Child and Youth Mental Health During COVID-19

Promotion for Tips and Supports for Child and Youth Mental Health

COVID-19 has impacted people’s lives in many ways. In these uncertain times, feelings of concern, stress and anxiety are normal for both you and your child or youth. It is important to take care of your family’s mental health.

How can you take care of your family’s mental health?

Take care of your own mental health. It can be hard to take care of yourself and parent during a pandemic.

Take time to notice behaviours and emotions in your child and ask yourself:

  • Have you noticed changes in your child’s behaviour or emotions that seem out of proportion even with the current circumstances (e.g., angry outbursts, depressed mood, sense of panic)?
  • Do the changes in behaviour or emotion last most of the day, every day?
  • Do the changes last for a sustained period of time (e.g., more than a week)?
  • Do the changes seem to interfere with your child’s or youth’s thoughts, feelings or daily functioning?
    • For example, they may not do activities they normally enjoy, they may cry more than usual, or they may not interact with you as much as they usually do.
  • Does your child or youth tell you they’re feeling sad or anxious a lot?

Adapted from the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.

If you are not sure if your child or youth needs mental health services, talk to someone who can help. See Mental Health Services or Substance Use Services below.

For more information on children’s mental health concerns: School Mental Health Ontario.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created changes that can cause feelings of stress and anxiety. These feelings are normal. Using alcohol, cannabis, or other substances to cope with negative feelings can make people feel worse and can increase the risk of developing a substance use disorder. New or increased substance use may be due to underlying stress, worry, fear or other emotions and may be a sign that a person should seek some help. To learn more about substance use services and resources, see below.

Support for your family’s mental health during COVID-19

  • Listen to your child and pay attention to their cues.
  • Help your child identify and label the emotions that they are having. For children who can talk, you can ask:
    • How are you feeling?
    • I’ve noticed you seem to be worried (or other emotion you notice in your child), can you tell me more about it?
  • Validate and support your child in a calm manner and with an age-appropriate answer.
    • Children are very aware of what is happening but may not fully understand it. This can cause feelings of worry and fear. It is important to reassure your child and help them feel safe.
    • Validation helps your child know that you understand how they’re feeling from their perspective.  Try labelling their feelings (“you seem sad”) and the reason (“because we can’t go to the park with your friends”).
    • The Canadian Paediatric Society has helpful tips on how to speak to your child about COVID-19.
    • McMaster Children’s Hospital explains how you can answer your child’s COVID-19 questions in a way they will understand.
  • Be patient with yourself and your child. Know that it is normal to have many emotions.
    • Children learn from you. If you can stay calm, it can help them be calm.
    • McMaster Children’s Hospital has a video about role modelling during COVID-19 and how children react to parents or caregivers behaviours.
    • If you struggling to remain calm with your child’s emotions, remember the acronym LOVE – Listen, Observe, Validate and Enjoy.
    • Parenting is not easy during COVID-19. If you have questions about your child’s health and development, call Health Connections at 905-546-3550 to talk to a Public Health Nurse.
  • Help your child to focus on what is within their control.
    • Things have changed in your child’s life that they may find difficult.
    • Let your child make choices or decisions when possible, such as what books to read at story time.
    • Learn about Taking Control During Times of Change from McMaster Children’s Hospital.
  • Have a routine at home that includes time for fun while following current public health measures.
    • Routines help your child know what to expect and can help them feel more secure. You can ask your child for input to help create the routine.
    • Try to have a consistent but flexible routine with regular mealtimes, bedtimes and time for structured activities, free play, outdoor time and physical activity.
    • EarlyON Child and Family Centres offer programming for families with children 0 to 6 years of age.
    • For fun activity ideas check out Have a Ball Together!
  • Stay connected with important people in your child’s life.
    • Forming close relationships with the important people in your child’s life is one way that your child feels safe and secure and learns about the world around them.
    • Help your child build those relationships by setting up a video call, phone call or virtual get together with family and friends they cannot see in person.
  • Listen to your child’s questions and concerns.
    • Set aside a dedicated time every day that is free of distractions to talk with your child.
    • Help your child identify and label their emotions. Check out YourSpace Hamilton for how to help children or youth deal with stress.
    • Some questions to ask your child:
      • How are you feeling?
      • Do you have any questions about anything you’ve heard at school about COVID-19?
      • I’ve noticed you seem to be worried (or other emotion you notice in your child), can you tell me more about it?
  • Validate and support your child in a calm manner and with an age-appropriate answer.
    • Children are very aware of what is happening but may not fully understand it. This can cause feelings of worry and fear. It is important to reassure your child and help them feel safe.
    • Validation helps your child know that you understand how they’re feeling from their perspective. Try labelling their feelings (“sounds like you’re disappointed about the celebration being cancelled”) and the reason (“that makes sense because you miss your friends and because you like school celebrations”)
    • McMaster Children’s Hospital explains how you can answer your child’s COVID-19 questions in a way they will understand.
    • School Mental Health Ontario suggests ways to support your child.
  • Be patient with yourself and your child. Know that it is normal to have many emotions.
    • Children learn from you. If you can stay calm, it can help them be calm.
    • Try some activities together that can help your child’s mental health.
    • Children’s Mental Health Ontario has resources to help you with the emotions that you and your child are feeling.
    • Parenting is not easy during COVID-19. If you have health and development questions related to your child up to age six, call Health Connections at 905-546-3550 to talk to a Public Health Nurse.
  • Help your child to focus on what is within their control.
    • Things have changed in your child’s life, that they may find difficult.
    • Learn about Taking Control During Times of Change from McMaster Children’s Hospital.
    • Try these strategies to help your child manage their feelings and find ways to relax.
  • Have a routine at home that includes time for fun while following current public health measures.
    • Routines help your child know what to expect and can help them feel more secure.
    • Try to have a consistent but flexible routine – you can ask your child for input to help create the routine.
    • Your child’s day should include time for structured activities, free play, outdoor time and physical activity.
    • EarlyON Child and Family Centres offer programming for families with children 0 to 6 years of age
    • For fun activity ideas, check City of Hamilton’s Rec at Home activities.
  • Stay connected with important people in your child’s life.
    • Help your child set up a video call, phone call or virtual get together with family and friends they cannot see in person.
    • It can be hard not to see friends and family in person. Kids Help Phone has some ideas on how to cope with being physically distanced.

