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Is Your Family Coping or Melting from the “New Normal”?

The ‘new normal’ for New York City children is getting more stressful by the day. On August 22, the New York City Parks Department alerted youth sports organizations that it would be declining to issue permits for ballparks and public fields for the upcoming seasons. According to the Daily News, the department reported significant safety concerns with allowing the leagues to operate. This decision leaves tens of thousands of local kids without a team to play their favorite fall sports.

In these uncertain and confusing times, children across America are emotionally suffering from the ongoing accumulation of losses sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these struggles are not as obvious as others and could be causing extreme emotional pain. Social-emotional health is vital to the future success of our youth. But compared to the physical challenges associated with COVID-19, children’s mental health has not been at the forefront of the conversation until now.

In this article, we will review the most significant challenges leading to poor social-emotional health that NYC children have been facing since the start of the pandemic. We will also cover the common types of mental illnesses affecting children under 17, and the symptoms parents should be looking for as a sign to seek additional help.

Social-Emotional Pandemic-Related Risk Factors for Kids

Social-emotional health, also known as mental health, is essential to a child’s overall functioning and well-being. As defined by NYC Health, social-emotional health involves how children manage their emotions and relate to others. It is just as important as physical health and has a global effects on the health of a child, even presenting with physical symptoms.

COVID-19 has had a profound negative impact on children’s mental health, most for the first time. In a study published by the National Institute of Health outlining the challenges and burdens of COVID-19 on mental health, researchers identified the following risks, primarily affecting children and adolescents.

Restricted Communities:

Children no longer have the same access to their favorite community gathering places, schools, daycares, sports clubs, parks, museums, restaurants, or other kid-friendly attractions. It is the first time kids went through summer without the option of amusement parks, county fairs, or carnivals. When out in the community, the stress of having to wear a mask and stay 6-feet from others can be immense for younger children who enjoy close contact playdates and interactions. Furthermore, vulnerable children and families who rely on welfare agencies, mental health professionals, and respite options were left without easy access to these essential services.

Family Challenges

Family lives were turned upside down with the start of stay-at-home orders in NYC. Children were suddenly expected to be taught by a parent who was either an essential worker, struggling to work from home, or stressed from losing a job. These factors led to daily exposure to high tension, more fighting, and higher rates of aggression and anger in the home.

Other family struggles were directly related to exposure to COVID-19 and the loss of family members who contracted the virus. Children who lost loved ones may have been restricted in their contact leading up to the death, adding more stress and pain to the grieving process. Additionally, several holidays went by during the quarantine process that did not allow children to celebrate with family per tradition.

Unsafe Homes:

Sadly, children who lived in homes with domestic violence present before the pandemic have most likely seen an uptick in these instances. Factors such as job loss, marital conflict, loss of control, and adjustment issues can lead to an increase in domestic violence and child maltreatment in economic recessions. Community workers who address these types of family conflicts were not as available for home visits to evaluate children’s safety and healthy in these toxic environments.

Quarantine Risks

The act of staying isolated in quarantine has significant effects on a child’s mental health. Researchers found that post-traumatic stress symptoms occurred in 28 to 34 percent of children and adolescents evaluated that were directly related to the psychological impacts of being quarantined at home.

NYC children who live in small apartments, without direct access to a yard or outdoor space, are especially at risk for quarantine-related mental health concerns. These children, who are used to interacting with friends, neighbors, and family are now confined to a small space indoors, without the typical outlets for stress and energy.

Most Common Social-Emotional Issues in Kids

Before the pandemic, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) reported that depression, anxiety, and behavioral issues were the most common mental illnesses diagnosed in children under the age of 17. According to the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), these are expected to have significantly increased in children due to COVID-19, in addition to the onset of psychological conditions, including

  • Low Mood
  • Insomnia
  • Anger and Aggression
  • Fear and Worry
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Suicidal Ideations

W.H.O. reports that a lack of structure and stimulation are two critical factors currently affecting children’s mental health. The beginning of the 2020-2021 school year may provide some children with a positive structure. But the loss of various activities, competitive and club sports, physical closenessto classmates, and other common academic stressors could weigh heavily on their mental well-being.

Signs of Poor Social-Emotional Health

Children and adolescents do not always display the same signs of poor social-emotional health as adults. It’s important for NYC parents to familiarize themselves with the signs of mental illnesses in children to provide access to services and emotional support as soon as possible.

Mayo Clinic highlights the following signs and symptoms of mental illnesses in children:

  • Noncompliance
  • Aggression
  • Risk-taking behaviors
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor school performance in areas they excel
  • Persistent boredom
  • Physical symptoms (headaches and stomachaches)
  • Sleep issues (sleeping too much or too little)
  • Sleep disruptions (nightmares or sleepwalking)
  • regressing behaviors (being clingy, bedwetting, tantrums)

When parents see one or more of these symptoms, talk to a doctor to evaluate these behaviors. Mayo Clinic encourages parents to start making a list of abnormal behaviors and the stress factors that may have affected them in recent months. Teachers, close friends, relatives, and other caregivers can also be allies in painting a picture of how a child’s behavior has changed.

Ignoring our children’s social-emotional health can have significant long-term consequences on their quality of life. The best way to help is to access the services at-risk children need to continue battling through these troubling times. For resources on free and low-cost mental health services for children and adolescents in your area, you can call 311 or find online resources through NYC Health and NY.gov.

Sources

“Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in NYC.” NYC Health. (Retrieved 8/27/2020) https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/health/health-topics/child-and-adolescent-mental-health-services.page

“Important Parks Department Service Changes Due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19).” NYC Parks. (Retrieved August 27, 2020)https://www.nycgovparks.org/about/health-and-safety-guide/coronavirus

Elsen-Rooney, Michael. “NYC Parks Dept. holds back permits for youth sports for this fall, sparking outrage from parents, coaches.” Daily News. (Retrieved August 27, 2020) https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ny-youth-sports-parks-permits-20200822-p7rbdzjwanb4xcqkava4tdzxy4-story.html%3foutputType=amp

“Social Emotional Development (Children).” NYC Health. (Retrieved August 27, 2020) https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/health/health-topics/social-emotional-development-children.page#:~:text=Your%20child’s%20social%20and%20emotional,in%20school%20and%20in%20life

“COVID-19 Resources.” New York State. (Retrieved August 27, 2020)

https://omh.ny.gov/omhweb/covid-19-resources.html

Fegert, Jorg M. “Challenges and burden of the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic for child and adolescent mental health: a narrative review to highlight clinical and research needs in the acute phase and the long return to normality.” National Institute of Health. (Retrieved August 27, 2020) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7216870/

“Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Retrieved August 27, 2020) https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html

“Healthy Lifestyle-Children’s Health.” Mayo Clinic. (Retrieved August 27, 2020) https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/mental-illness-in-children/art-20046577 “Mental health and psychological resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.” World Health Organization. (Retrieved August 27, 2020) https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/health-emergencies/coronavirus-covid-19/news/news/2020/3/mental-health-and-psychological-resilience-during-the-covid-19-pandemic#:~:text=Children%20are%20likely%20to%20be,mental%20well-being