All posts by CHOC Children's

How to talk to kids about racism

By Dr. Ava Casados, psychology postdoctoral fellow at CHOC Children’s and Dr. Sheila Modir, pediatric psychologist at CHOC Children’s

 As we grapple with recent events, we are all likely experiencing a range of feelings. Regardless of our background, we are processing a lot of information. While we as adults are finding it challenging to know what to do or say, children may be even more affected. Children often turn into little detectives to figure out what adults are worried or upset about, and they question why the news keeps focusing on certain topics and stories.

As a family, you may be thinking about how to talk to your child about current events, race and racism.

Though difficult, talking with children about the value of diversity and need for racial equality is important. This is true regardless of whether stories of injustice and racial violence are in the news or not.

Children of all races and ethnicities have questions about race and racism, so these conversations can be valuable in every household. Research shows that children can internalize racial bias as early as two years and have opinions about race before starting kindergarten. It is never too soon to start the conversation.

These are hard topics to discuss, and parents may be wondering how to talk to kids about racism. There is no single perfect way to do this, but a few suggestions are listed below to help you get started. It is likely we may experience some strong feelings as we think about how to talk to kids about racism, perhaps as we look at resources listed at the bottom of this article.

How to start a conversation about racism with kids:

  • Starting the conversation can be hard. Just know that starting the conversation and feeling uncomfortable is better than not having the conversation at all.
  • Asking open-ended questions can be helpful, especially with older children. These questions can be woven into other conversations you have with your child. You can ask questions such as,
    • “What do you think our family values are about people who are different from us?”
    • “What are ways speech and actions can hurt people?”
    • “What have you heard about racism and racial bias?”
    • “What is free speech and what do you think that means?”
  • Particularly with the events in the news, ask children what they may have heard and how they are feeling right now. Let children have the space to talk. They may be fearful; they may want to do something; they may be sad or angry. All of these feelings are OK, and you can let your child know that.

Tips for talking to kids about racism:

  • Before you start a conversation, you can look at the links below, so you can feel prepared.
  • You don’t have to plan one large conversation that addresses everything. Think of it as a series of conversations.
  • Taking a “colorblind” approach including statements like, “I don’t see race” can cause people who DO experience racism to feel as if you do not see that racism is a problem. Instead, acknowledge that racism is real and present in everyday life and celebrate the value of diversity by going to museums and events that expose your child to cultures other than your own.
  • Limit exposure to violent media and videos. While we do want to acknowledge the reality of racial violence, we also know that children do not need to see videos of violence in order to know it’s there. Watching these videos directly, or even hearing detailed descriptions of the videos, can be traumatizing to children. It can also traumatize us as adults and make it more difficult to talk to our children.
  • Be open to learning and model that learning to children. You do not need to have the “right” answer to every question, but you can show children that you are interested in learning and seeking answers together.
  • Leave space for anger and sadness. Often, we want to protect children from negative emotions, but anger and sadness are natural responses when children —or adults! — see violence and injustice in their communities. Let children know it’s OK for them to feel this way.
  • While these issues are often not something that we can completely address in a single conversation, we can show children that there are steps that we can take together to respond to injustice. Help children channel emotions into actions such as writing letters, creating art and volunteering.
  • Children learn about the world through the media they view, and oftentimes, the media only shows images of black and brown people as criminals or victims. Be mindful of the images your child is seeing and seek out movies, images and stories that show people of color as strong, intelligent and capable.

Open a developmentally appropriate dialogue:

When discussing an important topic like racism with children, we want to make sure we are using developmentally appropriate language so that they are able to fully comprehend a big and meaningful topic. Also remember these conversations offer you an opportunity to learn from and with your child. Here are tips on how to talk to kids about racism in a developmentally appropriate way:

  • 2-7 years old: At this stage, children watch and imitate other people’s behaviors. As parents, modeling and embodying an attitude of respect toward others is critical. Children at this stage are also more aware of physical differences among themselves and their peers and may comment on it. This can offer you an opportunity to celebrate differences.
  • 7 to 11 years old: Children in this stage engage in logical thinking and continue to be quite literal and concrete in how they perceive the world. Because of this, parents can have an open conversation with their child about what is right versus wrong and fair versus unfair.
  • 12 years and older: In this stage, adolescents and young adults can engage in abstract thinking and are now able to consider moral dilemmas, philosophical and ethical issues, and may take on a sociopolitical stance. Finding shared ways to make a difference is important and is an opportunity for you to model to your adolescent how to respond appropriately and effectively when incidences of injustices occur.