  • Listen to how you are feeling and talk with your family or friends about your questions and concerns.
    • Allow yourself to stop and think about how you are feeling. Some questions to ask yourself are:
      • How am I feeling?
      • Do I feel like myself?
      • Am I taking care of myself?
      • Am I feeling easily frustrated?
      • Am I staying connected with others?
    • Set aside a dedicated time every day to reflect on how you are feeling and check out these mindfulness tips.
    • When experiencing big feelings, it can be helpful to reach out to someone that can understand your feelings. Try to explain how you feel and what support you would like. The other person will have a better idea about how to support you and help you feel heard.
    • Here’s how you can start the conversation with family or friends about how you are feeling.
  • You can allow yourself to be patient and know that is normal to have many emotions during this time.
  • Notice some of the positive things around you and in your community.
    • Try practicing gratitude or being thankful by focusing on things that can help you feel good.
    • Try to write one thing you are thankful for every day. You can think of people, memories, your strengths or anything else in your life that you are thankful for.
    • It can be helpful to re-read what you are thankful for when you are having a bad day.
  • Focus on what is in your control.
    • COVID-19 has changed things in your life and you may feel overwhelmed by all of the changes. It is normal to feel this way. Focusing on what is in your control might help you feel calmer.
    • Check YourSpace Hamilton to learn about focusing what is within your control.
    • Try these strategies to help your find ways to relax and manage your feelings during stressful times.
  • Have a routine at home that includes time for things that you enjoy while following current public health measures.
    • A consistent but flexible routine can help you feel calmer.
    • You may not be able to do some of the things that you used to or see your friends outside of school and that can be very hard.
    • This may be a good time to restart an activity or hobby that you used to do or try something new.
    • Kids Help Phone has ideas of activities you might want to try.
  • Stay connected with important people in your life.
    • It’s understandable you might be feeling a range of emotions right now, but you can find comfort in knowing you’re not alone – we’re all going through this together.
    • Set up a video call, phone call or virtual visits with family and friends that you cannot see in person.
    • It can be hard not to see friends and family in person. Kids Help Phone has ideas on how to cope with being physically distanced.  

Mental health services

If you have concerns about your child or youth’s mental health or notice changes in their behaviour and emotions, it is important to reach out for help. There are free mental health services in Hamilton for children, youth and their families. Support is available by phone, virtually and in person.

Substance use services and resources

If you or someone you care about is starting to use alcohol or other substances, or is increasing their use during the COVID-19 pandemic, resources and services below may help.

Substance use and addiction resources:

This content was developed in collaboration with Lynwood Charlton Centre