In the second part of WMRA’s special series, Mental Health Matters, Bridget Manley explores how children – and their parents -- are coping during the pandemic.
[Sound of Mom and kids talking, cereal pouring…]
It’s another day spent in and around the house with my two young children. My husband has gone to the basement to work, and my kids are asking me what we plan to do today.
CHILD: Oh yes, baby bear, I’ll give you some of my cereal…
The four of us have been here together since mid-March when the world shut down, and I’m not alone.
Jessica Levine is a mother to four-year-old Amelia and six-month-old David. She’s worried about her daughter’s mental health during COVID.
JESSICA LEVINE: It’s been difficult… I’ve been seeing more meltdowns; more frustration.
She says even though she keeps to a routine and gets outside to play, she can’t shield her from the reality that life is much different than it was six months ago.
LEVINE: Right now my child is all worried about death, and people touching her, and then, you know, having to wash your hands, and I feel like she’s not having the normalcy as a kid. As a kid, you’re not supposed to worry about stuff like this. You’re not supposed to worry about someone touching you and getting you sick.
JENNIE ROSIER: I think that when this all started, lots of people were very concerned about their children’s academic success, and how are they going to finish third grade, or how are they going to finish learning how to read in kindergarten? How are we going to make sure they are keeping up on their studies? For me, I wasn’t thinking about that at all.
Dr. Jennie Rosier is an associate professor of communication studies at JMU who specializes in the communication skills needed to enhance parent-child relationships. She’s also a parent who has been working at home with her kids during the pandemic.
ROSIER: I was thinking about how am I going to keep my children emotionally healthy and what am I going to do so that this time in their life is not a traumatic time in their life? Being isolated, abruptly stopping school and not seeing any of your friends anymore -- and with all of this scary stuff happening on the news, and people talking about getting sick and potentially dying -- I mean, this has all the ingredients to be a traumatic event in a child’s life.
The World Health Organization says that children may experience heightened anxiety, depression and fears over the effects of the coronavirus. And because we are still in the throes of the first wave of the pandemic, it might be years before studies show how it affected the mental health of children globally.
BRANDY HADEN: We have definitely seen sort of an uptick in the intensity of certain symptoms when it comes to mental health concerns like depression and anxiety, and a lot of that is due interpersonal conflict, so, basically the family dynamic.
Brandy Haden is the Behavioral Health, Wellness and Learning Coordinator for the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Community Services Board. They provide emergency mental health services for both adults and children, and she says that they are seeing more children needing emergency mental health resources.
HADEN: When there are a lot of outside stressors, that can impact the way that either a family interacts, the way that they communicate, or how stable the family home can be, we know that that has a huge impact all the way down.
Haden says that for some families they have worked with, usual coping strategies of everyday life such as church, the gym or other social scenarios are now gone; and in some cases substance abuse or other unhealthy behaviors have crept in and replaced them. These, Haden says, can have an impact on how children handle their own anxiety and depression; and so taking care of your own mental health will help your children in taking care of their mental health needs.
Both Haden and Rosier say that transparency and truth are best when kids are asking about the virus, but in age appropriate ways and avoiding specifics that might trigger more anxiety. And Rosier’s biggest tip to help your children weather this storm?
ROSIER: I think we need to enjoy our children, and let them know that we enjoy them. Right? So there’s a difference between you know, in your head saying ‘oh I enjoy my kids, I love them,’ and then letting them know. Smile and laugh with your kids. It sounds crazy to say that, and you’re like, ‘oh of course people do that, everybody smiles and laughs with their kids,’ but sometimes I will go an entire day and near the end of the day I will think in my head, ‘did I smile with them today?’ Children love, love, to see their parents laugh. It brings them more joy than it brings the parents who are doing the laughing.