Millions of Americans are now vaccinated. Communities all over the country are lifting previous restrictions and most school districts have confirmed the return of full-time, in-person learning in the fall. While kids may be excited to see their friends and re-join extracurricular activities, they may also suffer from COVID anxiety — worries about re-engaging in activities they once loved.
How can adults help someone with COVID anxiety?
Re-Entry Anxiety in 2021
Experts are calling this “re-entry anxiety,” and after a year of isolation it’s a very real thing for kids and adults alike. While some young people may transition back easily, parents should not be surprised if their child seems distressed.
“First, it is important to remember that every change, even a welcome one, brings a period of adjustment,” Dr. Parker Huston, clinical director of On Our Sleeves and pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital tells Parentology. “Don’t expect children to move back into their previous routines seamlessly. Allow time for them to be apprehensive or reserved, maybe more shy than usual, or to have some anxiety about the first few times they do something since before the pandemic started.”
Parents can try to minimize worry and anxiety in their kids with open communication. Huston suggests walking them through some of the changes that are about to take place, or practice conversations they may have when they return.
“When children feel prepared and can work through some of the scenarios that they are concerned about, they will approach a situation with more confidence.”
Monitoring Your Child’s Ongoing Mental Health
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 42% of people report feeling anxiety or depression, an increase of over 10% from the previous year. Mental health professionals expect that the pandemic will have long-term effects on many kids’ emotional well-being. Even kids who transition back into their normal activities easily may struggle with the aftermath of living through a pandemic.
As a result, it’s important to check in on your child’s mental and emotional well-being. Hustan advises watching for behavioral changes and changes in functioning for key areas, like sleep, eating, socializing, and participating in school.
“Additionally, it is crucial that parents talk with their children about mental health and wellness, because sometimes won’t show that they are struggling.”
Huston also cautions parents to monitor the severity and persistence of thier child’s worries. “If you notice that the anxiety persists or that they refuse to re-engage with certain activities which are safe to do, it might be time to seek some additional help from the group leader, teacher, or mentor. If you feel that the issue is causing more significant impairment, reach out to your child’s pediatrician or a local mental health provider.”
Likewise, children of different ages may present issues or struggles differently because of physical and cognitive development. Huston says it’s important to look for signs relevant to your child’s age and development.
“The youngest children are most likely to act out their emotions and moods because they are just starting to develop the language needed to express themselves in other ways,” he explains. “Look for developmental regressions in toilet training, sleeping, eating, and behavior.”
“These children may show mental health concerns through irritability, withdrawal from social groups, or changes in their school performance,” Huston notes. “Everyone has tough days and even a difficult week, but if the changes persist for more than a few weeks or seem to be impairing their ability to get through the day, seek some guidance from someone at school, the pediatrician, or a community mental health provider.”
“For teens and pre-teens, moodiness is a developmentally appropriate process, so it can be difficult to determine when a child is going through typical growing pains versus when a mental health concern is developing,” he says. “They might be more vocal about their negative thoughts and emotions and request privacy or space from parents and family. Again, look for how they are functioning in the most important areas of their life. Are they able to participate in school to the best of their ability? Are they maintaining stable connections with peers and family?”
Whether your child has trouble re-engaging post pandemic or shows signs of stress months down the road, parents should be prepared. Open communication and ongoing monitoring of your child’s mental health will enable you to help them with COVID anxiety and navigate their world post-pandemic.