The Concerns Psychologists Are Hearing from Children and Teens During This Time of COVID
The Coronavirus has certainly redefined our daily lives and routines, and for some, has created a great deal of uncertainty and stress. What is clear, however, is the way in which people conceptualize this pandemic can vary greatly. For some, being separated from friends and family has created angst and sadness. For others, the pause in running from activity to activity has allowed them to better cope with the hardship in the world right now. Just as adults have responded differently to our current circumstances, so have children and adolescents, and at times in surprising ways.
The psychologists at the Hudson Valley Center for Cognitive Therapy (HVCCT) have been working diligently to help the children and families in our community during this time and have witnessed several trends in children’s thinking and concerns. Many adults have assumed contracting illness may be top on kids’ minds, but in fact, this tends not to be the case. Instead, most children and teens feel more preoccupied with the ways in which the virus may disrupt their daily lives or their plans for the future. Understanding how the virus is impacting children is essential, as it will allow the adults in their lives to support them in appropriate ways without triggering unneeded anxiety or stress. As such, we at HVCCT felt it important to briefly summarize the most notable patterns in children’s emotional responses to COVID-19 in order to provide a framework for best caring for our children and teens during this time.
While children and teenagers tend to minimize the threat of the Coronavirus to themselves and their parents, they have expressed worry about their loved ones who may be in higher risk groups. For example, several patients have discussed concerns for grandparents and if they will be able to weather this crisis. Given that older relatives often play a substantial role in children’s lives, their absence can quickly become notable and worrisome to children and teens. Children and adolescents have wondered when or if they will be able to hug or just spend time with their grandparents again, even when elderly relatives have not demonstrated any symptoms or reasons for concern. Children and teenagers are often reluctant to discuss these fears as they do not know how to introduce this serious topic and are concerned that they will unnecessarily worry parents and other adults in their lives.
Most children and teenagers spend many hours a day completing work virtually by completing assignments, watching videos of lessons, and trying to keep up with new material. Many worry about understanding instructions and assignments and getting work done in a timely manner. Furthermore, at times kids are overcome by the boredom of completing work alone versus engaging in a lesson and with other children. Unfortunately, computers are just not the same as people. Working alongside one’s sibling or alone in one’s bedroom cannot compare to the energy of a classroom and the presence of one’s teacher. Most teachers are working tirelessly to create an effective learning environment online, but still, children are often disconnected from virtual lessons and concerned that they will never again get to see the teachers to which they have grown attached. Some are also having difficulty managing their time without the imposed structure that a typical school day brings. Finally, some worry about losing ground on the work and effort that they had put into school.
Social Insecurity and Anxiety
Friends are one of the most important components of children’s lives, especially teenagers. Maintaining friendships and social relationships has become a significant concern for many of them. Social distancing can put a strain on relationships as it limits opportunities to connect with peers. Parents report that younger children who had been enthusiastic about virtual meetings with friends initially, are no longer interested in talking to friends in this way. For this cohort, relationships are built through shared play or activities such as sports or dance classes. It becomes overwhelming and unnatural for young children to connect through virtual conversation alone. Older children and adolescents feel that online chatting and video calls can feel strained and are not the same as simply “hanging out.” Moreover, social insecurity seems to be heightened for some children and teens. They worry about being left out of virtual meetups and that the physical disconnection will threaten their status in their social groups.
Milestones and Achievements
While the Coronavirus may have halted events and activities, the milestones and achievements in children’s and adolescents’ lives will still come to pass. The ways in which we celebrate those milestones, however, will likely look much different this year. Those that have been looking forward to school plays, recitals, proms, class trips, graduations, and other celebratory rituals are feeling dismayed and disheartened. Not only have these events been cancelled, but so have the gatherings of family and friends that are typically used to mark such occasions. Children and teens are sadly coming to terms with the uncertainty about whether these events will be rescheduled or if they will need to accept that they may miss out on them entirely. For some, this reality feels devastating, as they have dreamed for years about these events and have worked hard to overcome several obstacles to get to this point in their lives.
Anxiety About the Future
Finally, many children and adolescents are generally anxious about the future as it currently remains uncertain and unpredictable. They are asking a lot of questions about when they will return to school, upcoming vacations, when they can spend time with friends again, summer camp and the big one: WHEN WILL THIS ALL BE OVER? Many older adolescents are being asked to make difficult decisions about college. Some need to decide whether to commit to a school they have never seen, while others are considering forgoing the traditional route of going away and instead staying home and completing classes online. Children and adolescents are in search of answers about when this all will end, when life will return to “normal,” and how they can plan for what is ahead. Some are just seeking something to which they can look forward.
Resilience of Children
In many cases, it is heartening to see the ways in which children and families are coping. The good news is that despite current challenges, children and teenagers are often showing a great deal of strength and resilience as they face the trials of daily living. Kids are making significant efforts to adapt to the new academic, social, and environmental changes that they are facing and often are doing a good job in doing so. It is common, however, that children and teens may need some additional support as they navigate this new world. If you are uncertain about how to best help your child with some of these common worries, if you notice that your child is struggling, or if you see that any pre-COVID mental health issues are emerging with greater intensity or frequency, we recommend that you reach out to a mental health professional.
Help is Available
Like the HVCCT, many professionals are offering telehealth options until face-to-face sessions can resume. Studies have consistently demonstrated the efficacy of teletherapy and its utility for mental health issues. In fact, we are finding that most kids have responded very well to telehealth, perhaps because many were already comfortable with online communication. If you would like information about the psychological services we offer at our center please feel free to reach out anytime. Our contact information is listed below. We are also happy to share other resources as well. Our center is committed to helping our community cope with the psychological stressors as we navigate COVID-19. We wish you and your families health and safety during this challenging time.