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THE MOST VULNERABLE YOUTH
The impact of COVID-19 continues to be unpredictable. However, there is one thing we know with certainty that the pandemic is affecting children’s mental health. The psychological impact of the pandemic on youths often includes anxiety about the possibility of becoming infected or infecting others, not be able to reach out or hang out with friends. Social distancing can also make us feel more socially isolated, depressed, and lonely. In fact, we know that social support is a major protective factor when facing adversity; one that is now missing for many children and families.
It is also vital to identify that most of these reactions are completely normative in the context of the pandemic. And in fact, small amounts of anxiety can actually be adaptive and protective. To some degree, this is what helps us to feel compelled to wash our hands and practice social distancing. On the other hand, too much anxiety can cause significant distress and lead to further psychological issues.
What Can We Do To Help Youths?
Address their anxiety
Help children to recognize what they can control. While we may not be able to control what’s happening in our environment, we can control our own proactive efforts to stop the spread of the virus through physical distancing, wearing a mask, and hand washing. Help children to feel empowered by choosing the ways in which they are helping themselves and their families to stay safe. We can also help to monitor and control children’s exposure to graphic news stories about the pandemic.
Encourage emotional awareness
Children have an easier time coping with their own emotions when they are encouraged to observe and identify them, as opposed to trying to push them away or hide them. This often requires the help and support of a caring adult to label feelings and normalize their reactions.
Teach breathing exercises
Breathing exercises can help to reduce the physiological aspects of anxiety by helping to reduce heart rate and blood pressure. Children and adolescents can easily implement these exercises when they’re feeling stressed. This is very effective for adults as well.
- Breathe in through the nose for a count of 4 seconds.
- Hold the breath for a count of 7 seconds.
- Exhale through the mouth for the count of 8 seconds.
- Repeat the cycle 4-8 times as needed.
Embrace enjoyable activities
Sometimes a little distraction can go a long way to reduce anxiety or stress. Caregivers can help children by identifying activities that they might enjoy, whether it’s going for a walk, watching a favorite tv show, or calling a friend or family member.
Addressing sadness or depressive symptoms
- Shift focus to a better future: Help children recognize that the pandemic is temporary and it will eventually come to an end.
- Emphasize gratitude: Introduce the idea of practicing gratitude by helping children write in a journal or on paper three things that they’re grateful for each day. This can also become an end-of-day activity that the whole family participates in together.
- Find a support network: For adolescents who may be less comfortable confiding in their parents, help them to identify at least one person who they can check in with each day. It may be someone who can be a listening ear and offer comfort or support.