We asked Amanda Heins, a psychologist at Rogers Behavioral Health in Oconomowoc, who oversees its intensive OCD and Anxiety Center for young patients.
Should parents try to explain the pandemic to their young children?
Yes, I definitely would. Kids have a sense that something is going on with just the sheer dramatic changes, even in their worlds. If anything, it could offer them a healthy understanding of why we’re doing what we’re doing. Relate it to them in a way they understand, and keep it short and sweet. The good news is we know how to get ahold of COVID-19 and make it better.
You specialize in part on anxiety. How has the pandemic affected people who were already struggling with it?
It’s affected them similar to how it’s affected all of us. With predisposed anxiety, our mind can tend to gravitate towards catastrophic thinking at times, a worst-case scenario. Anxiety really wants certainty, and right now, there’s a lot of uncertainty.
Research has found a long list of health impacts from social isolation. Do these extend to children?
Our wiring is instinctively to be social beings. When that changes dramatically, that could have an effect on mental health. That being said, not everyone is worsening severely in terms of their ability to cope with mental health concerns or stress. It comes down to the protective factors that each of us have and strengthening things like our support network.
What are some signs parents should look out for?
I would look for major shifts in their presentation. If they’re a kid who’s pretty social at home and with their friends, and they’re now retreating more to their room to isolate, that would be a concern. Or, if they’re typically someone who enjoys certain activities, whether sports or music, and they’re no longer participating in those things. Anything that’s not normal for them.