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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for children and teens, but Children’s of Alabama clinical psychologist Dr. Daniel Marullo says you can help your child get through it by communicating well and setting a good example.
Marullo says psychologists across the country are seeing an uptick in children struggling with anxiety, depression, suicidal ideations and eating disorders. He says this is partly because COVID-19 has been so disruptive to children’s lives.
“Lots of kids are really struggling right now,” Marullo said.
That’s why he recommends talking with your kids about the pandemic and its effects.
“I think it’s okay to recognize that we are living in a very difficult time,” Marullo said. “I know as a person living through this, as a psychologist, sometimes I feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants, and I’m sure that’s a common experience. It’s okay to acknowledge that, and it’s certainly okay to help our children acknowledge that, as well.”
Having those conversations, Marullo said, can open the lines of communication with your kids. And by doing so, you can dispel any bad information they may have heard and help them cope with the challenges they may be facing.
Marullo also recommends that parents set an example for how to deal with the pandemic’s difficulties by modeling good habits. For example, a parent who wants their child to wear a mask in school could wear a mask around the house to emphasize how important masks are.
“The most important thing is: what are the adults doing? What is the message that the adults are sending?” Marullo said.
Marullo says children are very resilient, and some who are struggling may simply need basic support. But if you start to see a persistent change, it may be time to get professional help.
“Your first line of defense is check in with your pediatrician,” he said. “And certainly if there’s any talk of suicide or self-harm, that’s an immediate time to get some help for that particular child.”
Most kids, he says, will get through the pandemic’s challenges with support from their family. He recommends establishing structured bedtimes and mealtimes, communicating well with your children and modeling good behavior. And if you notice a persistent change, call a medical professional.
Marullo, on the importance of modeling good behavior:
How to help your children if they're struggling
Talking to your children about the challenges of the pandemic