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COVID’s Impact on Kids – How Parents Can Help Kids Navigate the Pandemic

By Nancy Kennedy

The coronavirus pandemic is having a profound impact on the health and well-being of people of all ages, including children, but parents can mitigate that impact through interventions that help the kids to cope and thrive. According to Jamie Streiff, DPT, a pediatric physical therapist at the Children’s Therapy Center (CTC) of Washington Health System, children can suffer physical and emotional effects from the pandemic even if they never actually contract the virus itself.

“Families are experiencing lots of chaos as they juggle all the changes, and the children are affected by this,” Streiff explains. “Work schedules, school schedules and plans change from week to week and that has created a sense of uncertainty for children. They may be feeling a lot of emotions, including emotions that are new to them. A lot of kids feel fear and anxiety, and they sense the anxiety of the adults around them as parents deal with financial concerns and the stress of trying to keep the family safe. The kids miss their friends and their normal, everyday routines – seeing their teachers, the school bus, activities and school meals. These difficulties can cause problems such as sleep disturbance, behavioral changes, anxiety or depression in children.”

As a pediatric physical therapist, Streiff is especially concerned about how the pandemic restrictions have led to decreased physical activity for many children and that this could have long term impact. “Being at home, having online classes, means a change in activity level for children. They’re less mobile, less active, and spending less time outdoors. They may be spending excessive time using devices and this can lead to neck and back pain. We are definitely seeing an increase in the number of children with these problems and with a loss of muscle strength. Some children are gaining weight. For the ones who are medically fragile, their abilities and strength may be compromised.”

Streiff says that exercise and staying active are the keys to coping with and countering the effects of the pandemic. “Exercise reduces anxiety and is essential for good health, at any age. For kids, exercise should take place throughout the day.” She has excellent recommendations for parents and families who want to keep their kids active and healthy.

  • To get them more active: 1) schedule planned breaks and have activities, such as yoga, games, dance and play lined up for those breaks; 2) find a way to get them up jumping and moving – use what you have and be creative. There are many great ideas on YouTube.
  • For home schooled kids, create a nice school environment at home. Make it pleasant and appealing so that they want to spend time there. Set it up for good body mechanics with a good desk chair; don’t let them sit hunched over. Make sure the monitor is at the right height – this helps get the kids into school mode.
  • Do things as a family – go for walks, play outside, bundle up, get fresh air. Play in the snow. Get everyone together. Keep social connections with grandparents, friends via phone + video
  • Create routines and stick to them. Consistency makes life more predictable, and reduces anxiety and the feeling of chaos.
  • If your child is receiving therapy it’s essential not to lose ground because of the pandemic. Early Intervention and Intermediate services are virtual now, so parents need to make sure the kids keep working on their exercises. Stay in touch with your child’s therapists and let them know of any concerns or regression. CTC is currently providing in-person therapy.

Overall, Streiff believes that children are coping well. “They do their best and take it day by day. Many kids are handling masks better than their parents thought they would; they see it as a fun new accessory.” There are many excellent resources on YouTube and Pinterest for parents, teachers, and therapists who are looking for activities for children. Jamie Streiff recommends a site called Pink Oatmeal (www.pinkoatmeal.com) for creative ideas.

It is important to note that CTC is currently providing in-person therapy. If your child needs hands-on therapy, contact CTC for more information.

The Children’s Therapy Center of Washington Health System is a comprehensive pediatric rehabilitation and social/behavioral treatment center offering a broad range of outpatient services for children from birth to age 18. With a team of specialists in pediatric physical therapy, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and behavioral therapy, the CTC helps each child overcome obstacles and reach his or her full physical, cognitive, social and emotional potential. The CTC has two locations, in McMurray at Waterdam Plaza and in Washington. For more information or to make an appointment, visit www.whs.org/ctc or call (724) 942-6100.

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