Keeping your child’s mental health in check amid the pandemic: expert advice from UNMC

Child, adolescent psychiatrist talks about ways to keep the pandemic from weighing too heavy on children
Published: Aug. 12, 2020 at 6:31 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Hannah Wyble is the mother of two boys: 12-year-old Elias and 10-year-old Ezekiel.

“There’s always this constant worry that somehow this is going to make them depressed, or they’re going to end up in 10 years of therapy after all this,” Wyble said.

Her concern is shared by many parents, according to Dr. Soonjo Hwang, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at University of Nebraska Medical Center.

“Kids struggle a lot with uncertainty and a lack of structure and routine,” said Dr. Hwang, noting that if your kids are doing remote learning, it’s important to keep them on a schedule.

That’s something Wyble said they’ve been relying on.

“Even though it’s not perfect, and we don’t follow it perfectly every day, the kids do know what to expect,” she said.

Helping children know what to expect goes a long way, as does reminding children what they can do to help stop the virus, Dr. Hwang said.

“Give them the sense that they can have some control over it and some mastery of it by adjusting their behavior,” he said.

As far as how much information to share, Wyble said that’s been tough to navigate. “That’s really hard because I don’t want to instill them with a lot of fear.”

It’s best to be straightforward, said Dr. Hwang.

“Providing the factual information without channeling your own concerns or anxiety, I think that’s probably the most important part,” he said.

But how should parents manage screen time?

Wyble said that’s how her kids keep in touch.

“They’ll play Fortnite, and they’ll call their friends on the phone and talk to them for two hours,” she said. “That’s how they get all their news about all of their friends and the stuff that’s going on.”

Dr. Hwang said more time with video games and chats are fine, as long as it doesn’t take away from priorities, such as chores or schoolwork.

And from one parent to another, Wyble said all you can do is your best.

“I feel like all of us parents feel like we’re not doing enough,” she said. “We’re not perfect. We have good days and bad days, and we’re just doing the best we can.”

A few more words of advice from Dr. Hwang:

  • If your children are back to in-class school, it’s a good idea to have a backup plan so they know what to expect if it closes again.
  • If your kids are roughly 5-years-old or younger, let them come to you with questions about the pandemic; don’t force a lot of information on them.
  • As always, make sure your children are getting plenty of exercise.

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