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October 18: Should I Be Worried?

Over the past couple of weeks, several parents have been checking in about whether certain behaviors their children are exhibiting are typical or if they are something to be worried about.  In the best of times this can be a tricky question, but during the pandemic the question seems to have taken on new urgency and concern.  Many parents are stressed and exhausted from months of worrying about the pandemic, supervising online learning, and managing work, family, and household responsibilities.  In addition, we have no benchmark to tell us what behaviors might be considered typical or expected during a pandemic, so it feels confusing to evaluate when to be concerned and take notice of a new behavior and when to chalk it up to pandemic-related stress.

Some of the behaviors parents have been worrying about include sleep disruption, intense meltdowns at the end of the school day, increased moodiness and irritability, and a sense of exhaustion or being ‘worn out’.  If you find yourself worried about your child’s behavior, it may help to jot down a few notes each day to help you keep track of how often the worrying behavior is occurring, when it happens (after school every day or mostly at the end of the week?), whether you can identify triggers or specific things that happen just beforehand, and what are the consequences that happen afterwards.  Some of this may not be relevant to your situation, but that’s ok, just make some quick notes about whatever seems most relevant. 

Next I would think about your child’s overall health and well-being: is your child eating and sleeping well, getting physical activity every day, connecting with friends or family members in some way (whether in person or remotely), engaging in purposeful activity outside of school (such as building with Legos, reading, playing or listening to music, doing art, or playing pretend games), balancing time using screens with screen-free activities?  Consider your child’s mood.  Many people, both adults and children, are struggling with increased feelings of depression and anxiety during the pandemic.  Is your child able to express enjoyment and engagement in some activities?  Do you observe some moments of positive mood – times when your child is laughing or simply content, or does your child’s mood seem to be gloomy or irritable almost all of the time over the period of a couple of weeks. 

I am a strong believer in parent’s intuition.  If you feel uneasy about your child’s mood or behavior, I encourage you to trust your instincts and reach out for support.  There are several ways to do this:

  • Contact your pediatrician’s office.

  • Speak with the adjustment counselor or social worker at your child’s school.

  • Reach out to a therapist – two good resources are Effective Child Therapy and Psychology Today.  If you’re in Massachusetts, another good option is the Interface Referral Service.

  • If you have urgent concerns about your child’s safety, please go directly to the emergency room or call 911. 

Parenting during the pandemic is incredibly challenging.  Please keep in mind that a reasonable goal is to do the best you can most of the time, and that the most important thing you can offer to your children right now is your warm, calm, loving presence.



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© 2020 Dr. Rachel Kramer