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COVID-19: How Is Children’s Mental Health Affected?

Melanie Lustbader, LPC 


In March of 2020, everything changed for the worst. This has been a stressful year for everyone, including children. The COVID-19 global pandemic has brought increased anxiety and stress. Adults and children have been pulled from their normal routine and have had significant changes to their lifestyle. 

Fear and Anxiety

When a child faces significant change it can possibly cause fear and anxiety. Tolerating uncertainty is scary, even for children who typically do not struggle with anxiety, thus, it is important to learn how to deal with anxiety in a healthy way. Whether discussing worry with children, adolescents or adults, anxiety disorders are extremely common for most individuals. Anxiety Disorders differ from worry (which is common for anyone to experience) because anxiety is usually more intense and can interfere with an individual’s daily functioning. Although children can feel increased worry from the changes in our world right now, adults have more awareness of the severity of this global pandemic. 

Parents and COVID-19 

According to The Child Mind Institute, “many parents are having a harder time dealing with COVID-19 than their children, and some of the anxiety that kids are experiencing may be inadvertently passed on by worried parents”(R. Ehmke, 2020). Children and adolescents may recognize that their parents, siblings, teachers, and nannies seem overwhelmed – however they might not understand why. Children, adolescents and adults rely on routines and when their routine is suddenly altered, it can affect an individual’s mental health. Additionally, interpersonal relationships, career and life balance can be disturbed.

People organize themselves and know what to expect when they have routines. The need for control makes being flexible more difficult. A lack of control can feel scary and uncertain. Treating anxiety “isn’t to make the fear go away, it is to manage the fear and tolerate uncertainty,”(R. Ehmke, 2020) explains Jerry Bubrick, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. While children may be attending school virtually and parents are working from home, they are both socializing less, as they aren’t seeing classmates, and co-workers. This can be challenging and poses a threat to the social lives of individual’s young and old. Socializing is different now during these tumultuous times and we must adapt to the “new normal.” 

What Do I Do About a Compromised Social Life?

Individuals may feel socially isolated and have to be creative in socializing with friends and family. Establishing a routine that involves exercise, regular meals and healthy amounts of sleep is crucial for regulating our moods and worries. It can be hard to accept that our old routines are no longer possible because of COVID-19 precautions, but looking for ways to be flexible and start a new routine can help you feel less anxious and more productive. According to Dr. Bubrick, “when kids are feeling anxious, it may or may not be clear to parents. He believes that “we shouldn’t be looking for just one thing, but we should be ready to handle a variety of different expressions of anxiety.”(R. Ehmke, 2020). Anxiety can present physically or emotionally, or both. 


How Should I Check in with my Children and What Should I Expect? 

When checking in with kids, it can look like reassurance seeking, such as checking in with the child, asking if they are okay, or if an elder family member will be okay. Anxiety can appear as reluctance to separate from parents, moodiness and irritability. Children’s anxiety can also present in several different ways, such as tantrums or meltdowns, trouble sleeping or physical symptoms like headaches or stomachaches. It is integral to validate the child’s concern, but also important to work with them on strategies to minimize any fear or anxiety. Some children may be more aware or vocal about their concerns than others and discussing them out loud with older children or adolescents can be helpful. For example, a productive way to start a conversation with an adolescent could be sound something like:

 “I heard this on TV, or I saw this article, how did that you make you feel?” 

On the other hand, with a younger child, adults can find a “feelings chart” online and have their child point to how they are feeling and then discuss those feelings. It is important to normalize children and adolescent’s emotions, but remind them that you will keep them safe and that they are loved. 

Below are some beneficial tips for dealing with your own anxiety or helping children during this uncertain time: 

  • Planning a social distanced get together, Face time or zoom 
  • Engaging in a downtime routine as well as a daytime school routine
  • Incorporate separation between school and relaxing, which can be used for work as well
  • Accepting the change, but acknowledging change is hard
  • Try to be in the present moment
  • Practicing gratitude 
  • Encourage some kind of physical activity every day to relieve stress
  • Try to structure and schedule out a plan for the day when you or the child feel coped up at home
  • Limiting social media or how many articles you read about the coronavirus
  • Practice mindfulness by reminding children that they cannot control the future, but they can take control of the present.    

During this incredibly tough time, it may be hard to look for positivity. Here are some things to remember, it will not be this way forever, recognize what you are doing and what is going well in your life. Periodically check in with yourself and revaluate how you are talking to yourself. If you find you are being hard on yourself, try to change the perspective, and remind yourself you are doing the best that you can. Especially during this time, see who you are associating yourself with. Make sure those in your life are positive, supportive people you can depend on to give helpful advice and feedback. Negative people may increase your stress level and make you doubt your ability to manage stress in healthy ways. COVID-19 is an uncertain time; and even typically positive people are tested during this pandemic. It is important to also discus with our children about positive self-talk and surrounding themselves with people who make them feel good. Staying positive is easier said than done, but just by altering our thoughts, we can improve our mood in our daily lives. 


Rachel Ehmke, R. E. (2020). Anxiety and Coping with the Coronavirus. Child Mind Institute. Retrieved from:

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