The global COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for parents and kids alike. With schools closed, kids had to adapt to changes like remote learning and social distancing from their friends. Some of these changes have had an outsized impact on younger children, leading to depression, anxiety and fear.
Social isolation and the disruption of routine are affecting children more severely than adults, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, and this stress is impacting the mental health of kids as young as five.
Jenny Silverio is experiencing the struggle of being in quarantine with her two kids: Leilani, 5, and Michael, 10. Leilani, who has shown signs of depression and anxiety, has been more affected by social isolation than Michael.
“Leilani is a very active girl and always has to be doing something because when she gets bored, she gets into mischief,” Silverio said. “She needs to maintain social contact.”
Silverio has to take her kids with her when she goes grocery shopping, and she feels Leilani’s fear.
“Leilani is always nervous when we are in the car,” Silverio said. “She asks every time ‘When are we going back home?’”
Silverio said that when they get home, Leilani often starts vomiting and feeling nauseous. She carries and hugs her baby blanket.
“My baby blanket makes me feel safe,” said Leilani. “I don’t want to go out because I don’t want to die from the virus.”
With no clear sign of whether schools will reopen anytime soon, parents remain concerned about how to handle social isolation at home and how to explain to kids why they can’t meet their friends. They miss going to the park, birthday parties and seeing their friends at school.
Juan Camilo Cardenas, a psychologist specializing in mood and anxiety disorders, explained that there are three main factors to consider relating to social isolation and kids.
One, interaction is essential. Two, they need a way to communicate what they feel and think about this situation. Three, open communication and watching for behavioral changes are the keys to identifying if a child is presenting depression, anxiety or fear.
“It’s normal to feel fear. We all feel it,” Dr. Cardenas said. “What you have to do is dominate it and not let it dominate you.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her potential [and] can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and can contribute to her or his community.”
Dr. Cardenas shared three strategies that will help parents to prevent kids from suffering anxiety.
1.Attention: Spend at least an hour playing with your children and try to keep the same habits that you used to have before quarantine such as getting up early, eating at a set time and play.
2. Communication: More than giving your opinion or advice, ask your children how they feel and think about the pandemic.
3. Creativity: It stimulates children to have more confidence in themselves.
“I won’t call it social distancing because it refers to being isolated,” Dr. Cardenas said. “It is better to say physical distancing because people still can communicate with others through different platforms.”
Roxana Miranda, who has homeschooled her kids for the past two years and has experienced a similar situation to Jenny Silverio, said that Broward County Public Schools offer remote assistance and a hotline to help parents and kids fighting with mental health.
“As parents, sometimes we don’t know how to help our children because we don’t have enough information,” Miranda said. “Being a good listener and communicating with our children is the key.”