Resources for talking to children about race and racism:

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6 tips for coping in uncertain times

By Dr. Sabrina Stutz, pediatric psychologist at CHOC Children’s

We are living in an unprecedented time. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have lost some control we previously felt we had over what will happen next— in our daily schedules, our children’s education, our careers and businesses, our health, our access to resources, and our relationship with loved ones and our community. For many of us, there is not a clear plan of when, how, and if life will return to how we knew it before. We know from previous research that worries and depression are often much higher when dealing with uncertainty. So, how can we cope in a time of such uncertainty? Here’s a guide to help you – and your children – learn the coping tips that will help with living in uncertain times.

What does tolerating uncertainty mean?

 Why are some people more affected by uncertainty than others? “Uncertainty tolerance” is our ability to cope with or accept uncertain or ambiguous situations. We cannot predict the future or control all outcomes, and so some uncertainty in life is inevitable.

Someone with high tolerance for uncertainty is better able to accept and adapt to outcomes they can’t predict or control. One study showed that people with a higher tolerance for uncertainty were more likely to cooperate with and trust other people. People with low tolerance for uncertainty, on the other hand, are more likely to experience anxiety and stress associated with the unknown.

 How do I know if I have trouble coping with uncertainty?

 Some common behaviors people exhibit when they struggle with tolerating uncertainty are:

  • Excessive reassurance seeking from others or constantly asking questions
  • Checking and double-checking news outlets, social media or emails
  • Checking-in multiple times daily with friends or loved ones
  • Not allowing others to help out of fear it will not be done right unless they do it themselves
  • Avoiding and procrasting tasks or situations that provoke anxiety or a sense of uncertain outcomes
  • Distraction or keeping oneself overly busy to avoidhaving to think about uncertainty
  • Engaging in unhealthy coping such as excessive drinking or risky behaviors

How can I get better at coping with uncertainty?

The good news is that the skill of tolerating uncertainty is like a muscle. If we train and practice coping with uncertain situations, we can grow stronger and improve at doing so. Here are some tips for coping with uncertainty:

  1. Practice mindfulness

We can better cope with uncertainty if we can develop a willingness to experience the discomfort of it, without trying to change or eliminate it. Being mindful means intentionally bringing our awareness into the present moment, without judgement. We can focus on what we know is happening right now, without thinking about what might happen in the future. Mindfulness exercises help us learn to observe our present thoughts, feelings and environment as they are, without attempting to alter them. We can practice being mindful about uncertainty and our discomfort with it, so we can be more willing to experience it without additional stress. Check out tips and tricks for using mindfulness and meditation here.

2. Work through the stressful thoughts

When we are faced with uncertainty, we can experience automatic negative thoughts that pop into our minds unintentionally. If we can identify and challenge those thoughts, we will be better able to cope with them. Here are some common thoughts associated with uncertainty and ways to work through them:

  • Shoulds/musts: Thinking that things should or must be a certain way sets us up to have expectations that can let us down. Try to catch thoughts framed in this way, and rephrase them as, “I’d like for things to be this way, but I may not have as much control over the outcome as I would like.”
  • Predicting the future: No one can predict the future. But often our thoughts try to do this in order to guide our current behaviors. As humans, we like to be able to plan, thus we often try to anticipate the future. Unfortunately, our future prediction thoughts can often be catastrophic and stressful. Try to focus on the present, remember that you are doing your best to create the future you want, and that is all you can do.
  • What-ifs: Sometimes, we can overanalyze a situation by considering all the possible angles and outcomes, all the “what-ifs.” When we are stressed, “what if” thoughts can paralyze us and stop us from taking any action at all. Try answering your “what-ifs” to make them hold less power over you. For example, if you were to answer the question, “What if I get negative feedback from a teacher or supervisor?” you might say, “Well, I would feel upset, ashamed and I’d call my friend or loved one to talk it through. I’d probably do some self-soothing, and then try to improve my performance next time.”

