“Certainty is the enemy of change.” – Salvador Minuchin
Within the psychology department at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, a feeling of expectation has been building for months. It may have been assumed that children and families needed significant support during the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic and that assumption is not wrong – our waitlist for services increased ten-fold. However, what many may not have considered is that oftentimes, the most significant challenges with psychological functioning may occur after the emergent threat has ended.
When we experience an emergency event (like a global pandemic), we typically react with a flight, fight, or freeze reaction. When the immediate danger is perceived as over (or lessened), we begin to process the event psychologically. While most people who experience trauma do not go on to demonstrate severe trauma reactions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for instance, this doesn’t mean they aren’t unimpacted by the major events that occur in their life.
On the contrary, they may experience a variety of reactions, ranging from post-traumatic growth to a general sense of dissatisfaction or low-grade anxiety or depression. This is where our team comes in. We know that people need services most after the trauma which is why connecting with a mental health provider becomes integral.
The COVID pandemic has definitely played out as expected, with unprecedented numbers of parents and caregivers seeking mental health services for their children. Often these requests are related to adjustment difficulties following major life changes including a year of school spent staring at a screen or a year of separation from family members and friends. To these families who are waiting for services, we have a message for you:
There is no “normal” reaction to a global pandemic that impacted every person in the world. There is no “normal” reaction to changing overnight the way we work, attend school, socialize and live. Our children may feel more stressed, more anxious and more lonely. When kids are socially isolated and separated from their peer groups, we know that they struggle. We know that humans, as a group, are generally very resilient and can grow through change. We also know this does not make change easier.
So, what is a worried parent to do while they wait to speak to one our providers? Let me share a few helpful tips:
- Let your children know that it is okay to feel scared about change – even good changes can be intimidating!
- Let them know that change will always be a constant in their lives and help them adapt by modeling your own adaptation and vulnerabilities.
- Kids do not need their parents to be Superman or Wonder Woman figures. They need to feel safe and know it’s okay to be unsure and uncertain of what comes next.
- Help them return to their previous routines (like attending school) while also incorporating new things your family may have enjoyed during the height of the pandemic (puzzle nights, family meals).
- Help them see there is no “normal” or “right” way to integrate their experience of COVID-19 into their lives. There is simply an opportunity and a necessity to figure out what is next.
- Let them know they are capable of putting in the effort and that you will be there to guide them on the path.
As parents, we know that the path to recovery may feel nerve-racking and murky – it’s supposed to! We are in an unchartered territory and have never done this before. There is no “normal” so it’s ok to create a new normal for you and your family.
In the meantime, let’s take some sound advice from the Dalai Lama and remember, “Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.”
Our providers are here to help so if your family is struggling, please contact us and we will do our best to see you as soon as we can. You can contact us at: https://behavioralhealth.chnola.org/contact-us/.
Amy Henke, PsyD
Dr. Amy Henke is a licensed clinical psychologist at Children’s Hospital New Orleans. She earned her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University with a specialization in child and family psychology. She completed her internship at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in infant and child psychology, followed by post-doctoral fellowship at Children's Hospital New Orleans in pediatric health psychology. With more than 10 years of experience, Dr. Henke values the opportunity to provide specialty psychological services and improve access to psychological care for children and families across the gulf coast.