Children’s immune systems may have done a better job than most adults in fending off COVID-19, but it didn’t protect them from the emotional scars of the pandemic, according to NorthBay Health pediatrician Michael Ginsberg, M.D.
As schools shut down, children’s routines went sideways. They watched their parents struggle through uncertain times, some as essential workers and some who lost jobs. They may have worried about family members or themselves getting sick and even dying.
And when school resumed — virtually — they had to adapt to a whole new world. It was more difficult for children who were already struggling with learning disabilities, said Dr. Ginsberg. Stress was high, distractions were abundant and staying focused became a greater challenge.
Even more confounding, information about how to stay safe kept changing, Dr. Ginsberg added. “Usually, in most times, the adults in their lives had more experience … but this was the great equalizer. We all had the same amount of pandemic knowledge, and we were all working with the same limited information.”
On the physical side, children weren’t spared from pandemic pounds, added Dr. Ginsberg. “Sports were canceled, and even walking from class to class is an exercise they weren’t getting. They were stressed and anxious, and their pantries were readily available. Weight is easier to put on than it is to take off.”
“I’m seeing many mental health issues. There’s a lot of depression and anxiety in my patients coming in, and parents are looking for ways to fix it.”
— Michael Ginsberg, M.D.
When schools finally opened back up for in-person instruction, things still weren’t the same. Dr. Ginsberg said he saw new kinds of anxiety, new fears and depression in his young patients. “They had to readjust to social situations, and there was still a lot of uncertainty about the virus,” he said.
Dr. Ginsberg urges patients and their parents to give themselves time and ask for help.
“There are some aspects of our lives, and kids’ lives that will never go back to normal,” said Dr. Ginsberg. “And it’s OK to mourn that loss of the world before COVID-19 and the missed milestones such as proms and graduations. These kids have survived a lot.”
NorthBay Health screens children for anxiety and depression at their annual check-ups through a simple questionnaire. By identifying concerns early, Dr. Ginsberg said, children can get the access they need for help.
Tips for navigating mental & physical health concerns in children
Have patience with yourself. The world has changed, don’t expect life to go back to the way it was. Give yourself time to adjust.
Be respectful to others. They may be going through loss or health concerns, and they may make different decisions than you. Respect their boundaries.
Get involved in an organized sport. Physically and mentally, there are many benefits.
Any hobby with physical activity can be beneficial, such as dance or martial arts.
Continue regular visits with your doctor and reach out with questions. Don’t be afraid to ask your pediatrician for resources or referrals to mental health services.