Supporting Children’s Mental Health Needs During the Global Pandemic

College of Education

The global pandemic resulting from COVID-19 has created significant disruption across all of the domains of our lives that normally provide us with stability and consistency. Our physical, emotional, social, vocational and spiritual pursuits have decreased and (in some cases) ceased. Disruption in any one area can increase symptoms of anxiety and depression within a population; disruption in multiple domains simultaneously has potential for serious mental health concerns. These challenges are certainly experienced within our adult existences, but they also apply to our children’s worlds and daily functioning. As such, parents must acknowledge and support children in ways that promote social and emotional adjustment.

While fears are certainly warranted during these exceptional times, parents should remember that children will take their cues from their moms and dads. Parents should explain their own concerns on a level that is appropriate for each child without expressing panic or hopelessness. Then, follow this with a discussion highlighting the specific action steps that the family is taking to keep everyone safe and healthy including social distancing, mask wearing and handwashing. Overtly discussing your preventive efforts to protect the health and safety of family members and friends should provide a greater sense of positivity and control. Parents should also closely monitor their children’s television and social media consumption to ensure that the information that children are exposed to is emotionally tempered, factually accurate and consistent with the family’s own messaging and efforts. Simple steps like establishing a consistent daily routine and providing a structured sleep schedule can go a long way toward counteracting children’s fear and anxiety during this and other stressful situations.

Parents should rest assured that most children will fare well even during these difficult circumstances. However, if a child has other risk factors for mental health concerns like previous trauma, recent loss of a loved one, or environmental instability, and/or the child exhibits significant changes in behavior or temperament, parents should contact a mental health professional for further consultation
or evaluation.

Dawn Tysinger, Ph. D, Professor, Dept. of Leadership, Technology and Human Development and Jeffrey Tysinger, Ph.D., Professor, Dept. of Leadership, Technology and Human Development