Helping kids cope with mental health challenges they're facing

Experts share signs of struggle, what to do
Posted at 4:14 PM, Jun 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-12 00:33:49-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — For just about all of us, this year has not gone as planned. Isolation, changes to the school year, financial stress and canceled plans are things adults are struggling to deal with, but it's also having an impact on kids. Experts say it's something we need to recognize, so we can help.

"Being exposed to some of the things that they are in social media, exposed to the news, exposed to the anxiety and fears that their parents are experiencing, they are having to go through some really adult topics right now," said Professor of Psychology at CSU Pueblo Dr. Krista Bridgmon.

Bridgmon is a former school counselor and she urges parents and other trusted adults to pay attention to signs of stress and anxiety in youngsters right now.

"They are enduring adult worries right now. We want our pre-teens to still be kids and they're teetering into an age where you're old enough and mature enough to understand some things and you're old enough and mature enough to not understand some things right now too," Bridgmon said.

Here are some of the signs to look for in younger kids:
Experts say children may be...
- more tearful
- irritable
- more clingy than normal

For the older kids:
Experts say pay attention to changes:
- in moods
- irritability
- isolating themselves
- changes in weight
- sleeping for long periods of time

"I think a lot of kiddos are not only physically alone right now, but they're also feeling very lonely," Bridgmon said. "So anytime parents can socially and safely expose their kids to an environment where they have some face-to-face interaction as long as it's done safely will be really helpful during this time."

Here are some other ideas of things you can do at home to help:
- have periodic check-ins with your kids
- ask how they're feeling and then validate their feelings
- come up with a plan for the day or week and share it with them so they know what they have to look forward to
- consider creating a family bucket list of things you can do this summer that you haven't done in the past

One of the biggest concerns for people in the mental health field when it comes to kids is how they will be supported once they head back to school in the fall.

"Do we have enough school counselors and the resources put forth for teachers and school counselors? The American School Counseling Association recommends one school counselor to 250 students. The State of Colorado is not there," Bridgmon said. "That number was very difficult before coronavirus and now we're going to have a lot of kids that normally wouldn't seek the assistance of a school counselor are now going to be seeking the assistance of a school counselor."

Bridgmon says she hopes schools are looking at options right now.

"All of our schools are going through a crisis. So this is an opportunity for schools to reconfigure their student support systems including more licensed clinical social workers in the school and more licensed professional counselors, including more school counselors and really looking at ratios of how many adults there are to kids," Bridgmon said.

Parents who would like to seek professional help for their kids should talk with their primary care doctor first. In most cases that will be the child's pediatrician. That doctor can then refer you out to a psychologist or therapist if needed.