on children and adolescents' mental health. Many children display symptoms of post-traumatic stress caused by the intense changes to the usual routine, isolation from friends and family, the sudden death of loved ones, and fear of getting sick. For many kids, after 18 months of struggling to attend school virtually and adjust to a much more independent learning style, they are struggling to readjust to being back in the classroom and away from their home, which has become a comfort zone for them. Children who struggle with separation anxiety spent the better part of two years at home with their parents, many of whom were also working from home. While great in some cases, the increase in family time also made children who usually suffer from separation anxiety feel even more anxious and stressed out by the return to school and work after the lockdowns were lifted. This can be especially true for younger children who are just starting out in school and who have had very little experience being away from their families for any length of time.
For others, the home has been the opposite of comforting. Another negative consequence of the Covid 19 lockdowns was an increase in child abuse in the home. The pandemic caused a lot of families to experience financial pressure, career upsets, housing insecurity, forced proximity, health scares, and many other situations that created the perfect storm for additional stress and frustration to grow. In response to those emotions and the intense pressure, many parents became short-tempered, quick to respond negatively and even violently in extreme cases. For children living in an unsafe environment, the return to school and the normal routine may have given them the space that they needed to truly react to the pain they had been experiencing at home but may have been afraid to express in front of their abuser. These children can also display symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress and increased anxiety and depression.
Unfortunately, in the United States, there is a severe shortage of school Psychologists available to effectively help students who are struggling to adjust to life after Covid-19. The National Association of School Psychologists recommends 1 Psychologist for every 500 students. In the United States, only one state (Maine) meets that recommendation. Luckily, many states and the federal government have recognized the importance of mental health care to the overall well-being of students and their success in school. Many states have decided to earmark some of the funds they received for pandemic relief to provide mental health services for students. This increased focus on mental health could signal a turn for the better for kids in the future. As encouraging as that may be, many parents and teachers are wondering what they can do now to address these problems.
The first thing parents and teachers should do is familiarize themselves with the signs of stress in children and adolescents. Those signs include:
changes in mood
changes in behavior
changes in social interactions
loss of interest in hobbies or passions
sleep disruptions or excessive tiredness
changes in appetite or weight
new or worsening problems with concentration
changes in appearance suggesting a lack of personal care and hygiene
an increase in risky behaviors such as drinking or using drugs
thoughts or talking about suicide
Teachers who recognize these symptoms should refer their students to any mental health services available through your school district and inform the parents about your concerns. If you recognize any of these symptoms in your own child, we recommend having them evaluated by a licensed mental health therapist and your child’s Pediatrician. Aside from these things, caregivers, teachers, and parents can adopt a few simple practices to help support their child/students’ mental health.
Be open and honest with them about what they have been experiencing over the last couple of years, keeping in mind their age and maturity level.
Allow them to express themselves in a positive way and encourage them to speak to a trusted adult about how they’re feeling.
Establish a healthy environment at home or in the classroom, focusing on positive things to help the child do the same.
Encourage the child to utilize mindfulness practices when they start to feel overwhelmed, such as taking a deep breath, reframing negative thoughts, and taking a moment to recenter their thinking.
Be consistent in these practices to give your child/student a solid foundation of support.
If you notice that your child is struggling with symptoms of stress, anxiety, or depression for an extended period of time, consider child or teen counseling for them or support for your family as well. Early intervention can help prevent long-lasting effects of unresolved grief, anxiety, or depression. Here at Georgetown Counseling and Wellness, we have multiple counselors who specialize in working with children and families to overcome these serious mental health struggles. Our therapists can help you, and your child learn new techniques for navigating big emotions and ways to cope and communicate more effectively. Contact us today at 512-400-4247 for a free 10-minute consultation or schedule an appointment.