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Parents In New Poll Say Pandemic Caused Mental Health Problems For Their Children

A boy rests his chin on the table, looking sadly at a paper and colored pencils.
Simpson says disruptions in normal routines resulting from online learning may have contributed to mental health problems in some children.

In a recent American Psychiatric Association poll, more than half of adults with children under 18 at home said the pandemic has caused mental health problems for one or more of their children.

Fear of getting COVID accounts for part of that, but Vanessa Simpson, a behavioral health care manager with Children’s Health, said it also may have been about a change in lifestyle.


Change In Lifestyle:

That normal routine of getting up in the morning, getting ready, getting out the door, that's gone, engaging with classmates teachers in person, that was all disrupted because it was all virtual and online.

Then, if you think about extracurricular activities where children spend a lot of their time in school and after school, that was a disruption for kids as well, just not being able to engage in the activities that they really enjoyed pre-pandemic.

So I think COVID disrupted a lot of the typical routine that families were engaged in. There can be a lot of challenges with that.

The poll’s based on an online survey of a thousand adults between March 26 and April 5. By then, people either have had or knew about the COVID vaccine. Why do you suppose the numbers weren't trending down from the year before?

Maybe the fear of the unknown, just not being sure what the next school year might look like. Especially if increased challenges this year could have had that number trending upward versus down.

Kids, teenagers thrive on routine. They thrive when they know what is to come and what is to be expected. So if they're not having their typical routine that can create some stress and potentially some anxiety.

Signs Of Stress And Anxiety In Children:

A big shift in your child's mood or behavior, that's out of the norm.

First signals could include:

  • Changes in your child's eating or sleeping behaviors
  • Increased irritability
  • Crying or anger

As parents, listen to your gut and if you ever feel like there's something more going on, don't be afraid to ask for help.

Steps Parents Can Take Before Seeking Professional Help

I think parents can start by modeling healthy coping skills of what you do when you're feeling stressed — maybe family walks or taking deep breaths — whatever's helpful.

Keep a line of communication open to talk with your kids, age appropriately, about what's going on and allow them to come and ask questions.

If all of that seems to help, that's great. But if nothing seems to help your child with coping, that would be a good indicator that some outside help and support could be great for your kids.


New APA Poll Shows Sustained Anxiety Among Americans; More than Half of Parents are Concerned About the Mental Well-being of Their Children

Poll Shows Worsening Impact of COVID on Mental Health

Mental Health During COVID-19: Signs Your Child May Need More Support

Children’s Mental Health Crisis Could Be a Next ‘Wave’ in the Pandemic

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.