3. Shore up your resiliency

Anxiety is caused by overestimating risk and underestimating one’s ability to cope with that risk. While you can help to manage thoughts that overestimate risk by trying some of the strategies above, you can also intentionally strengthen your coping toolbox and build resiliency. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from difficulties. Find more strategies for building resilience here so you can feel more prepared to cope with any outcome that might occur.

 4. Do the opposite

We can practice tolerating uncertainty by doing the opposite of any behaviors we typically do to control the discomfort. For example, if you find yourself repeatedly seeking reassurance, try to sit with the discomfort and not ask reassuring questions. If you tend to check and double-check your newsfeeds, lists or emails, try to turn off notifications or limit yourself to just one check per day. If you are not comfortable delegating tasks to others, do it anyway, and practice coping with the feeling of uncertainty. While it may feel uncomfortable at first, your mind will adjust with time, and you will prove to yourself that uncertainty may not be as bad as you once feared.

5. Focus on things you can control

Make a list of things that concern or worry you, and divide them up into things you can control and things you cannot control. For example, we cannot control the global response to COVID-19, but we can practice good hand hygiene and appropriate physical distancing. We cannot personally stock store shelves with more paper towels, but we can consider alternative ways to conserve household resources. We cannot control when schools reopen, but we can come up with ways for our families to balance the needs of parents and children, even if that balance does not look the same as it did before school closures. We cannot control how our loved ones feel about quarantine, but we can support them with resources and ideas for coping with it. (Here’s activity ideas for kids during stay at home orders, and tips for helping kids cope with COVID-19 stress.) By taking a more solution-oriented approach, we are able to accept the things we cannot change, while taking action on those we can.

6. Make progress on a skill or hobby

With stay at home orders still in effect, life can seem stagnant or unmoving. Without knowing a concrete timeline for things returning to normal, it can help us cope with uncertainty when we create progress and forward movement in other areas of our lives. Try an activity or hobby in which you can see progress and improvement:

  • Start a garden
  • Learn to cook
  • Make some artwork
  • Exercise
  • Yoga and meditation
  • Learn a new language
  • Rearrange the furniture in your room
  • Take an online class

By practicing the above tips and tricks, we can increase our ability to cope in times of uncertainty and feel strong enough to manage any outcome!

Additional resources for coping with uncertainty:

Articles:

Helpline:

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Helpline
    • Toll-Free: 1-800-985-5990 (English and español)
    • SMS: Text TalkWithUs to 66746
    • SMS (español): “Hablanos” al 66746
    • TTY: 1-800-846-8517
    • Website — English | Website — Español

Helpful apps:

  • Woebot: Your Self-Care Expert App, a cognitive behavior therapy-based artificial intelligence self-care app designed by psychologists at Stanford University
  • Headspace: A mindfulness app for everyday life
  • Calm: A sleep, meditation and relaxation app
Get more information on Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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Coronavirus: What parents should know

We know how frightening it may be for parents to hear news reports about the 2019 novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). Get answers to your frequently asked questions – and some peace of mind – in this Q & A with CHOC Children’s infectious disease experts.

What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a disease caused by a novel strain of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses and commonly infect people around the world with mild upper respiratory infections. Sometimes coronaviruses that infect animals can evolve and become a new human coronavirus strain. These can cause more severe illness. The current outbreak began in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China and has spread to other countries, including the U.S.

Who is at risk for COVID-19 infection?
Mostly people older than 60 and those with pre-existing health conditions are at greater risk. Additionally, people who have had contact with people confirmed to have COVID-19.

At this time, there are not many cases in children. Children who did have the virus tend to have mild symptoms. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, few children with COVID-19 have had to be hospitalized. However, severe illness has been reported in children, most often in infants less than a year.

How do you get COVID-19?
We are still learning exactly how COVID-19 spreads. What we do know though that the virus is spread mainly from person-to-person contact. This can happen when people within 6 feet of each other inhale respiratory droplets produced when someone speaks, coughs or sneezes.

COVID-19 is thought to be spread primarily through inhaling droplets produced when someone coughs or sneezes or by transmission between people in close contact.

