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What Kids’ Behavior Issues May Actually Mean

The results of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for years. Experts say kids, who may not be able to articulate their feelings and thoughts well, often exhibit feelings through behavioral issues adults need to pay attention to.

Stella is a children’s pastor in a small town in New Mexico. She received a call from a worried parent recently. “The woman’s son, who had taken swimming lessons for years and loved the water, was suddenly terrified of it. They had no explanation, except each time he was near the pool, he cried, saying, ‘I don’t want to die.’ ” This sudden onset of fear happened about six months into the lockdown, when COVID cases were on the climb and the news was rife with stories about the dire situation and climbing death toll.

This boy is not an isolated case. Kids’ mental health issues have been on the rise since the pandemic began. Remember when, before the pandemic locked down the world, behavioral issues in kids were nothing surprising? As a children’s minister, you’ve likely dealt with all kinds of misbehaviors, curiosities, and misadventures. However, child development experts are raising the flag that children, who’ve collectively experienced the trauma of a nearly year-long lock down and threat of illness, may exhibiting troubling behavior issues that are the result of internalized trauma.

According to authors Rory Panter, Psy.D. and Rebecca Schulman, Psy.D., BCBA-D who authored “Managing Children’s Challenging Behaviors in the Midst of Coronavirus,” behavior issues among children are on the rise. “It is common for many children to exhibit behavior difficulties during transitions or times of stress,” note Panter and Schulman. “The impact that COVID-19 has had on families has resulted in likely one of the biggest transitions for children in their lifetime. Children may be experiencing a variety of emotions, such as fear, confusion, anger, anxiety, and boredom, which may influence the development or exacerbation of challenging behaviors.”


In the article “Parenting in a Pandemic: Tips to Keep the Calm at Home” (healthychildren.org), pediatricians say: “Everyone is more anxious and worried during the pandemic. Younger children may not have the words to describe their feelings. They’re more likely to act out their stress, anxiety or fear through their behavior (which can, in turn, upset parents, particularly if they are already stressed). Older children and teens may be extra irritable as they miss out on normal events they looked forward to and activities they enjoy with their friends.”

Behavioral issues to watch for include:

  • Increased tantrums (younger children)
  • regressive behaviors
  • anger
  • aggression
  • prolonged silence or “the silent treatment”
  • acting out of character for a few days
  • frequent tearfulness
  • inconsolability
  • irritability
  • sadness
  • increased fearfulness or unexplained new fears
  • oppositional behaviors
  • arguing or discord in previously positive relationships
  • loss of interest in favorite activities
  • clinginess or separation anxiety
  • sleeplessness or sleepwalking

You have a unique window into the kids you minister to, and you may notice behaviors arising that are out of character. Pay attention. Open dialogue with parents, who may have noticed similar things. Learn more about how to respond to kids’ behavioral cues here.

Download a healthy conversations talk-starter game for families here.

Find the complete article from Behavior Therapy Associates here.

Find more tips about responding to behavior concerns here.


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