CLEVELAND, Ohio — Many parents may have noticed their children expressing negative behaviors and moods while having to be at home most of the time these days.
Dr. Julie Pajek is a child and adolescent psychologist at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. She explained that children are also experiencing stress because of the pandemic and the disruption it has caused in their lives, but she said there are some things parents can do to help their children cope.
"We do often see that kids who feel bored, nervous, disappointed do act out. They may be more aggressive. They may be more defiant. And we'd expect that in this time," said Pajek.
Pajek said if you notice your child is "acting out" you should:
1. Talk to your child about how they are feeling and validate their feelings.
2. Provide structure for them such as consistent bedtimes or playtimes.
3. set up virtual or safe socially distanced playdates for them to help combat social isolation.
4. Make sure they are eating healthy and getting enough exercise.
"So that children know what to expect and have that structure. That kind of predictability allows children to feel safe."
Dr. Pajek said children often act out when they are trying to get their parents attention. So, you should try to ignore some of your child's bad behavior as long as it is safe to do so. She said instead you should affirm good behaviors when you see them happening.
"So if they are cleaning up their toys or helping a sibling or playing independently, or tying their shoe by themselves, we want to point that out. We want to say, 'I see you doing that. That's so helpful.'"
Pajek said parents should also set aside one-on-one time with each of their kids. She said children presenting more negative behaviors really benefit from specialized attention from their parent.
"Really give that child that connectedness. Allow them to choose what they want to play. Just be really present with them. I think that can help them reset too."
Pajek also shared some signs parents should look out for that could indicate the need to get medical help for their children's behavior. They are:
1. Withdrawn behavior
5. Not participating in activities they usually enjoy such as listening to music or drawing
6. Get more or less sleep than normal
7. Eating more or less than normal
8. Expressing having scary thoughts
"If you have concerns about how your child is doing it never hurts to ask their pediatrician or to seek out some help. Certainly if you feel overwhelmed as a parent and you feel like the child's mood and behavior is really interfering with how they're doing, I would encourage everyone to seek out some help."
Pajek said parents can also check out online resources like HealthyChildren.org or KidsHealth.org to help them address their children's behavior.