May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which also comes at a time of uncertainty for everyone in the world. Due to COVID-19, kids are out of school, ordered to stay home as much as possible and are banned from physically seeing their friends and non-immediate family members. The toll that this crisis has taken on everyone’s mental health is enormous, but especially our children.
Every child will have unique needs in a crisis and will express how and when you can meet those needs. Much will depend on how closely a child is affected, whether they know anyone who was personally involved, or how much they have been exposed to the news, as well as their age, developmental level, and individual temperament.
Some common reactions to a crisis for younger children include:
- Showing forms of dependence (e.g., clinging, refusing to sleep alone, separation anxiety)
- Temper tantrums
- Aggressive behavior
Older children and adolescents may experience:
- Problems at school or with relationships
- Risky behaviors such as alcohol or drug use
Children can cope more effectively with a crisis when they feel they understand what is happening and what they can do to help protect themselves, family, and friends. Provide basic information to help them understand, without providing unnecessary details that may only alarm them.
Be sure to ask children what questions or concerns they have. Often they have fears based on limited information or because they misunderstood what they were told. Reassure children when able to do so, but if their fears are realistic, do not give false reassurance. Instead, help them learn how to cope with these feelings.
How Long will it Last?
Feelings of anxiety, sadness, confusion, and fear are all normal reactions, and with parental love and support, most children will bounce back after a period of adjustment. It is typical for a child’s emotional response to trauma to last a few weeks.
When to be Concerned?
There may be cause for concern if a child has overly intense emotional reactions, if feelings last for a long time, or if their responses get in the way of their ability to get through the day (e.g., unable to go to school, trouble eating, difficulty sleeping).