Dr. Imani Walker, like countless other parents, has had her fair share of struggles adjusting to the new normal over the past year.
"The biggest challenge I faced during the pandemic as a parent is getting my son to open up to me," the Married to Medicine star and psychiatrist tells Yahoo Life. "There was a time when I definitely was like, 'OK, well you say that you're feeling fine, you're fine,' but now I actually make him do things because I know that as a 14-year-old, he thinks he knows everything and he knows what to do, but that's not always the case."
The CDC reported that from April through October of last year, the proportion of children between the ages of 5 and 11 visiting an emergency department because of a mental health crisis climbed 24 percent compared to that same time period in 2019. Among 12- to 17-year-olds, the number increased by 31 percent. Walker adds that kids are prone to not being open about how they feel, and that the stress can cause other symptoms.
"It may manifest itself as psychosomatic complaints, meaning they're having psychological issues that manifest in physical complaints like, 'Oh, my stomach hurts,' or 'my head hurts,'" she explains. "Sometimes they really don't feel well because they're so stressed and tense. If you notice that your kids are sleeping too much, if you're having a hard time waking them up in the morning, if they're really irritable, if you notice that their eating habits are changing, if you notice that they just kind of stare off into space, they don't seem very motivated... I think it's really up to us as adults and as parents to be able to recognize that these are little kids, they don't always know how to express how they feel."
Walker adds that the added stress of isolation due to the pandemic potentially exacerbated other underlying issues like substance abuse and poor relationships with food. She also worries about the impact this time may have on younger children whose earliest memories are of wearing a mask and social distancing.
"That really does affect their socialization skills. How are they going to interact with other people? They may be anxious to be around people who are closer than six feet to them. As parents and as adults, we are really busy, but it's still really important to check in with your kids and know exactly how they're feeling," she says.
She recommends several ways for parents to help their children during this difficult time.
"It's always a good idea to just talk to your kids and say, 'hey, you know, it might be helpful for you to maybe have a therapist, someone who you feel like you can just talk to and just kind of get your feelings and your stressors and whatever you feel might be making your body tight, just get it out of you,'" she suggests. "I think we need to be a bit more vulnerable with our kids. And also we need to just spend more time with them. This is too much of an unprecedented time and we really don't have a roadmap for how things are supposed to be."
-Video produced by Stacy Jackman
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