Can someone spread the virus without being sick?
The Centers for Disease Control reports that recent studies show a significant portion of individuals with COVID-19 lack symptoms. Even the people who eventually develop symptoms can pass the virus to others before showing symptoms. This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms.

Can I get COVID-19 from touching an object?
This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. However, it is possible that someone who touches their nose, mouth or eyes after touching a surface with the virus on it could possibly get the virus.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19 infection?
Symptoms can include fever, cough and shortness of breath. The CDC has identified muscles aches and loss or taste or smell as additional possible symptoms. For an updated list of possible symptoms as reported by the CDC, click here.

Symptoms typically appear two to 14 days after exposure.

According to the CDC, the symptoms of COVID-19 are similar in children and adults. However, children with confirmed COVID-19 have generally presented with mild symptoms. Reported symptoms in children include cold-like symptoms, such as fever, runny nose and cough. Vomiting and diarrhea have also been reported.

How can I protect my family from COVID-19?
With no vaccine currently available, the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed. It’s also important to take preventative steps:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Get more information on hand-washing— and here’s a fun graphic.
  • The CDC recommends laundering items including washable plush toys as appropriate following the manufacturer’s instructions. When possible, use the warmest appropriate water setting for the items and let them dry completely. Laundry from an ill person can be washed with other people’s items.
  • Check out this list of how to prepare your household for a potential COVID-19 outbreak.
Practicing proper cough and sneeze etiquette can help prevent the spread of illness.

My family has upcoming travel plans. Should we cancel?
We recommend following the CDC’s guidance for travel.

Should we stay away from gatherings like church, sporting events or amusement parks? What about smaller gatherings?
Recently, some communities have begun gradual reopening efforts of some businesses and places of worship in accordance with state guidelines, a modification of initial statewide stay-at-home orders.

Nonetheless, people are encouraged to be mindful that physical distancing reduces the likelihood of transmission of COVID-19.

In addition to practicing proper handwashing, people should watch for symptoms and avoid going out if they feel ill. When outside the home, physically distance from others whenever possible, and wear a face covering.

Should my children and I wear masks?
The CDC recommends cloth face coverings in public settings in places like grocery stores and pharmacies where physical distancing measures can be difficult to maintain. These face coverings can slow the spread of COVID-19 and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. It is not necessary for children under the age of 2 to wear cloth face coverings.

In a May 28 order, the Orange County health officer stated that all Orange County residents and visitors shall wear a cloth face covering outside their home when they are not able to maintain at least 6 feet of physical distance from another person who is not a family/household member or does not reside in the same living unit. The cloth face-covering order doesn’t apply to the following persons:

  • Children under the age of 2;
  • Anyone who has trouble breathing, or who is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cloth face-covering without assistance; or
  • Persons with a medical or mental health condition or development disability that prevents wearing a cloth face-covering.

Here’s guidance from the CDC on how to properly wear a cloth face covering, as well as tutorials on how to make your own mask.

N-95 or surgical masks are not recommended for public use, as supplies are needed by healthcare workers and first responders.

My kids are worried about COVID-19. What can I do?
Check out these tips from a CHOC psychologist about reducing children’s anxiety about COVID-19.

This comic book was developed to help kids understand COVID-19 and lessen their fears.

The Orange County Health Care Agency has developed some kid-friendly infographics to help children understand what they can do to help stay well: English | Spanish

What should I do if I think my child has COVID-19?
Call your healthcare professional if your child has a fever, in addition to a cough or breathing difficulty, and has had close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or you live in or have recently traveled to an area with an ongoing spread of the virus.

Do not go to the doctor’s office without calling first. Your provider will work with the local healthcare agency to determine whether testing is necessary.

Parents who suspect their child may have COVID-19 should call their healthcare provider before going to the doctor’s office.

Parents who suspect their child may have COVID-19 should call their healthcare provider before going to the doctor’s office.

Can my child be tested for COVID-19?
If your child has a cough and fever, particularly with underlying health issues, call your doctor to discuss if testing is needed.

How is COVID-19 treated?
There is no specific antiviral treatment recommended for COVID-19. People with COVID-19 should receive supportive care to help relieve symptoms. For severe cases, treatment should include care to support vital organ functions.

