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Children, teens and young adults are hurting — How to support your kids’ mental health

Tufts Health Plan
Children, teens and young adults are hurting — How to support your kids’ mental health

The pandemic has been challenging for all of us, and kids in particular. Many children suffered the loss of parents, grandparents or other loved ones due to COVID-19. Some watched as their parents lost jobs and worried about how to make ends meet. They’ve spent time learning at home, and missed after-school activities and time with friends. Today’s children live in a difficult new reality that includes face masks, social distancing and ongoing fears about COVID-19.

David Elvin, M.D., chief medical officer, Tufts Health Plan

David Elvin, M.D., chief medical officer, Tufts Health Plan, is a pediatrician and parent who knows the stress parents feel as they deal with the pandemic themselves and try to keep their children safe, healthy and happy. Here he answers questions many parents have about how they can help their kids cope with their feelings during the pandemic.

Q: We’re fortunate that we haven’t lost loved ones due to COVID-19. Could my children still struggle emotionally?

A: Yes. As parents, we may know all too well about some of the things our kids have been struggling with, like changes in their daily routines and missed birthdays, holidays and other major life events. Some problems — like their feelings of anxiety or sadness, or a lost sense of security and safety — may be less obvious.

How will I know if my children are struggling?

Pandemic-related challenges can affect kids differently depending on their age. As kids make transitions with the world opening up, we may feel the distance and worry our children may be struggling finding friends or doing regular kid activities. Signs that younger children may be feeling stress include: fussiness, trouble sleeping, bedwetting after being potty trained, and more frequent or intense tantrums. Older children may have mood changes, trouble sleeping (sleeping too little or too much), changes in weight or appetite, a decline in school performance or an increase in risky behaviors (such as drinking alcohol or using drugs). In severe cases, kids may have thoughts about harming themselves.

How can I help my children deal with anxiety and sad feelings?

Thinking about your children’s mental health and the challenges that are affecting their emotions is a great place to start. You can keep tabs on their emotions by checking in with them often. While your kids may still be asking questions about COVID, they probably want to talk about how to make and keep friends or problems you never really faced as a child. Talk with them about the pandemic in words they can understand. Encourage them to express their feelings and let them know you’re there to help.

Beyond understanding their emotions, there are other things you can do to help them cope. Establish routines with them when possible and don’t be hard on yourself. This has been a very difficult two years. Many of us feel we have run out of ideas about what to do. We’ve played every board game and relied on devices to help our kids pass the time. I completely understand and still encourage you to stay involved and connected. Many kid-friendly activities can be managed with the appropriate masking and social distancing. It’s time to find some activities that you feel comfortable with and give you and your children something to look forward to.

Where can I get help for my children?

It’s more important than ever to stay in touch with your children’s pediatrician. Not only can we help your children stay healthy, we know your children and can help you decide if your child is appropriately upset by this difficult situation or if there are serious mental health issues. Your provider can give you advice about the best way to help your children and can refer you to a therapist, when needed. The good news is that symptoms typically improve when children have someone experienced to talk with; however, if the condition is serious, medications and other treatments specifically for children can help. These services are covered by most health insurance plans.

If your children seem to be struggling at school, ask the teacher what you can do to support them at home.

My kids can tell I’m stressed. What should I do?

Being honest and using words your children can understand is a good way to let them know that we are all in this together, and there is no shame in sharing our feelings. Taking care of yourself and setting an example of how to cope is the best you can do for them. Prioritizing eating well, taking breaks, exercising, sleeping well, and connecting with family members and friends are all great ways you can cope with stress and help your children learn. Pay attention to your own mental health. If you feel overwhelmed, anxious, depressed or are having problems with drugs or alcohol, get help. Ask your provider about behavioral health options, including telehealth, which lets you talk with a therapist or other behavioral health professional from the convenience of your home.

You can also call your health plan if you have questions about your mental health benefits or how to use them. Your health plan is a resource that can help you (and your family members) feel better physically and emotionally.

Protect Your Kids Against COVID-19

Good information about COVID-19 vaccines and kids can be hard to find and many of us are confused about when, how often or even whether it’s okay to give kids a COVID shot. Your children’s providers can talk with you about any concerns you have about the vaccine and whether your children should get COVID-19 vaccines.

You can also get dependable information at Tufts Health Plan created this webpage to provide facts that parents can use to make decisions for their family.

Tufts Health Plan is here to help our members and our communities stay healthy during the pandemic. Tufts Health Plan is one of the few health plans in Massachusetts to offer coverage across the life span regardless of age or circumstance. This coverage includes Medicaid/subsidized, commercial and Medicare health plans. To learn more, visit