Mitigating Kids’ Pandemic and Post-Pandemic Anxiety

Dr. Raunak Khisty
Dr. Raunak Khisty Adolescent Psychiatric Hospitalist at Riverside Medical Center.

It’s not been an easy go of it for kids over the last 18 months. Suddenly forced into distance learning, many struggled with focus, motivation, and organization—especially as it relates to their schooling. Parents were impacted as well, leading to an overall frustration among households.

Plus, students were isolated from their peers, resulting in a feeling of disconnection. Many were robbed of graduations, internships, and vacations, marking this time as one of pervasive “loss.” For those who are invested in athletics, the pandemic presented even more angst.

To say that these kids faced challenges is an understatement. In fact, the potential for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a new concern among parents. How can you recognize warning signs of PTSD before they lead to something more tragic?

“Extreme worry that is out of the ordinary is a big warning sign. Feelings of sadness, moping, crying all the time. Problems with sleep, problems with appetite. Your teen probably eats at odd hours; probably sleeps at odd hours. That is nothing abnormal. But, I’m talking about sleep and appetite changes that are out of the ordinary for your child. Those are the big warning signs,” states Dr. Raunak Khisty, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Riverside Medical Center.

Communication Is Key

Communication is critical in addressing whatever issues a child is going through. However, there’s not a “one size fits all” approach.

“Parents really need to understand that they have to talk to their child at their developmental level. For example, you’re not going to talk to teenagers in the same way you’re going to talk to really young children,” explains Dr. Khisty.

One underlying message parents can acknowledge is that the last year-plus has been “different;” more so than kids have ever been exposed to. There were a lot of unknowns; uncertainty. Then, from there, parents can help their kids explore their feelings—as well as past, current, and future experiences.

“Once you’re able to get to the same level with them about, ‘Hey, I get it. It’s been a different year for all of us,’ you can go into what they’re experiencing; what they’re upset about. It may be online schooling, maybe lack of social life, lack of athletics. Open it up and see what your child tells you,” advises Dr. Khisty.

Reestablishing Schedules

Parents and kids alike had to adjust to a new routine—one in which certain “parameters” to the daily schedule simply went out the window. Dr. Khisty says it’s imperative to start reestablishing more of a regular routine, especially as kids return to an in-school classroom environment.

“Getting back to a routine is going to be very important. What time do you get up? What time do you go to school? You want to start modeling those situations. I think that’s going to be key in getting back to a routine. And, the second thing is limiting online activity. When school starts in person, they are certainly not going to have the same amount of time online. I think it’s very important to prepare them for that,” he cautions.

Help Is Available

Returning to “normal” may seem overwhelming for both parents and kids, but Dr. Khisty assures no one has to do it alone. Most of the schools in the county have trained, professional social workers who can help. The Helen Wheeler SAS Center in Kankakee County provides the expertise of multiple licensed therapists.

And, Riverside Medical Center offers a central intake department. “It’s open 24/7, rain, sunshine, snow. They’re always present. You can also call our office at Riverside Medical Center Psychiatric Associates. They can absolutely help you out,” shares Dr. Khisty.

“I just want to let people know, and reassure them, that things are headed in the right direction. We have had a challenging year, but things are getting back on track,” he adds.