What is the link between COVID-19 and MIS-C?
Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) is a condition where different body parts become inflamed, and many children with MIS-C have previously been diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19. Scientists are still studying the correlation, but this Q&A with a CHOC pediatric infectious disease specialist answers parents’ most common MIS-C questions.

Can I transmit COVID-19 to my baby through breastmilk?
Current guidance from the CDC states that a mother who has been confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19 should take all precautions to avoid spreading the virus to her infant. Learn more here.

Can I transmit COVID-19 to my pets?
Until experts learn more about how this virus affects animals, treat pets as you would other human family members to protect them from a possible infection. The CDC offers the following guidance:

  • Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household.
  • Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
  • Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals.
  • Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.

There is a small number of animals around the world reported to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, mostly after having contact with a person with COVID-19. Talk to your veterinarian if your pet gets sick or if you have any concerns about your pet’s health.

If you have a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19, limit contact with your pets, just like you would with people. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a cloth face covering and wash your hands before and after you interact with them.

Call your veterinarian with questions or concerns on your pet’s health before bringing them to the veterinary clinic.

Who can I call for more information about COVID-19?
The Orange County Health Care Agency is taking calls from the public about COVID-19. Call 800-564-8448 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Or, speak to a CHOC nurse 24/7 to answer your questions about COVID-19 and your child by calling 1-844-GET-CHOC (1-844-438-2462).

This article was last updated on June 3, 2020.

Get more information on Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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How living through a pandemic like COVID-19 can affect children’s mental health

By Dr. Heather Huszti, chief psychologist at CHOC Children’s, and
Dr. Sheila Modir, pediatric psychologist at CHOC Children’s

Taking care of your mental health, and your children’s mental health, is particularly important during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic we’re currently living through.

There are many possible risk factors affecting children during this time that can lead to mental health distress:

  • Shelter in place orders and disruption in former routines
  • Loss of family from COVID-19
  • Loss of family income
  • Virtual schooling
  • Lack of access to peers
  • Possible violence in the home

These risk factors can compound existing mental health conditions or bring on new mental health challenges.

A study published by the Society for Disaster Medicine and Public Health polled families who faced isolation due to SARS or H1N1 and found that 30% of children met criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) per parent report. This rate was higher among children who received no mental health services and those whose parents had been isolated because of these diseases. If parents had anxiety or PTSD, their children were more likely to be impacted on a mental health level as well.

Research is emerging that suggests adults are struggling with increased mental health problems during the current COVID-19 pandemic. It also shows that many parents are worried about how to help their children’s mental health. These resources can help:

What happens when we are isolated

Research conducted by Australian psychologist and researcher Kimberley Norris found that when people are isolated due to a pandemic, they tend to cycle through different phases of emotion. How we feel and act can vary in these phases based on our age and other factors, but generally the cycle follows this pattern:

  • Confusion – panic-buying, seeking clarity over regulations, or kids feeling unsure why they can’t see their friends at school anymore
  • Honeymoon – finding a routine, adapting to work from home changes, feeling a sense of community
  • Resentment – feeling cooped up or sick of wearing masks
  • Reunion – the phase where we start to step out of isolation and may feel a rollercoaster of emotions. This could be, “I’m scared to get sick but I’m happy to go to the beach.”
  • Reintegration – back to functioning normally in society

Through self-isolating and sheltering in place, we as clinicians worry that people in our community may not feel comfortable seeking the mental healthcare they need. However, telehealth is available and mental health sessions can be conducted from the safety of your home. Here’s advice on deciding where to go for physical healthcare during COVID-19.

The impact of trauma on children during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is a new mass trauma that can impact children’s mental health both now and later in life. This trauma will likely exacerbate existing mental health conditions and contribute to new stress-related illnesses.

If the signs and symptoms of trauma are left untreated, they can have a lasting impact on the child’s emotional, behavioral and physical well-being.

