- Children’s physical and mental health has been affected by the pandemic.
- Research has found significant increases in anxiety and depression in children from 2019 to 2020.
- Experts share the most common health concerns to watch out for and ways to help kids acclimate.
As kids return to more pre-pandemic activities such as in-person learning and socializing in larger groups, experts warn that they may face certain health challenges.
A study published in JAMA Pediatrics looked at recent trends in children’s health-related measures, including significant changes between 2019 and 2020 that might be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as trends over a four-year period.
The findings pointed to several areas of concern, including a significant increase in anxiety and depression in children between 2016 and 2020.
The researchers noted that more analysis is needed to elucidate varying patterns within subpopulations, however, they stressed the need for children to have access to timely healthcare services, as well as the importance of promoting healthy behaviors, and supporting parents in finding ways to strengthen family well-being.
As you help your kids navigate a return to pre-pandemic activities, the following are some of the common health issues kids may face and what parents can do to help.
Dr. Steven Abelowitz, pediatrician and regional medical director of Coastal Kids Pediatrics, said kids have experienced behavioral, emotional, and developmental effects whether they had COVID-19 or not.
As a pediatrician, he has seen a significant increase in anxiety and depression in children and teenagers.
“Both in those children that had the illness but also in those that never got COVID but experienced living through the pandemic. A lot of this is also likely due to the social isolation many children experienced,” Abelowitz told Healthline.
As kids move from the bubble of their homes to the outside world again, Deborah Serani, PsyD, psychologist and professor at Adelphi University, said to be aware that a certain amount of worry, anxiety, and sadness are normal and expected.
She noted that kids may find it hard to unlearn many of the avoidance habits they’ve created to deal with the pandemic.
“While some children may move back into social and emotional connections as if the pandemic never happened, others will find re-connecting causes anxiety and insecurity. For those who experience this social anxiety, take small steps to help you feel confident as you greet, meet, and share time with others,” she told Healthline.
Additionally, many children will be grieving from losing loved ones to COVID-19 or feeling like so much time has been lost from the pandemic.
“Many will grieve missing moments of graduations, proms, birthdays, weddings, and other meaningful events,” Serani said.
Ways parents can help kids might include the following, according to Serani:
- Reminding them of the resilience they’ve demonstrated during the pandemic
- Creating an open dialogue within your family to talk about how re-emerging into the world is going
- Learning about the signs of anxiety, depression, and feelings of hopelessness in children
- Seeking professional help for your child
“While moving back into the world can and should feel hopeful, it can cause a surge of despair for some kids, especially if things are not easy and manageable in the post-COVID world. This is where contacting a mental health professional can help,” Serani said.
Children have faced increased academic and developmental challenges during the pandemic, Abelowitz said. He explained that this is likely due to the disruptions in routines, closure of schools, and social isolation that they experienced.
“Also, research has shown that as economic conditions worsen, children’s mental health and development is negatively impacted,” he said.
The best defense against this is to seek extra help for kids if possible, such as assisting them with school work and time management or setting up tutoring if you are able to, and “safely returning to as much as possible of the child’s previous routine and academic setting. This includes school, sports groups, and social activities,” said Abelowitz.
Just as some adults ate more unhealthy foods during the pandemic, so did some kids.
“Eating has been limited by not always having access to healthy foods. So, now that we are emerging and supply chains are improving, be mindful about choosing healthier foods for yourself and your family,” said Serani.
She suggested trying to move past fretting about the weight gain your children may have experienced.
“Be patient as you assimilate healthier nutrition back into their life,” she said.
Ways to encourage healthier eating may include:
- Getting back on a schedule of eating three meals a day
- Involving your kids in creating the grocery list
- Bringing them along to the grocery store
- Soliciting their help with cooking dinner
Social distancing and pandemic restrictions have created a sedentary and passive lifestyle for many.
“As kids head back to school and the outdoors, you may notice that they get fatigued more quickly than before. Remind them to be kind to their body as it renews its stamina and muscle tone,” said Serani.
Encourage kids to ride their bikes, play at the park, roller skate, swim, go on walks or hikes, and if they are into sports or dance, get them back to playing or into classes.
Participating in family exercise together can also help jumpstart getting back into physical activity.
As preventative and chronic care were impacted by the pandemic, Abelowitz said the diagnosis of illnesses that could have been prevented were delayed or missed.
“And the conditions of many of the chronic pediatric patients worsened,” he said.
Additionally, he noted that as “a result of societal closures as well as newer difficulties with access to care, many children are now delayed with their vaccine schedule.”
Try to schedule physicals and annual visits with your children’s pediatrician as soon as possible. If you’re not able to see them in person, request a telemedicine visit to get access to chronic and preventive care for your child.
Many kids who developed COVID-19 recovered fully; however, Abelowitz said some children experience lingering effects, such as:
- Breathing problems: Because COVID-19 most often affects the lungs, lingering respiratory symptoms from infection can be common. “These can include chest pain and a cough, as well as breathing difficulty with exercise. Some of the symptoms may last months or even longer,” said Abelowitz.
- Physical fatigue: After developing COVID-19, some children may fatigue more easily and have less physical activity tolerance. “This fatigue can also last for months, but generally tends to improve over time,” he said.
- Headaches: prolonged headaches after developing COVID-19 are common and can last for months, according to Abelowitz.
- Mental fatigue or brain fog: Some children and teenagers may experience unclear thinking and concentration. “As a result, they may have school performance difficulties,” said Abelowitz.
- Cardiac issues: Children who were diagnosed with myocarditis, which is the inflammation of the heart muscle, may continue to experience chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, and irregular heartbeats for months after developing COVID-19, explained Abelowitz.
- Loss of smell and taste: suggest that bout 20 percent of children exhibit changes to their sense of smell and taste, which typically resolves a few weeks after developing COVID-19.
If your child experiences health effects after recovering from COVID-19, contacting their pediatrician or primary care provider for help is a good first step.
If you live near an academic hospital, reach out to see if they have a long COVID or post-COVID clinic. These clinics have clinicians who are focused on caring for patients with long COVID symptoms.
And don’t forget to keep your health in mind too, Abelowitz noted.
“Parents also need to be able to take care of their own physical, mental, and emotional well-being in order to properly take care of their children and any challenges they may be facing,” he said.