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Children’s Mental Health Awareness in Times of COVID-19
5/19/2020 8:45:00 AM - Behavioral Health

Children’s Mental Health Awareness in Times of COVID-19

by Gretchen M. Miller

During this time of crisis, immense disruption, and tremendous change, there are many trauma-informed considerations that helping professionals, parents, and adults involved in the lives of children and adolescents can employ to help with the emotional impact of COVID-19:

Establish and maintain a schedule at home. Creating or maintaining a schedule and a consistent structure can be valuable to foster a sense of security, safety, and help reduce anxiety.  Generally knowing what to expect helps create a healthy structure of purpose for the day and a routine that the youth can depend and rely on.

Engage in activities that support regulation. Sensory-based interventions can be effective to regulate hyperarousal responses. Engaging in music, art, movement, and other creative practices can be a great outlet for youth (or together as a family!) to release feelings and thoughts, as well as create safe ways to support self-soothing, a sense of control, and calm the mind and body.

Sensory-based activities to consider:

  • Deep breathing                                                
  • Dancing to favorite music
  • Listening to music                                           
  • Journaling
  • Making art                                                       
  • Going outside for a walk

Validate emotions and normalize reactions. Letting children and teens know it is OK to have and express emotions communicates that their feelings matter and are important. Support emotional expression and development through listening with a calm, non-judgmental presence that shows your support as a safe ally.  For youth, COVID-19 has resulted in losses associated with attending school, separation from friends and extended family, cancellation of activities, such as play dates, sports, band, and more. Special milestones such as end of the school year celebrations, graduation ceremonies, or holidays are taking a very different form this year. Some youth may experience worries about their own health and the health of others. Being exposed to the anxieties and fears that adults are managing right now also creates worry for kids. Validate and normalize what they are experiencing in these challenging times.

Foster connection. Youth who have been exposed to a traumatic event or loss can benefit greatly when they have consistent, loving, and involved adults (i.e., parents & caregivers, teachers, coaches, therapists, community group leaders, etc.) in their lives. In these times of COVID-19 when youth have experienced physical isolation, displacement, and disconnection, it is important to remember to create meaningful ways to connect with others. Emphasize there are loving, kind, and trusted adults still in their lives to help, protect, and attend to their wellbeing.  Fostering connection can also include volunteer projects (with safe physical distancing practices, working remotely, from home, etc.) that encourage helping others and values like generosity, kindness, and gratitude.

Be mindful of media intake and exposure. Breaking news, social media feeds, and broadcast reports about the COVID-19 pandemic are accessible 24/7. Emotions such as worry, helplessness, confusion, unease, anger, and more can become heightened as a result of this exposure. Constant coverage of COVID-19’s impact is overwhelming for adults to manage and make sense of, let alone children and teens. Young people can be particularly vulnerable to ongoing media exposure, influencing their reactions, feelings, questions, and concerns. While it is important to stay informed about COVID-19 from reliable sources, limit or take intentional breaks from media exposure at home—on television, devices, and online.

For more information, visit the Starr Commonwealth website at


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