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Guest Blog: Dr. Volgman on Mental Health During COVID-19

By Dr. Mary Volgman, Clinical & School Psychologist

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. We bring you a blog by Dr. Mary Volgman, Clinical & School Psychologist. Dr. Volgman shares her take on COVID-19 and the impact it has on children’s mental health.

Children often imagine situations to be far worse than they really are. Providing developmentally appropriate information can help reduce fears.

When talking to your child about COVID-19, let your child’s questions guide you. Answer their questions simply and truthfully, without offering unnecessary details. Once you provide an answer, if they don’t ask for additional information, that’s a good place to stop.

Young kids often process frightening information in small doses. They ask a question, listen to your answer, take a play break, then come back for more. This process gives kids a sense of control, and a sense of control helps reduce anxiety.

Explain to your child that COVID-19 spreads between people who are near each other, when a sick person coughs or sneezes, or when someone touches a surface with coronavirus germs on it. Provide simple examples of the things they can do to help stop the spread of germs and stay healthy, such as covering their cough or sneeze, washing their hands, and maintaining social distancing. Reassure them that grown-ups are there to take care of them and help them stay safe.

It is normal for kids (and adults) to experience anxiety in a time like this. With support and reassurance, most kids find their anxiety to be manageable. Some signs that kids need additional support include the following:

Young children—regression to thumb sucking, bedwetting, clinginess, loss of appetite, fear of the dark, sleep disturbance, and withdrawal.

Elementary and early middle school age children—irritability, aggression, clinginess, sleep disturbance, nightmares, difficulties with concentration, and withdrawal from activities and friends.

Teens—sleep disturbance, change in appetite, agitation, difficulties with concentration, physical complaints, irritability, and acting out.

If behavioral changes persist for more than two weeks, consult with a mental health professional.