As we transition to a recovery phase of the pandemic, supporting children’s physical and mental health presents a new challenge for parents. UT Southwestern pediatric specialists Dr. Maeve Sheehan and Dr. James Norcross provide practical advice on how to help kids of all ages adjust to a post-pandemic life.
any parent with school aged Children will tell you that coughs and runny noses are typical, but the pandemic has made all of us hyper alert to even the most minor of symptoms and seasonal viruses that used to have a predictable pattern no longer do today. I'm joined by two U. Two Southwestern faculty Dr Maeve Sheehan, chief medical officer at Children's Medical Center Dallas and Dr James Norcross, who specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry. Welcome Dr C. And we're all very hyper alert about symptoms and being sick over the last two years. How often do most kids get sick per year? And are we seeing something different the last year or two Kids, generally speaking, get about eight viruses a year on average, we're not necessarily seeing anything new. It's just that the uncertainty surrounding Covid, I think has generated a lot of anxiety and worry. We're much better prepared now because we have a better understanding of the disease and how it affects both adults and kids, just like kids get other winter viruses and viruses in the summer. I think we're going to be working through Covid for a long time and figuring out how we handle this and how we sort of return back to normal life in the presence of covid. Dr Norcross. We've had many of these programs talking about mental health during the pandemic over the last couple of years. What are you seeing now is the biggest mental health challenges at this stage of the pandemic. They're very similar actually to once the pandemic started, we're seeing a significant increase in depression symptoms and anxiety, symptoms among Children and especially adolescents? And so we're seeing a lot more depression. Um, kids feeling down isolated even to the point of having suicidal thinking. And we're seeing kids a lot more anxious about whether their family members are gonna be okay and whether they're going to get sick and when is it time to take off your mask and just kind of what guidelines they should follow? Doctor Sheehan as we look to the summer. We're glad to see the decline in covid cases. Are we seeing influenza? Yes, we are. There has been a recent surge in influenza cases and we clearly see a passion where flu is on the rise and we need to be prepared dr Norcross with so many viruses circulating right now, many parents are forced to take time off of work to care for their kids and then the kids sense the stress and their parents. What's your advice on helping parents navigate that for parents? You know, do your best to try to take some time for yourself. That can be difficult when you're raising a family. But even if it's a few minutes or after the kids have gone to bed, have some time to relax. But you do want to have discussions with them at an age appropriate level about what's going on um, with the pandemic and you know, making sure that they know you're there to support them and take care of them. Doctor Sheehan this past summer, we saw a large number of cases of a virus called Rsv is there anything that we could do this summer to keep that from happening again? Kids learn from their parents. So it's really about, you know, good hygiene methods and ensuring that they're not infecting everybody cleaning toys. It's simple measures that really have a big impact. Dr Norcross says we're beginning to relax. Some of the guidance on masking. Some kids are anxious about taking their mask off. What's your advice to them? It's great for families to have discussions about what their beliefs and feelings are on masks and I think we need to listen to the science and that means listening to places that have been giving good covid advice and are reputable organizations to do such and for families then to make decisions how they're going to begin the unmasking process. I think the other thing that's important is different families are going to approach this different ways and we need to be um kind and tolerant of each other. If people have different ideas about how fast they're going to unmask Doctor Sheehan as a physician and a mother, what advice do you have for working parents as they navigate these? What seems to be never ending series of viral infections in their Children? I think being prepared having a plan. So as a parent, I am the working mother, I have to have a plan of it's inevitable that at least I feel it's inevitable that my child at some point will get sick. What's my plan? So there's a lot of things you can do to be proactive, which I think will help both you and your child. Because if you're upset and anxious then your child is feeling unwell. It just generates more anxiety and unhappiness. And it's really about as much as possible to be prepared. Dr Norcross when you think through the last two years, is there a specific age child who's been most affected mentally by the pandemic? Typically what we see is that this has been adolescence and so we want to provide, you know, a lot of support to the teenagers. And again, explaining the science behind Covid what the risk factors are and why they need to do the things that are recommended by their parents and their schools. Doctor Sheehan, it's uh, even though covid cases are down, it's still very difficult for many parents to separate the symptoms of covid versus other viruses that are circulating throughout our area. What advice do you have? Unfortunately, it's hard to differentiate between different viruses Without specific testing. There were early on in the pandemic, very specific symptoms of Covid. Now, many Children are asymptomatic. You don't even know that they have Covid. But obviously, simple things like a sore throat, low grade fever, runny nose can be a symptom of any viruses, including Covid. So it's really knowing what is normal for your child, what is not. And then if you're concerned talking to your pediatrician, well, I want to thank you both for joining us today and for all this great advice and information about taking care of ourselves and our kids as we hopefully exit this stage of the pandemic. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for joining us until next episode. Stay safe and stay healthy.