HARRISBURG, Pa. — If you have spent the past year anxious of being out in public because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be understandable if you're just as nervous to re-enter society as restrictions loosen and we near the end of certain mitigation efforts.
Imagine, then, how your kids must feel.
In many cases, they've been told for the past 14 months to wear masks, not see friends, and entirely change their lifestyle. Soon, as coronavirus-related restrictions start to ease, they'll be able to go back to the way life was before March 2020. Except, for children, especially young ones whose minds and tendencies are still developing, doctors say it can be much more challenging.
"Kids have difficulty expressing emotions," Dr. J.P. Shand, a child psychiatrist with Wellspan Ephrata, said. "What we often see are emotions coming out in ways that we can’t interpret immediately, so if a child is experiencing anxiety you may see things such as irritability, anger, sleep disturbance, and increased crying."
The older the child, Shand said, the more likely they are to tell you they're anxious.
This process takes time, he added. For the last 14 months, parents have trained their kids to act and behave a certain way to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions. Now, society is telling them it's acceptable to act the opposite way. It can be a lot for a child to take in, and the brain needs to adapt to the changes.
"Meet the child where they are. If a kid is telling you they are having anxiety over something it generally is not for no reason," Dr. Shand said.
For Tori Levine of Harrisburg, she plans on taking re-entry slowly for her and her two children, ages 2 and 7.
Levine, her husband, and the two boys have been "hunkered down", as she puts it, for the past year, so she doesn't want to do too much too fast. Within the past year, she's started a podcast catered to moms, appropriately titled "Momxiety Club," on top of her job as a maternal fitness instructor.
Self-help is a speciality of hers, and she said movement is great for parents who are anxious about re-entry.
"A lot of times, people talk about self-care as a day at the spa, and that’s not happening," Levine said. "We have to take time for realistic self-care, which is maybe a little dance party with the kids, stepping outside for five minutes, or even hiding in the bathroom for five minutes."
Levine also suggests taking deep breaths as a way to calm anxiety.
"It is okay to say 'I’m not ready yet. This has been a long process and I need a little bit more time to ease back into it,'" Levine said.