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Helping kids cope as COVID drags on: Tips from a pediatrician

Ask the Pediatrician: Vaccines, kids' and teens' coronavirus concerns.

What an unusual summer!

We have a lot to balance between trying to keep kids at home on track, maintaining healthy habits, working and continued social distancing. Traditionally, families have used the summer to catch up on well-child care and immunizations. How should we best think about this in the time of COVID-19? We also may be noticing some behavior or attitude changes in our children as the pandemic drags on. How can we best help them? These are great questions and important to talk about. We are all in this together and we will get through this pandemic as a community.

I love your questions. Please keep them coming.

Should I still bring my kids for routine appointments and vaccines during COVID-19?

Vaccines: Vaccine updates are often associated with back to school. Vaccines are an essential tool to keep kids healthy. Although the start of the school year will look a little different, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly encourages families to contact their providers and schedule appointments to update their children’s immunizations. Research from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows childhood vaccination rates have plummeted since the start of the pandemic. This means millions of children in the U.S. have been left vulnerable to otherwise vaccine-preventable diseases. As social distancing requirements are relaxed, there is concern for potential outbreaks of measles and other diseases. The standard vaccine schedule protects children and teens against 16 different diseases. Additionally, vaccination helps build herd immunity, which helps communities stay safe.

Routine care: Medical facilities are working hard to ensure that clinics are clean, safe and can deliver care. While every clinic is different, calling ahead of your appointment can help you know what to expect, as many providers and clinics are taking extra precautions to ensure social distancing measures are being put into practice.
Remember that some medical issues can be handled by phone, video or chat visits. If you are not sure, call your provider to help select the right appointment for you.

More on the subject from Kaiser Permanente:
Dr. John Dunn explains why it’s important — and safe — for kids to get their shots.
Dr. Caryn Avery walks through what to expect from your next checkup.

My 7-year-old seems anxious about what back to school will look like. What can I do?

Thank you so much for this question! It is great that you are in tune with your child’s feelings and are aware of this. It is easy to feel ungrounded as we navigate an unclear stretch of time with disrupted schedules and limited activities. Uncertainty about school in the fall can lead to anxiety in both parents and children. Navigating a global pandemic is something we did not expect. How can we best help our kids build resilience? Here are a few suggestions to get the conversation started:

  • Keep the channels of communication open. Checking in and talking about feelings is important.
  • Have a family discussion about resilience. The core of resilience is learning to adapt and grow. Talk to children about how adapting to new situations and being flexible helps us grow and become stronger. Resilience is a lifelong skill. While we cannot change the pandemic, we can change our expectations and find new and creative ways to find happiness.
  • Remind children that they are not alone. Let them know that you are them with them and together you will get through this: “This too shall pass.”

Read also: Tips for helping young kids cope during coronavirus (by Dr. Ashok Shimoji-Krishnan, Kaiser Permanente chief of child/adolescent psychiatry)

Since the start of the pandemic my teenager has seemed very moody, easily angered and no longer interested in activities he used to enjoy. Should I be concerned?

This is a very important topic, one we should be talking about more. Developmentally, teenagers are starting to seek independence from their families. They may find it especially difficult to cope with social distancing, lack of structure and sheltering in place.
Aim to be empathetic, help your teen to find a schedule that gives them privacy and time with family, and reach out for help from your care team. If you notice unusual behaviors including mood changes, significant behavior changes, lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities, difficulty with sleeping or eating, changes in ability to concentrate, increase in reckless behaviors or, in some cases, thoughts or talking about death or suicide, notify your clinical team. These are signs that your teen may need additional support. Your medical provider is trained and able to help.

Read also: Tips for supporting teens in the time of coronavirus (by Dr. Ashok Shimoji-Krishnan, Kaiser Permanente chief of child/adolescent psychiatry)

Here’s a chance to get your child-health-related questions answered by an expert. Email jhanson@seattleschild.com. We’ll send them to Dr. Block for potential inclusion in a future issue of Ask the Pediatrician.
* Call 911 in any emergency, and consult your own health-care team with very serious concerns.

About the Author

Susanna Block

Dr. Susanna Block, MD, MPH, is a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente in Seattle and lives with her family in Queen Anne.