October 26, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has exhausted families and upended routines, posing new challenges for children and adolescents who are struggling with existing or emerging behavioral and emotional health issues. Yet children are resilient, especially when they have the right supports in place.
To make sure children’s needs do not go undetected during this tumultuous time, the American Academy of Pediatrics has released new interim guidance on” Supporting the Emotional and Behavioral Health Needs of Children, Adolescents and Families During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
“As a pediatrician, I know that children don’t always know how to express their true feelings and they may even try to protect their parents from added worries rather than share when something is wrong,” said AAP President Sally Goza, MD, FAAP. “This is one reason we want to see your children and teens during office visits, not just to stay up to date on immunizations, but to check on their social and emotional health, too.”
Families of color have been especially vulnerable during the pandemic because of structural inequities caused by racism that affect access and quality healthcare, food security, employment, housing and education. Pediatricians evaluating the impact of COVID-19 on a child’s social, emotional and behavioral health recognize these added stressors on a family and can help identify community resources and services for help.
“Children – especially those with special health care needs - may be struggling to learn remotely and missing the in-person attention of teachers and specialists they would normally see at school,” Dr. Goza said. “Some families may not have access to the internet. The pandemic’s impact has exacerbated whatever challenges already existed.”
The AAP guidance describes how children and adolescents may behave differently when under stress, and how those signs vary by age and stage. For instance, infants and young children may demonstrate their distress through disruptions of functions like sleep, toileting and feeding. Older children and adolescents may show signs of withdrawal, fearfulness and anxiety; or show externalizing behaviors such as oppositionality, irritability, argumentativeness, aggression; or show symptoms such as abdominal pain or headaches.