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Accommodating Anxiety and Depression During the Pandemic

One unfortunate side effect of coronavirus measures has been an increase in anxiety among our children. Most of the reports are anecdotal, but one study of Chinese students showed a significant increase in anxiety and depression among children quarantined for a mean of 34 days. Closer to home, 30% of parents participating in a May 2020 Gallup poll reported harm to their child’s emotional or mental health. These problems come on top of already rising rates of teen suicide.

Whether you work with children onsite or virtually, you will find them exhibiting more anxiety and depression than before. Both the Americans with Disabilities Act and good practice will require you to make reasonable accommodations for children who come to us with these diagnoses. Some children will be reacting to direct contact with COVID-19 in their families, and others will be reacting to media reports or their parents’ stress. Anxiety and depression present in different ways, and children will not always be able to identify what they are feeling at any given point in time. It will be our responsibility to distinguish between discipline issues and mental health symptoms.

Groups such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the National Association of Independent Schools, the Association of Christian Schools International, and the American Camping Association all have good resources for working with children affected by the coronavirus. The field of trauma-informed education also offers excellent techniques and resources for navigating this new terrain.

Outdoor exercise is more important than ever before. Exercise is proven to help with depression and anxiety, and outdoor activities are safer than indoor in terms of spreading coronavirus. The American Academy of Pediatricians both has published guidance encouraging playground time for students in school. Virtual programs likewise should build in time for outdoor activity.

One surprising discovery is that online activities may help more than hurt children. Older studies emphasized the dangers of allowing children to spend too much time online. More recent studies, however, indicate that activities that create communities, such as online gaming, decrease loneliness and help children weather the coronavirus restrictions. Even much-maligned social media may not increase depression, and one study claims that toddlers who use electronics develop longer attention spans. Of course, we have to be alert to bullying, online predators and other risks, but virtual communities may be stronger and a more positive part of our work with children than we realized.

The standards for accommodating children with mental health diagnoses are ever-changing, but you have a wide variety to techniques to choose from. Work with your children’s parents, mental health providers, and experts in your field, and you can find ways to help the children in your care weather this pandemic.


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