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Helping Children Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Helping Children Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

Apr 06, 2020

It's a stressful time for many of us, even children. With most children having been sent home from school, stress and anxiety can run high. Child psychiatrist Dr. Benjamin Chan talks about what parents can do to help their kids during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: It's certainly a stressful time for many of us. But what about kids? Dr. Benjamin Chan specializes in child and adolescence psychiatry at University of Utah Health. What can parents do to help their kids during the COVID crisis? And, I mean, I guess, first of all, do children feel the stress as well?

Dr. Chan: Incredibly so, especially when most children have been sent home from school. Children, like us, crave structure. They crave routines. And those routines have been upended during the past few weeks. And no child or teenager will tell you, "Hey, I want more routine." They will tell you they want more iPad time, more screen time. But all children and teenagers crave routine. They seek it out. They flourish. They do really well with it.

So I like to use the example, when I was a child, of a chore chart. For me to get my allowance of, like, $10 a week, I had to do X, Y, and Z on my chore chart. Now, I remember, there were physical little tokens I had to do, take out the trash, wash the dishes, take the dog for a walk, clean my bedroom. And I got my allowance. So my advice to parents is to create structure within their home. Kids, teenagers will respond to that structure. So even if it has to be, like, a physical manifestation of a chore chart: when people should get up, what time should they have screen time, what time should they work on homework, what time should they call a friend on a phone, what time should they go outside for a walk. People, kids, teenagers will respond to that.

Interviewer: Dr. Chan, are there some warning signs that parents should look for to help indicate that, maybe, something isn't right and they do need to do something?

Dr. Chan: They should look for teenagers who seem very sensitive or frustrated. Anger is very common. And, again, that is very normal, but where I get very concerned is if that leads to a deterioration of their functioning. If they seem to be in their bedroom for an extraordinarily long time, if they are not communicating their feelings as much, if they are not finishing their workbooks at home or they are refusing to call their best friend on the phone, that's something I would recommend that parents should really keep an eye on is a deterioration in their functioning.

Interviewer: All right. And that would be a good time to check your child's routine. And don't forget to include a little bit of work, a little bit of play, some socialization, of course, appropriately physically distanced. And if you continue to have trouble and your child is struggling, don't be afraid to talk to them about what is going on and involve a professional to help you get your kids back on track, if necessary.