We are in unprecedented times in South Africa and the world as we fight the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. While it’s hard on us as adults at least we can recognise any negative impact it may be having and find coping mechanisms such as talking to a friend or a professional about any anxieties we’re experiencing.
Kids, on the other hand, may feel the anxiety but often find it hard to vocalise it and therefore don’t always cry out for help vocally. Psychological first aid provider Karen Gross says Covid-19 and stay-at-home orders are leading to trauma symptoms in children, like dysregulation — “outbursts of anger, hostility, ‘ants in one’s pants,’ throwing, yelling”.
Here are 5 other subtle signs that your child’s mental health may be taking strain:
A change in their sleeping patterns
This is not just an instance of insomnia now and then but a sustained loss of sleep. Licenced professional counsellor Michelle Nietert said: “If they aren’t getting sleep one night, that happens. If they are losing hours of sleep nightly, it’s time to reach out for help.”
A change in eating patterns
If your child usually eats a certain way and suddenly changes their pattern completely, it may be worth investigating further. “Eating too little or too much is one of the red flags that parents should watch out for,” said Dr Nekeshia Hammond.
If they’ve become antisocial suddenly
If your child is a teenager this one may be a bit trickier to diagnose because they can normally be antisocial anyway but lookout for a child that is quieter than usual or naughtier than usual. Mental health counsellor Jennifer Daffon says, “some signs to look for in young children can be as subtle as them being more quiet or withdrawn than usual or in-your-face signs such as a marked increase in tantrums or defiance.”
Parents may see their kids experiencing low frustration tolerance, increased conflict with siblings, and bigger mood swings. Pushing back when it comes to completing academic activities is also common as some kids aren’t comfortable with distance learning and having parents assume a role that’s been reserved for school.
When children’s anxiety is not vocalised it will show up in behaviour and this is a common one in younger children. Therapist Kelly Oriard said: “Stress can cause regression in kids — it is to be expected. Sleep regression, potty training, behavioural tantrums and food intake.”
Shorter attention span
Perhaps the upside about the family all being home is that as a parent now more than ever you’re able to pick up patterns of behaviours in your child. If they suddenly can’t focus for long don’t ignore it. Psychiatrist Carole Lieberman said, “Try to get your child to express their feelings, and to ask you questions that may be bothering them. Get them involved in arts and crafts, playing board games or dancing as a family, for example.”