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Wear The Gown: Keeping kids mentally healthy during the pandemic

Having a routine and keeping them busy can help children avoid depression.

SAN ANTONIO — For months, children have been kept home from school, while parents have been working from home.

Those are big changes that not all kids can handle well. 

Social distancing for adults is tough enough, but with children, the current situation with the pandemic can have a much more negative impact. 

"The lack of socialization with your peers sometimes they can start being a little more clinging to each other a little more whiny and a little more needy," said Dr. Brigitte Bailey, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and Professor of Psychiatry with UT Health San Antonio who sees patients in the University Health System. 

Dr. Bailey said that it is important that kids have routines. 

She said, "It is okay to have a lack of routine or non-structure for vacation, summer vacations or holidays, but during the school year for some of the kids not going to school is like school is out for the summer. You have expanded families, expanded time, things that Americans haven’t done for a long time except for vacations. This creates a lot of stress so you have parents who are working from home, normally they drop the kids off to school or get the kids to the school bus go to work, then get their work done, come home with the kids. Now you have parents trying to do the same amount of work forward while they are having to help the kids get onto their classroom, get their assignments, help them do their work for the day."

Keeping them engaged can be a chore for adults, but kids need to be kept busy. Dr. Bailey said, "There are a lot of things on the Internet that they can enjoy but also learn and keep up their reading skills for the summer because some kids will lose some of what they've gained over the summer."

Dr. Bailey told us that keeping a schedule helps, too. She said, "Definitely have a set wake up time. It doesn’t have to be as early for school like when they were catching the school bus because sometimes that would be super early, but the same wake-up time, basically the same bedtime that you keep it consistent. Have family meetings -- who is responsible for what and what times. That includes chores and what time we are going to do schoolwork."

Also, try some activities for kids like setting up Zoom playdates with friends, YouTube family yoga and exercise, take morning or evening walks now that the weather is hotter, visit parks that are now open, or go bike riding or hiking.

 Anything to keep them happy, because this drastic change in the home environment can lead to depression. Dr. Bailey added, "Sometimes if they are a little bit sad, some kids internalize it so they might be a little more tearful or just kind of look sad." 

Other kids get sad and it could turn into more irritable, more angry, more oppositional, where they are just not listening and don’t want to do what you say which is generally not their baselines. So then you start worrying about if there’s something you need to do. Call your pediatrician or primary care doctor. That’s one of the first things you can do to answer if there are some concerns that you need to worry about and they can usually help you if it’s treatable... a mild form might need treatment. Things to get worried about or if it gets to the point where they might say, well I wish I could die, I don't want to live anymore, those kinds of statements we need to take seriously."

If it gets to that point Dr. Bailey says to call your pediatrician or family doctor to find out the best treatment your child may need.

For more information about family health call 210-358-3045. You can also find all of our Wear The Gown stories, just go to WearTheGown.com.

RELATED: University Health System's Health Blog on the mental health of children. https://healthfocussa.net/childrens-health/mental-health/

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