Greater Peoria Metro Area, IL

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Mental Health Changes for Children and Teenagers


By Melissa Millinger, LCSW, PMH-C

After a year of COVID-19 restrictions, we are starting to see a slow return to pre-COVID life. We have experienced a year of challenges which can leave some lasting effects on all of us, especially our youth. Although youth can be resilient through this pandemic, it is important to recognize changes in mental health.

Children experiencing symptoms of anxiety may exhibit newer fears, have stronger reactions to changes, be more fidgety than previously, or experience increased irritability. Younger children often don’t have the verbal skills to express their feelings, so they have more outward behavioral changes like tantrums and aggression. If you recognize these symptoms, help develop age-appropriate coping skills with your child. Research suggests deep breathing, counting, finding a calm space free of extra sounds, or using stress balls or fidgets can be of great help.

Depression symptoms in children may appear as being withdrawn, not seeking social interactions, lacking focus or completion of projects, or overall sadness. These are signs that your youth may need some extra support to adjust to the changes in their world. Strategies to ease symptoms of depression include exercise, a balanced diet, external motivation, social connections, and frequent check-ins with their support circle.

Youth experiencing stress may present a mixture of symptoms listed above. When children experience a disruption in their routine, lose opportunities for milestones, are not able to gather in social groups, and have major shifts in school structures, we can expect adverse reactions. Stress is a normal reaction to these changes. Our children may not be able to adapt as well as before, may be more tired or angry, and may have changes in their preferences.

Our children may need help to develop these skills like deep breathing or re-assessing for new solutions. Be a partner for your child and validate the challenges that they have faced over the past year. We are all developing new ways to face challenges in our lives; when we work together, we can find lasting and positive ways to manage new stressors.

If you are finding that your home strategies aren’t working, it may be time to reach out to a professional. Please call Healing Hearts at 309-966-0068 or visit We are located at 5400 W. Landens Way, Suite 13A in Peoria, IL.