Signs and symptoms of trauma in children can include:

  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Regression behaviors such as loss of toileting skills
  • Increase in separation anxiety
  • Changes in sleep, eating and school performance
  • Engagement in risky behaviors
  • Loss of interest in friends and/or activities
  • Isolation
  • Defiance

Tips for building resilience to mitigate the impact of trauma

There are a number of things parents can do to help children build resilience needed to thrive during this chaotic time, as well as help mitigate the impact of trauma. Resilient children tend to be happier, more motivated and engaged, more confident, and adopt a more positive attitude as they encounter more challenging situations. Here are some ideas to try in your own home:

  • Making a schedule — Whether times are uncertain or not, all children benefit from having a routine in place. Following a schedule provides consistency, structure and predictability. When we don’t know what the world is going to throw at us next, building in some routine and predictability serves as a buffer from the outside chaos.
  • Emotion identification — Today is a great day for a family movie night, and what movie does a better job of describing the internal world of a child than Pixar’s “Inside Out”? Consider making a family fort and gathering your favorite movie snacks. After the movie, grab some markers and paper and have your child draw what recent feelings they have experienced. What does that feeling look like? What would it say if it could talk? What does that feeling need to feel better or safe?
  • Coping skills — There are different ways to manage big emotions that children feel.
    • Deep breathing – This will help the child calm and self-soothe. Breathe in for 3 seconds, hold it for 3 seconds, and release it for 3 seconds.
    • Progressive muscle relaxation – Tense your muscles as you breathe in, and then relax them as you breathe out. This will help you identify in the future times of stress when you feel tense, and you can use deep breathing skills to help relax your body.
    • Grounding – Bring your attention to the present moment using your five senses. For example, name five things you see in the room, four things you feel, three things you hear, etc.
  • Family coping box — A coping box can include tools that different family members can utilize when feeling stressed. The family box should be located somewhere that everyone can access it easily. Consider items such as a soft stuffed animal, word searches, a book of yoga poses, fidget toys or stress balls.
  • Conflict resolution — Stay at home orders can mean tight quarters, which can naturally lead to disagreements. Establish communication rules for your family, like using “I” statement to express how you feel, not interrupting each other, and taking a timeout when things get heated.
  • Mindfulness – Science has shown that the power of thought can change how we feel and lead to changes in those around us. One example of practicing mindfulness is a loving-kindness meditation. Since we can’t be with many of our loved ones right now, we can send them kindness and well wishes instead. Close your eyes, imagine the person or pet you care about and say aloud or silently, “May you be safe. May you be healthy and strong. May you be happy. May you be peaceful and at ease.”
  • Gratitude — Research has found that teaching gratitude to children increases their happiness, optimism and generosity. Encourage your children to keep a gratitude journal and to write three things every day they are grateful for. At the end of the week, everyone can share their reflections.
Get more information on Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Related posts:

  • 6 tips for coping in uncertain times
    By Dr. Sabrina Stutz, pediatric psychologist at CHOC Children’s We are living in an unprecedented time. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have lost some control we previously felt we ...
  • Coronavirus: What parents should know
    We know how frightening it may be for parents to hear news reports about the 2019 novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). Get answers to your frequently asked questions – and some peace ...
  • How are teens coping with changes brought on by COVID-19
    Changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing have greatly impacted teens. They’re not in school or seeing friends in person, and many are struggling with the reality of ...

How are teens coping with changes brought on by COVID-19

Changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing have greatly impacted teens. They’re not in school or seeing friends in person, and many are struggling with the reality of missing milestones they had looked forward to celebrating, like graduation or prom.

It’s normal for teens to feel anxious during this period of their lives, and we want them to know they’re not alone. We checked in with our teen advisory council to see how this time has impacted them, how they’re coping with these changes, and their tips for other teens struggling with changes prompted by COVID-19. Despite the challenges of this uncertain time, they also shared good things that have come out of this period.

Read on for their experiences and advice, plus more tips from CHOC experts.

Layla, age 14

Layla
Layla, a CHOC Children’s teen adviser

I’ve had two performances, a school tradition and my spring musical postponed. My volleyball season is paused, and sadly, I do not think that we will be able to resume. The first week of cancellations and postponements was very rough, with more and more bad news piling on top of each other.

Strangely, as much as I miss my friends, I have not been contacting them as much as I thought I would. A huge part of our friendship was seeing each other every day at school and having many opportunities to joke around. Since being in quarantine, I find myself texting them about once a day.

Instead of talking with my friends a lot, I have been having more alone time. This has given plenty of time to think, which has come to be both good and bad. Sometimes when I am alone too long, I begin to feel negative and I put myself down. The most effective way of balancing this out with good is hanging out with my family or trying out new activities and putting my energy toward productive things.

