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Mental health expert says stability matters most of all for kids during COVID

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Posted at 8:21 PM, Sep 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-08 14:35:04-04

BOZEMAN — Mental health has received a lot of attention during the COVID-19 pandemic, but a lot of the time the focus is on adults and not children. Parents and researchers are both left with trying to figure out how it may be affecting kids’ mental health.

Traci Shinabarger is the clinical director for non-profit AWARE, which provides support for those with mental health or developmental disabilities. She says the pandemic has increased the need for therapeutic support for families.

“We want our kids to be physically safe and we want them to be emotionally safe, and when big events like this happen and we have questions, our job is to try and create that structure as best as we can,” Shinabarger said. “This is a traumatic event, and so if you look at trauma and what we know is that there are signs and symptoms for it and that there are treatments for it.”

The clinical director believes one of the first steps in making sure kids are mentally healthy is communication, making sure the adult is mentally healthy, and then something many parents already routinely do.

“I encourage folks to also use their pediatrician. It’s a good resource and referral person. Sometimes there are medical issues that are causing behavior, and we want to rule those out first,” said Shinabarger.

It seems like rules and mandates are continuously being made or changing, and Shinabarger believes the best thing you can do is to create as much stability as you can.

“How are you as a parent, regardless of your beliefs, creating as much certainty or physical safety and emotional safety for your child right now? Every time a rule changes the adults go, ‘Okay, what do we do now?’ and we need to do that in a space separate from our children, figure out what we think we need to do, and how we need to move forward to create our safety physical and emotional and then we need to set those rules and boundaries for our children,” Shinabarger said.