How to Support Your Children’s Mental Health Post-Pandemic

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Much like adults, kids might experience an increased level of anxiety and depression coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kids might experience more social anxiety, performance anxiety and anxiety around illness as things start opening back up.

Suicide ideation is also a big concern. Children’s Hospital Colorado even declared youth mental health as a “State of Emergency” – the first time this has occurred in the hospital system’s 117-year history.

Why is this happening?

Both children and adults have experienced an increased level of distress this past year.

“Caregivers are stressed, and they may not be able to tolerate that stress enough to help regulate their kids,” said Allison Miller, Child & Family outpatient program manager at the Mental Health Center of Denver. “Family systems are tense right now because of health, work and finance concerns, as well as everyone being at home all the time. If parents have less capacity to manage their own stressors, they will have more struggles responding to those of their kids.”

Re-entering the community can trigger anxiety for kids the same way as adults. And returning to school specifically can be a big stressor and impact children’s mental health.

“Kids who have a lot of social anxiety might not want to go back to school, but it could be healthy for them, especially after being in isolation,” Miller said.

Children might also lack access to information and could be too young to understand what’s going on.

“As all of us adults are learning how to navigate a post-pandemic world, kids are too,” she said.

What can parents and caregivers do to support their children’s mental health?

Ask yourself how you’re doing. If you’re not doing well, then you will have a harder time addressing your kids’ needs. Taking care of your own well-being is crucial.

Notice how your child is doing. For example, do they want to go back to school or not? What are the reasons behind that?

Sit down and talk with your kids. Have open, age-appropriate conversations about the pandemic. Talk about how it feels to be around other people again.

Set up resources. Make sure your kids know who their resources are at school and other activities they’re involved in.

Ensure basic needs are met. We have a hierarchy of needs, including food, water, clothing, shelter and safety.

Spend time with your kids. Engage in playful activities that feel safe.

Re-enter into society slowly. Create baby steps for yourself and your family.

Resources:

Mental Health Center of Denver: To schedule a first-time appointment for yourself or your child, contact our Access Center at 303.504.7900 or accesscenter@mhcd.org.

Colorado Crisis Services: If you are in crisis or need help dealing with one, call 844.493.8255, text TALK to 38255 or visit a walk-in Center.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network and the Synergetic Play Therapy Institute also have resources for parents.