Christopher Lynch, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and coordinator of the Pediatric Behavioral Medicine Department at Goryeb Children’s Hospital, part of Atlantic Health System, discusses why it’s now more important than ever to keep tabs on our kids’ social and emotional outlooks.
As more people get vaccinated each day and in-person school time increases, parents may be overlooking the fact that this is still a stressful time especially for children whose worlds have been turned upside down during the pandemic.
“It’s important that parents do not let their guard down as the pandemic changes course and restrictions are lifted,” says Dr. Lynch. “Even as hope grows, children may still have fears, anxieties and worries about the pandemic especially as they are being asked to return to situations that they were previously told were dangerous.” The best thing parents can do is to answer questions honestly but at a level that their child can process.
As schools and more businesses begin to reopen, recognize that this can be stressful for shy, introverted or socially anxious kids.
“Support your children by discussing their concerns and helping them to get used to mixing with other kids to the greatest extent possible – within current guidelines and considering your family’s risk tolerance and risk factors,” advises Dr. Lynch.
Remember that change – even positive change – can cause stress. “Be aware that a loosening of restrictions means that children will have to get used to a different set of routines and expectations,” he says. “Help your children to understand the upcoming changes as early as possible. Although future plans may still change again, emphasize that any unexpected changes will be done for our safety.”
It’s also more important than ever to pay attention to the basics.
“Sleep, nutrition and physical activity can help all of us to ward off the effects of stress,” says Dr. Lynch. “Encourage positive health habits for your children and serve as a role model yourself,” he says. “Your children are watching you very carefully and they will learn a lot from your approach towards your own health and well-being.”
Parents should also know the warning signs of depression.
“A noticeable change of mood is a cause for concern,” says Dr. Lynch. “If you observe your child feeling sad or hopeless it is time to take action.”
Keep your ears open for talk that is self-deprecating or conveys hopelessness. “However, be aware that in children and teens depression can also present as anger or irritability,” says Dr. Lynch. “So, any change in mood needs to be addressed.”
Other signs of depression include a loss of interest in activities that your child previously enjoyed, changes in sleep, changes in appetite and low energy. If you have concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out for help and further evaluation.
Many parents are also wondering what the effects of so much screen time are on their kids’ mental health.
“Excessive screen time effects kids in a number of ways,” says Dr. Lynch. “It can have an impact on sleep which will then affect mood and behavior.”
Excessive screen time can also impair concentration and interfere with academic achievement, which, in turn, may impact your child’s overall motivation. Too much screen time is also associated with anxiety, depression, negative body image and can affect overall self-esteem. There’s no denying that screens are now a part of our lives. “However, we can teach our children how to use electronic information and entertainment in ways that are healthy,” says Dr. Lynch. “Set limits and help your children to develop interests beyond electronics so that they can live a more balanced life.”