There are good things that have come out of this time. One of my favorite things to do is to discover and listen to new music, and I have had a lot of time to do that recently. Another good thing is that I feel like I got a break.  Before, I was balancing school, theater, volleyball and other extracurriculars, and my life seemed to be moving incredibly fast. This time has given me a chance to reflect and take a breath.

My advice to others is that it’s important to remember that during this time, we are all sacrificing something so that our Earth can heal sooner.

Carina, age 17

Carina
Carina, a CHOC Children’s teen adviser

Some special events that have been canceled or postponed because of stay at home orders includes my junior year softball season and a concert. The softball season getting canceled was really disappointing considering my teammates and I have been practicing hard almost every day before we got the news. Currently, the softball season is over, but I see my teammates and my coaches every Monday through video calls. My concert getting postponed was devastating because it is an experience that you can’t recreate on a video screen. The energy, the music, and the emotion are all something that I was looking forward to, especially since junior year was getting stressful.

I’ve kept in touch with friends by having a group chat via text and group FaceTime with them almost every day. Most of my friends have been keeping themselves busy with schoolwork and video games. However, we know that if someone calls the group chat, they are lonely. That’s why most of us answer the call and talk about school or relationship drama. It is really effective, and we can add anyone to the call at any time. I also play video games with my friends and it helps me work on my problem-solving skills within a group while also joking around and having fun.

The stay at home orders aren’t difficult to follow, but being able to see my friends has taken a toll on my emotions. I have sometimes struggled with motivation to do my schoolwork or exercise but this time has given me a chance to reflect on what I want to do in my future in regard to college and beyond.

During this stressful time, I have noticed that I am more aggravated and have less of a patience with my brothers and family, but that talking to my friends over the phone helps me a lot.

The good thing about these stay at home orders is that I get to spend more time with my family and get to do some of my hobbies. This has given me more time to write in my journal, sew and draw with all my free time. I also have more time to focus on my homework and actually work through problems rather than find a quick solution and not understand the concept.

Lauren, age 15

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Lauren, a CHOC Children’s teen adviser

My church had several events planned that were canceled or postponed. This has impacted me a lot because my faith is very important to me, and with mass gatherings being cancelled it has been quite a challenge to adjust to new routines. My family also had to cancel a few fun events like our kayaking trip and other bonding activities. Having these events cancelled has made me really sad because it prevents me from spending time with some of my family and closest friends.

To keep in touch with friends, I have been FaceTiming and texting them every day so we can chat and catch up. Working together on school assignments has also allowed me to collaborate with my friends.

The pandemic has its ups and downs regarding my emotions and mental health. While staying at home allows me to have more time for myself, it takes away a lot of the social aspects of my life. Staying home has its perks, such as how it has allowed me to dedicate more time to self-care, learn new hobbies, and relieve me of the pressure that comes with going to school with other students and teachers. I’ve also been able to catch up on all the sleep I missed out on during the school year. I have also taken more time to read the books I didn’t get the chance to finish, and to finish learning piano pieces. Distance learning has allowed me to work on schoolwork at my own pace rather than following a specific schedule at school.

I am closer to my family as a whole as a result of being quarantined since we are spending all of our time with each other. We have been going on family walks around the neighborhood and nearby trails.

Zoe, age 16

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Zoe, a CHOC Children’s teen adviser

COVID-19 has caused a lot of cancellations. I was planning on spending a day at Disneyland with my friends on my birthday, but Disneyland has closed until further notice. I still find time to catch up with my friends, however. FaceTime and Zoom calls have been a good pastime and a great way to keep in touch.

In terms of my emotional state, it’s been difficult to stay positive when nothing is definitive. Everything is up in the air and there’s no answer to when things will return to normal. There are a few positives, however. I have a lot more time during the day due to the fact that all schooling is online. I get to watch more movies since I can’t go outside and it’s a lot easier to relax. I get to spend more time with my sister and parents which has certainly brought us closer.

Overall the coronavirus has made it hard for everyone in at least some way, but everyone is learning new ways to adapt and thrive in uncertainty.

