4 Simple Strategies to Support your Child’s Mental Health

Available for Interviews: Dr. Pete Loper

Dr. Pete Loper, MD, MSEd, FAAP, is a triple board-certified physician in pediatrics, psychiatry, and child psychiatry. He is also a professor and executive coach and is dedicated to mental health and wellness advocacy.

What Dr. Loper could say on
How to Support Your Child’s Mental Health:

On the acute crisis stabilization unit where Dr. Loper works as a pediatrician and a child and adolescent psychiatrist, they have witnessed first-hand the pediatric mental health crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consistent with national trends, over the course of the pandemic their unit has experienced an unrelenting surge in admissions for kids as young as 5 with suicidal ideations, often with accompanying attempts.  The demographic most impacted have been adolescents.  

Why has the COVID-19 pandemic, and subsequent school closures and lockdown measures, led to a pediatric mental health crisis? Because human beings are inherently social creatures, and healthy human development occurs via meaningful interpersonal interactions embedded in the context of community.  Put simply, when children and adolescents are isolated from community, their fundamental psychosocial needs go unmet. If children and adolescents cannot access the meaningful interpersonal interactions necessary for resilience and healthy development, then they cannot overcome or navigate distress. Instead, they will exhibit the avoidance and withdrawal behaviors that accumulate to manifest as adverse mental health symptoms like anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. 

Here are four simple strategies to begin to regenerate your child’s community and thereby support your child’s mental health:

1) Eat dinner together as a family

      • You “win from within,” and at the core of any community is family. Regardless of who is in yours, make it a point to sit down together and “break bread.”
      • Put down the screens so that everyone can be fully present.
      •  Eye contact during meaningful interpersonal interaction releases the “attachment hormones” oxytocin and vasopressin. 
      • These neurohormones tamp down your overactive stress response (sympathetic nervous system) and promote resilience and well-being

2) Keep them in school
(as consistently as you safely can)

      • There is now accumulating data regarding school closures and lockdown measures and the impact on pediatric mental health.
      • The COVID-19 vaccine has been proven safe and effective for children ages 5 and older, and many school districts have lengthy quarantine times for their unvaccinated students who test positive for COVID.  So one of the most effective ways to keep your kids in school is to get them vaccinated. 

3) Monitor their social media
and cellphone use

      • Over 90% of our inpatient psychiatric admissions for suicidal ideation involved inappropriate social media use, cyberbullying, or online predation.  
      • Electronic media creates the illusion of community, but in reality, our children are wandering in isolation in a virtual wilderness, completely removed from community and exposed and susceptible.
      • Promote the use of video conferencing platforms or apps like Facetime or Zoom for them to keep in contact with friends.  
      • Install monitoring apps to monitor their online activity (Bark) 

4) Get them back into organized sports
     or extracurricular activities
     as soon as possible

      • One of the core components of community is engaging in activities with others with common interests.
      • There is no quicker way to rejuvenate your child’s sense of community than to get them back involved in organized sports or extracurricular activities.

If we don’t seek to balance infection control measures with our kids’ psychosocial needs, then the most debilitating and sustained public health crisis may not be COVID-19. It may be the generational sequelae of mental illness to come. 

 

Interview: Dr. Pete Loper

Dr. Pete Loper began his undergraduate studies in English at Kenyon College prior to completing his premedical coursework and Bachelor of Arts at the University of South Carolina (U of SC).  He earned his Doctor of Medicine from the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, and his Master of Science in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.  Following medical school, Dr. Loper completed a residency in pediatrics. He then worked as a pediatrician in a private practice setting while completing a second residency in psychiatry and a fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry.  He has also completed the American Psychoanalytic Association’s Psychoanalytic Fellowship Program and the Teleos Leadership Institute’s Coach Development Program.

Dr. Loper has been featured in numerous academic publications and media outlets and it is through these channels that he can dedicate his time to be an advocate for mental health and wellness.

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