How to deal with your kids' COVID-19 stress and anxiety

Dr. Brian Richter, a child's psychologist at St. Louis Children's Hospital, say that there is an increase in depression and anxiety during this time in the pandemic.

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) -- As we enter a second steep phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, cases are breaking records and patients are putting hospitals on the brink of capacity.

Area leaders are also discussing the idea of more restrictions. It’s the latest round of changes we’ll all have to adjust to and cope with, but the impact on our kids is different. So much for them changes and their capacity to understand what’s happening is not the same as adults.

For kids, one of the big changes is how they’re learning whether in-person, online, or in some cases, both.

Alicia Strobl and her husband do their best to keep their kids understanding what’s changing around them by explaining this is going to be temporary while reassuring them they are going to make the best out of any situation. However, that hasn’t come without any stress.

“Trying to stay afloat and find creative ways to keep the business going while teaching and engaging them has been hard,” she said.

Strobl owns and runs a salon. She said keeping her kids' life as normal as possible while trying to protect the family's livelihood has been especially stressful.

“All those moving parts and pieces to make sure you're giving [the kids] the attention they needed to keep them on par with school, while making sure my employees are getting the attention that is needed to keep things going,” Strobl said.

Feeling overwhelmed by your own struggles and concerned about how your kids are coping with a global pandemic is expected.

“The intuition that no one is really themselves is on point,” said Dr. Brian Richter, a child’s psychologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

He said some kids are really struggling to adapt.

“We're seeing increased anxiety, increased depression during this time,” Richter said.

Richter said parents can help. It starts with being honest about your own feelings.

“It's a really powerful message, I think a lot of kids assume the mom and dad don't have feelings other than being strong and happy all the time, and normalizing these things can be super important,” he said.

He said by modeling for your kids that life affects you too, it makes them more comfortable to express when they’re not okay, so don’t be in a rush to want to fix everything.

“The caution there is you’re sending the message that it’s not okay to be sad or nervous. We really want to send that message that 'I understand you're worried about that, and that’s okay,” he said.

Richter emphasized those feelings are okay, until they’re not. If you notice your kid is anxious often, even depressed, or can’t seem to calm themselves out of the anxiety and stress cycle, encouraging them to be present in their feelings and re-centering themselves can help. Dr. Richter calls it anchoring or grounding, and there are three steps to it.

“First, notice, name and acknowledge your thoughts and feelings. Second, is to connect control and move your body. Third step, be present and refocus on what you're doing,” he said.

Richter said other times, reinforcing positive behaviors or simply recognizing the crummy-ness of some changes can scoop them out of a meltdown. He said the pandemic has been hard on teens, too.

“Being anxious, being sad is more of a problem for some kids and teens, so take that step, face your problem, it is scary to do but there is a lot of power in strength in that," he said.

He also made a point to remind parents to take care of themselves too. Keep up with your own mental health checks.

“When you are taking care of yourself and doing what you need to do to your behavioral health, you’re also benefitting those around you,” he said.

If you think sheltering from the storm is the answer, Ritcher said to instead, consider the truth.

“Whether it’s coronavirus or other current events, it is important to talk to about those things in a frank, open and honest way,” he said.

That’s the tactic the Strobl’s have taken.

“That is something we really talked to them about, was there are just going to be different ways of engaging these days,” Strobl said.

While Alicia said she’s amazed at how well her kids have taken the COVID-induced changes of 2020 in stride, the reality is, and Ritcher knows, that’s not the case for every family. If you have a child who’s struggling to adapt, you don’t have to feel alone.

“It is really hard, and it is a very strong thing to do to reach out for help in those moments,” he said.

St. Louis Children’s hospital has a number you can call if you think your family could benefit from a chat with a psychologist. Just call 314-454-TEEN.

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