School closures, social isolation, gaps in health-care access and other pandemic-related disruptions have taken a toll on children’s mental health, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation report.
Jade Woodard, executive director of Illuminate Colorado, said toxic stress can change the way a child’s brain develops, and parents and those who work with children should keep an eye out for physical symptoms such as head and stomach aches, acting out, or other signs of lingering impacts of trauma.
“And as parents what we really need to do is change our language, to stay positive, to stay calm, to take deep breaths and manage our own emotions,” Woodard advised. “And to understand that they’ve experienced major disruptions as a result of everything that has happened.”
Children of color youths are at higher risk for experiencing significant emotional and cognitive challenges.
Woodard emphasized it’s important for parents to find time to get away from screens and engage with their kids. She suggested playing games or other activities are ways to make space for kids to open up, in their own time, and share their experiences and emotions.
Nearly half of parents surveyed in an American Psychiatric Association poll said the public health emergency contributed to mental-health challenges for at least one of their children.
Vicki Jay, CEO of the National Alliance for Grieving Children, said the pandemic’s impacts could last a lifetime.
“We’ve all been affected by COVID,” Jay observed. “We’ve all experienced loss and change and disappointment and trauma this year. And it’s not going to be over with; there’s not a switch to flip. It becomes a part of who we are, and it’s what we take forward with us.”
Woodard explained as the nation emerges from the pandemic, all families need support, grace, and understanding. She stressed ensuring families can access mental health care, and meet their basic needs, can help kids cope with the impacts of trauma, and prevent trauma in the future.
“We really must be building communities that are supporting this healing,” Woodard asserted. “And so just like a plant is more likely to thrive in a garden with good soil and plenty of sunlight and water, children and families are more likely to thrive in nurturing communities.”