Impact of civil protests, COVID-19 on children's mental health

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Making time to connect with others and talking with your children is essential during times of uncertainty, and between the coronavirus pandemic and the unrest over the death of George Floyd in police custody, many may feel there has never been more uncertainty than the present.

Dr. Victor Fornari, vice-chair of child adolescent psychology at Northwell Health, advises parents to remind children that there is also good in the world happening right now.

"Remember that many great people are doing wonderful things now, and that we need to focus on all of our heroes, all of the first responders, health care providers, and essential workers," he said.

Dr. Fornari advises that parents should remain calm, because current stresses rival those of the 1918 Spanish flu, the Great Depression, and the civil unrest of the 1960s.

"People need to know that most people are good, that many people are doing wonderful things now," Dr. Fornani said. "That generally, this kind of peaceful protest, as we learned from Dr. Martin Luther King and Gandhi, is valuable, and the vast majority of protesters are peaceful protesters."

He also points out the value of having honest talks with friends and family.

"It starts with a certain amount of decency and empathy and understanding and listening," said Al Tompkins, of the Poynter Institute. "It seems to me we need to talk less and listen more. That would help and awful lot. When you think about COVID-19, for example, the reason we wear masks, the reason is for me not to infect you. The reason for me to listen to your protest is that you can be heard."

Tompkins authored an essay titled: "Ads keep saying we'll get through this together. What even is 'this' anymore?" and he says current polls show that people are less fearful but more lonely. He warns that loneliness can be terrible for our health, physically as well.

He says we should acknowledge that this time is tough and that people need to reach out and branch out.

"If you find yourself constantly always just hanging out with people who are just like you, then you have socially isolated yourself, and you have kept yourself from hearing other points of view," he said. "So it's an echo. Your life becomes an echo."

Dr. Fornari says people should not feel helpless.

"They can volunteer in a variety of ways," he said. "They can contribute to causes that are helping to support social justice."

He suggests that people should look to other forms of expression, such as art and music, and urges people to keep faith and pride knowing that our country is trying to get better and heal.

Connect with others and be involved in positive ways.

"Look for the helpers, and be a helper," he said.

And inspiration for that, he says, is all around us.

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