September 29, 2021
Dr. Rachel Kentor
Pediatric Psychologist, Texas Children's Hospital
Suzanne P. Clark
President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Because of the rising rates of COVID-19 among children, parents are rightfully concerned about their family’s physical health and well-being. However, they also cannot ignore the emotional toll that living through a pandemic may be taking on their children's mental health.
Parents should be equally concerned with how their child is responding to the pandemic as they are about their child contracting the virus. During a recent Path Forward event, Dr. Rachel Kentor, a pediatric psychologist at Texas Children’s Hospital, explained how the pandemic has affected mental health in children and what parents can do to alleviate some of these issues.
The Challenges Adults Face Are Affecting Children’s Mental Health
While the pandemic has caused mental distress in most adults, it’s important to remember that those same factors are negatively affecting children. Social isolation, uncertainty, and the “forward and stop” progress of the pandemic have had a negative effect on children’s mental health, just as it has with adults.
“With [the pandemic] comes disruption to routines and kids thrive on routine structure,” said Dr. Kentor. “When they don't have that, it can cause a lot of distress.”
“Kids take their cues from [adults], so when the adults around them are very stressed, very anxious, very panicked, they're going to start experiencing that too,” she continued. “So we're thinking, not just in the challenges directly to them, but the environment that they're around.”
Parents Need to Be Proactive in Looking for Signs
Parents or caregivers who are looking after children need to monitor their behavior. They should look for certain signs and if they are concerned about their child's mental well-being, then they need to involve a professional to get them help.
“As a clinical psychologist, we register concern when there's what we call functional impairment,” said Dr. Kentor. “If your child is no longer able to do the things that they need to do, they're not doing the things that they used to enjoy, you're seeing changes in sleep and appetite, kind of any of these changes that really make your child stand out…that’s when we want you to reach out.”
“Ideally [parents should reach out] when you notice that start, so rather than waiting until they're in a full-blown mental health crisis and needing that emergency department visit, we want to be proactive in recognizing this,” she added.
Parents Should Talk to their Children about their Feelings
Parents have a responsibility to do their part in reaching out and addressing mental health issues in their children. By starting the conversation and understanding and validating their feelings, parents can both better understand what their children are going through, as well as prevent a mental health crisis later on.
“A lot of it comes down to being mindful about what we're teaching them and what we're showing them,” said Dr. Kentor. “[It’s about] opening lines of communication, validating and acknowledging that it's really hard and it's hard for everybody, but also ... communicating [that] we're going to get through this together.”
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