By Jorge Rubal, MD
CEO and Medical Director of LB Community Clinic
As a family physician, I see firsthand the strain the pandemic has on our young patients. Anxiety and depression are on the rise among the children and teens we serve. Fortunately, like many pediatricians and family physicians, our staff is on the lookout for mental health needs, especially during this time of uncertainty in so many facets of everyday life.
Talking it through helps a bit, so do simple behavior modification techniques. I often tell both parents and their children that while our regular routine is upended, it’s helpful to start a new pattern that includes things you enjoy. Make a place in your daily schedule for more of what makes you happy, like music or skateboarding, for example.
Another recommendation we make is to use the “3 Deep” communication technique. Ask your child a question that requires more than a yes or no answer. Ask a follow-up question that goes deeper into their experience or observation. Repeat three times. My wife and I use this technique with our two oldest boys.
Illustrating is another excellent way to get your child talking more. My family took a road trip through several National Parks this past August, and Lauren, my wife, who is also a physician, had a routine she did with the boys at the end of each day. “Draw a picture of what you like most about today.” We had a lot of fun and insightful conversations that came from those illustrations.
As a father of three young boys, like you, I’m feeling the stress of the uncertainty too. My oldest boys are very social. They have each other, but frankly, they need their friends also. My wife and I identified families that share our level of health precautions during the pandemic, so we feel comfortable safely socializing. It’s been fantastic for our kids and for us too.
My younger son is just one-and-a-half and was enjoying nursery school when the pandemic hit. It was disconcerting to see him run into the bathroom one evening, grab a few sheets of toilet paper to hold over his nose and mouth, and shout “mask, mask.” But what’s more concerning is the fear or reluctance he has in meeting new people. We’ve found that modeling a relaxed mood and having friendly conversations with the “stranger” quickly deescalates the situation.
Making a decision about school required a great deal of careful thought. What’s right for my family may not be suitable for your family. We weighed our family health with the potential risk and benefits of schooling choices and decided to send our two oldest boys back to grade school. The small class size and level of safety precautions met our bar, and the boys are thrilled to be back in school. So far, so good. My youngest is scheduled to return to daycare in a few months.
Like so many of us, my family has discovered a few pleasant surprises. We were always on the go, every weekend loading up on lots of activities. Now we are enjoying a slower, more relaxed pace on the weekends. That’s something we’re going to try to carry forward.
For more information about LB Community Clinic, go to www.lbclinic.org.