Christian, age 17

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Christian, a CHOC Children’s teen adviser

I am currently a senior in high school and all my senior activities, including prom, graduation and grad night have been canceled. Our graduation ceremony will be virtual, and the day we get to pick up our diploma I must wear a mask and gloves and I am allowed 10 minutes to clean my locker out and leave the campus. My family had to cancel an upcoming vacation that was originally planned to celebrate my graduation and my parents’ 20th wedding anniversary. All these changes made me very upset. I felt robbed because I spent my entire life working very hard to get to this moment of graduation, yet I will not receive a celebration or commencement as others have received.

I am now feeling better and I am thankful that my family and I have been healthy through this pandemic. Also, knowing that I am not the only one dealing with this has helped. I am among many students in this country not able to walk across the stage on graduation and celebrate their achievements with the people they love. I feel this pandemic has brought many students together and knowing my generation, we will come up with a way to make up for our losses.

During this time, I have mostly kept in touch with my friends through texting and social media. I have also played video games with a few of them to pass the time, which has been fun. Although in the end, talking to them through social media or a video game is just not the same as physically being able to talk to them.

Since the start of the stay at home order, I have noticed my mental health change as a result. After a while of no major human contact, except for close family, it starts to get a little lonely. I have also noticed that sometimes I get the feeling of frustration from being indoors all day. Despite these feelings, I try my best to stay occupied so that these feelings do not occur.

While most of the effects of this pandemic have been negative, I have noticed some positives. One example is that I have been able to spend more time with my immediate family. Since the start of social distancing, we have been watching more movies, playing board games together and cooking. Before this pandemic we were all so busy and hardly spent time together. Now we do a lot of activities together and I am thankful for this time with my family.

Trevor, age 16

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Trevor, a CHOC Children’s teen adviser

My volleyball season and my 16th birthday party were canceled due to COVID-19. It’s a shame the season had to end. We went undefeated last year and I was looking forward to repeating our success. My mom did the best she could to still celebrate my birthday under the circumstances. We got takeout from my favorite restaurant and she even had a cake shipped here from New York City.

I’ve kept in touch with my friends through social media and group chats, but I’ve started to feel claustrophobic. My room’s four walls seem closer than usual. I play video games, do homework, browse social media, and even eat some meals in my room for a change in routine.

A good thing that has come out of this time is that I’ve gotten even closer to my mom.

Sam, age 13

Sam
Sam, a CHOC Children’s teen adviser

Some birthdays, graduation and school festivals have been canceled. I have kept in touch with friends through FaceTime, Zoom, texting and phone calls. Once I found out we could do group FaceTimes, I was so excited to be able to talk to more than one of my friends at a time and actually see all their faces at once. Zoom and Google Meet have also been super helpful for soccer team meetings and school meetings.

I have noticed that I am becoming much less social since I have not seen my friends in more than one month. Though I have been talking to my friends on the phone, it is different from being able to interact and see them in person.

During this quarantine, I have much more down time to spend with my family. Since both my parents work in the hospital and work pretty much every day, I have had a ton of time to get to know my grandpa and learn more about him since he doesn’t live with us full-time. I have also learned to be more productive and active during the day because of this extra time from no school or soccer practice. I have taken this time to really take care of myself and family.

Tips for parents of teens struggling with stay-at-home orders

Many teens are complying with stay at home orders and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, many of us have also heard stories about teens who were seen hanging out with friends in large groups, celebrating birthday parties in person, as well as being upset with parents who are trying to implement rules to keep their families safe. For those cases where teens are struggling to understand the seriousness of the pandemic, and observe social distancing, the question is, how do we promote increased teen understanding and compliance? Read more from a CHOC mental health therapist here.

How to help your teen cope with COVID-19 cancellations

To high school seniors, schools being closed doesn’t equal a vacation – to them, this is time they won’t get back with their friends. It’s normal for teens to feel anxious during this period of their lives, as they close one chapter and begin another. However, teens may feel especially anxious as they realize they may never walk through their high school hallways again, attend prom, perform in their final theater production, compete in their final season, or celebrate graduation.

If you’re a parent or guardian of a teen who is struggling with a loss of control and trying to cope with canceled celebrations, we have tips for talking about it and coping. Read more from a CHOC psychologist here.

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