It's a weird time for everyone, so it's no surprise that your kids, no matter what age they are, will likely be feeling some level of stress.
But younger kids often don't know how to articulate their feelings, according to an expert we spoke to, so what are the signs and what can you do?
Signs and Signals
Mental Health Counselor Katie Lear, LCMHC, RPT, RDT, says in preschoolers, "Some common signs that I am seeing when children aren't coping with this pandemic stress well are things like sudden new separation anxiety, which sounds very counterintuitive when we think about the fact that everyone is in the same house together all the time, but kids are really looking to the adults in their lives to feel safe right now. And, they're looking to the routines in their lives to feel safe."
.Kids also have fewer opportunities to be apart from their parents and play independently so, Lear says, kids tend to cling to their parents.
In addition to separation anxiety, Lear says other stress signals to look for:
- Sleep disturbances
- Angry or oppositional behavior
She says kids are "consciously or not consciously trying to keep their parents in their orbit close to them because even if a parent is frustrated, having a parent's eyes on you helps you to feel safe and protected."
How worried should YOU be?
Every kid worries, so how do you know when stress should set off alarm bells? Lear says if a child can talk to you about their stress, but they can still do what they need to do throughout the day, you are probably OK.
However, "If it is starting to get in the way of day-to-day activities; if the child is struggling to leave the house; if the child is struggling to cope when you leave home to go to work; if tantrums are lasting for longer amounts of time and really disrupting the daily routine. We talk, you know, about functional impairment a lot in therapy, which is basically a fancy way of saying, 'This has gotten in the way of my day-to-day life.'"
She says if a parent considers counseling, it's usually a sign that there is enough stress in the house that a professional may be able to make a difference. Trust your gut.