One of psychologist Blair Hamel’s clients struggles with separation anxiety and hates spending time away from her parents. Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Hamel said she had just gotten her accustomed to going to school and spending some time away from home.
“Now we have her at home full-time with parents all the time. And she’s thriving. She loves it. She would probably like the pandemic to last forever,” Hamel said.
Hamel, clinical director of psychological services at Thriveworks in Charlotte and Asheville, said she worries about this child’s eventual transition back to school.
But not all of the young children Hamel sees are relishing the extra family time.
Many really miss going to school or seeing their friends. They are also grappling with new concepts like germs and viruses and the idea that contact with other people is potentially dangerous, Hamel said.
“It’s confusing and they have displaced anger," Hamel said. "And worry about going places and touching things. And people are wearing masks and that’s weird. It’s all a new thing for them to navigate.”
Social distancing has also meant many kids are spending unscheduled free time at home.
Without a daily routine, psychologist Frank Gaskill said many of his middle and high school clients become anxious or depressed. They play video games for hours, stay up late and sleep in, which Gaskill said can throw off their brain chemistry.
“A lot of what I do with my clients is say, ‘All right, let’s get an Excel spreadsheet or paper and pen. When you wake up, what do you do next?’” Gaskill said.
But some of his other clients are chipping away at long-term projects during quarantine. One is learning to code. Another has written 300,000 words of a book.
“We know that the most critical piece to how children behave and respond to the world around them is how well their parents or caregivers are responding,” said Robin Gurwitch, psychologist and professor at Duke University Medical Center.
Children who struggled with mental health before the pandemic could have increased psychological needs during this time, Gurwitch said, adding that it’s important for parents and caregivers to talk to their children about the coronavirus and answer their questions.
Gurwitch said she doesn’t think the long-term mental health effect of the pandemic will be a generation of anxious and depressed children. But she said it will “certainly make an impact.”
Some children might suffer trauma if a loved one gets seriously ill or dies, Gurwitch said, or if their family suffers economically because of the coronavirus.
Blair Hamel said it is too early to tell what the long-term effects on her clients might be.
“What we could see, in a best case scenario, is children who grow up to be more responsible, more clean," Hamel said. "Maybe they’ll stock up on toilet paper the rest of their lives. We don’t know.”
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