Helping Kids Recover from the Pandemic
When my fellow pediatricians and I see patients in the office, we can sometimes relate physical symptoms or emotional discomfort with an unmet need. Too often, the needs are as simple as healthier foods, more time playing outside, or a safe and structured environment. The pandemic—which has closed schools, cancelled sports practices, and cut off important social relationships—has only amplified the needs we see among patients. These changes have thrown many of our typically healthy and happy kids into a developmentally and emotionally unsteady situation.
Just as we would prescribe a cream for eczema or an antibiotic for a severe ear infection, I would like to recommend a few steps children’s caregivers can take to help our kids regain their sense of stability and wellbeing.
Information. Often, when our lives are unsettled, our first instinct as caregivers is to shelter our kids. Contrary to our first impulses, one of the most powerful things we can do is to seek out reliable sources of information and explain what’s going on in a way that our kids can understand. Honest, factual conversations go a long way to help kids feel safe. It prevents kids and teenagers from seeking comfort in unhealthy ways, like too much screen time, and from filling the information void with unreliable sources they find on social media or the Internet.
Reassurance. It’s OK to acknowledge that we don’t yet know everything we need to know about COVID-19. Let your child know that you are keeping track of reliable news sources and learning what’s necessary to keep them safe. Their teachers, doctors, and other caring adults are doing the same. Let them know that following expert guidance is a great way to safeguard their health.
Structure. Kids thrive when they have a structured schedule, and they know what to expect. Even if they aren’t scheduled to log in to school until 10 a.m., aim to keep a healthy routine. Try to wake up, eat breakfast, and get dressed around the same time each day. This will help them maintain a good sleep schedule, healthy eating habits, and all of the other routines that support a healthy life.
Observation. A Vermont study of youth ages 12 – 17, released in February 2021, reported that kids were feeling more depressive symptoms and anxiety in the fall of 2020 than the previous year. Watch for signs of depression and self-harm. Some signs include sleeping too little or too much, withdrawing socially, extreme mood swings, and hopelessness. More information about identifying potential threats to your child’s mental wellbeing are available from the healthychildren.org.
The vaccine. When your child is eligible, schedule their vaccine appointment. There is no better way to put the pandemic behind us than to have as many people as possible vaccinated. This is a proactive step kids can take to safely resume many of the healthy and fun things they have been missing over the past year, like getting together with friends, playing sports, and going to school.
For information about vaccination in Vermont, visit https://www.healthvermont.gov/. Vaccines are currently available for people over the age of 16.
Jaclyn Lozier, MD, is a pediatrician at SVMC Pediatrics in Bennington, VT.