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Key Takeaways – April 6, 2020 | 4 p.m.

Dr. Paul Simeone, VP-Medical Director of Behavioral Health at Lee Health

“Monitoring the Impact of COVID-19 on Children’s Mental Health”

  1. Parents need to take care of themselves to be able to take care of their children. This includes physically with exercise and well-balanced diet; mentally be keeping perspective, maintaining hope, finding space and privacy, laughing and staying connected. If you have mental health or substance abuse issues, it’s especially important you take care of yourself. Stay connected to your health care professionals to adjust medication or take other steps.
  2. Stay informed. It’s vitally important to get accurate, updated information about what’s going on. Lee Health website (leehealth.org) has good information and guidance from good sources. I like information for parents at SAMHSA, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (samhsa.org), I’m also happy to speak with anyone.
  3. How to help your children. Model behavior and calm you would like to see in your children. We set the anxiety levels for them. Listen carefully and patiently to them and share information at their level. Let them know that smart, capable people are working on solutions and this will end. Be hopeful for them. Make sure they feel safe and loved. Encourage your children to stay busy with positive activities, including getting out and exercise, cooking, reading, or puzzles. We have lots of great resources and links on Lee Health (leehealth.org) website. I like information for parents at SAMHSA, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (samhsa.org), I’m also happy to speak with anyone.

 

Questions from viewers:

Q: How much time alone is too much time?

A: That’s a hard question to answer because there’s a difference between isolation and solitude. I think if someone is becoming isolated and sullen, depressed and anxious, you will want to ask if they are struggling with that. Ask if there is something you can do to help.

Q: What do you do when your child sees bad behavior out of your control? For example, should you shop without your children?

A: I don’t think you should shop without your children as long as you observe social distancing. Talk to your kids about bad behavior. The world is not a perfect place. Talk to them about what it means to act in a way that is not constructive. These are all opportunities to teach.

Q: Would you recommend one-on-one conversations or more as a family meeting style?

A: I think both work. I would start with family meetings, because I think they are great. I think you can put out the invitation for people to have more private conversation, because sometimes people don’t want to raise things in a group.

Q: What’s the best way to deal with a 15-year-old girl who breaks down?

A: When kids have troubles, you don’t want to push them too hard. Let them know you love and care for them and that you are available to talk. Maybe ask a few starter questions. Get them to journal. Oftentimes people will write about things they can’t talk about. Ask them if there is anything they’d like to talk about.

Q: What would you suggest for families who were prone to unhealthy functioning prior to the pandemic, particularly in preventing abuse and violence?

A: What we are hearing is that domestic violence is going up, not surprisingly. I think that if you are unsafe, you have to address that by getting yourself to a safer place if possible. I think whatever you can do to reduce levels of stress, particularly among the person who is potentially abusive makes sense to me. I think you want to talk to someone outside of the family if you can.

Q: Advice for someone who finds himself in panic?

A: Panic means that anxiety has overtaken, and they have lost perspective. What I say to people is to lean out of the anxiety for a bit. Make a list of things that are really anxiety arousing versus lots of things that are hypothetical. There are lots of things that we get anxious about that don’t
merit that. That’s what an anxiety problem is about. When the fire alarm goes off, and there’s no smoke and fire

Q: What do you say to people who don’t have enough resources to buy enough food?

A: I can’t tell you how terrible I feel about that. The food pantries are up and running. Find what food pantries are open and where you can go. Churches and food pantries are really good sources. Schools also have food pickup.

Q: What about too much screen time for children with sensory issues?

A: Do whatever you can do to limit screen time, to encourage other behaviors that are more constructive. I’m happy to speak to you offline.

Q: What are some key behavioral changes parents should be on the lookout for during this time of social distancing?

A: Of the general symptoms associated with depression and anxiety, isolation is one of them. If kids are starting to look anxious and irritable, if they are developing symptoms like stomach aches and headaches, you want to talk to them about what’s bothering them.

Q: How do parents of young toddlers address acting out when children can’t understand missing friends and activities?

A: I think that what you do is talk to kids about the fact that we don’t want people to get sick, and we are all looking forward for a time when we can get together again. Try to Facetime friends who they are missing. When you have children who are hard to calm, my experience is holding kids and calming them yourself, or taking them for a walk. I know it’s hard. I’m making it sound way easier than it actually is. I would talk to a therapist or pediatrician about that. There are specific things you can do, but it has a lot to do with each child. It’s such a hard time when the usual problems we struggle with get worse.

Q: How do I explain to my 6-year-old why we can’t hug and have play dates?

A: I think a 6-year-old can get it. Just talk about how when people get sick, we have to stay away because there are germs that can make kids really sick. Until that danger is over, we can’t do that, but we can Facetime.

Q: My 8-year-old boy who is only child sees other people on zoom and feels left out.

A: You might ask other parents or family members to reach out. I’ve done that.

Q: My son is 6 and has ADHD, and it’s been a difficult transition.

A: Kids with ADHD have a lot of problems with transitions. I think kids will need help with transition. If there’s something that they need and they can describe it to you, I would just help provide tools and provide strategies. Keep talking to them about what’s going on.

 

About Kids’ Minds Matter

The goal of Kids’ Minds Matter is to raise awareness about the need for pediatric mental and behavioral health care services and to raise the funds required to make these services available in the region through Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida and Lee Health. An estimated 46,000 Southwest Florida children are impacted by mental and behavioral health disorders like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, psychosis, substance abuse, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. As part of the region’s strategic solution to the children’s mental and behavioral health epidemic in Southwest Florida, Kids’ Minds Matter is dedicated to fostering partnerships that support existing services, identifying and filling gaps in the continuum of care, and innovating new treatments.

Philanthropic support for Kids’ Minds Matter has allowed Lee Health and Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida to: implement a tiered model of care that clinically aligns community, inpatient and outpatient care; hire additional psychiatrists, child advocates and other mental health professionals; offer Mental Health First Aid training to local pediatricians, emergency service providers and others who work directly with children; renovate an outpatient center in Fort Myers where a child’s needs can be addressed in a therapeutic setting; and launch a first-of-its-kind Pediatric Digital Cognitive Behavioral Health diagnostic and treatment protocols interlaced with Tele-Psychology support to treat anxiety, depression and trauma. Most recently, Kids’ Minds Matter introduced mental health care navigators into Lee and Collier County schools who will help families find resources and care to address their child’s mental healthcare needs.

The “Mental Health Mondays” segments are a public forum, designed for open discussions that benefit a large audience, and to provide real-time resources and advice from pediatric mental health professionals and advocates. The information shared on this platform is intended for general public consumption and not intended for individual treatment. The views, advice, and resources shared by each guest speaker are solely their own and are not endorsed by Lee Health, Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida and Kids’ Minds Matter. Kids’ Minds Matter is dedicated to raising awareness and essential funding to enhance pediatric mental & behavioral health programs, services and access to care in Southwest Florida. To learn more about Kids’ Minds Matter, visit KidsMindsMatter.com.

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