NewsLocal News


'You want to reassure the kids that this too will pass': Mental illness among children intensified during pandemic, WNY counselor shares how to help your child

Kids running at Canalside.jpg
Posted at 7:07 PM, Apr 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-13 19:07:41-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Some eye-opening numbers when it comes to children and anxiety.

The burden of mental illness among children has intensified during the pandemic.

So what does that mean for the little one at home?

Before COVID-19, the most recent national survey conducted by National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), found that 8-percent of children had some kind of anxiety disorder, but the newest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found 37% of young people have experienced mental health problems, since March of 2020.

A leading panel of experts on health prevention is recommending that children as young as eight be screened for anxiety.

It is a troubling sign of the times for parents.

A parents at Canalside, in Buffalo shared how they helped their children cope with anxiety, during the pandemic.

"Take a deep breath and realize what we can really do to enjoy ourselves and finally get back to that setting that we had prior. I think if we focus on family and focus on doing fun things together, I think that will, the anxiety will eventually subside," Jason Kochmanski, a Buffalo father said.

Buffalo father and pastor, Eric Richardson said, "I think Jesus is the answer. We pray everyday. We pray before school. We actually read the word and learn how to cope. When she comes to me, she goes, 'Dad, I'm having problems', what do we do? We go to prayer. What did God teach us."

Richardson is a pastor at InSpirit Embassy, in Buffalo.

A Western New York mental health counselor Lynne Rifkin Shine explained that kids should be screened at the age of eight. Shine said counselors see anxiety in pre-schoolers, but in terms of screening, she said at eight years old because there are a lot of negative ramifications in teens 15 to 19, like suicide and alcohol or drug abuse.

The counselor, who has 30 years under her belt, answered a few questions to help parents help their children cope with, and eventually overcome anxiety.

Pheben: At what age should parents be looking to screening their child for anxiety?

Lynne Rifkin Shine: "I think as soon as their school-aged, which really starts at five. Kids can feel anxious. We see anxiety among pre-schoolers, but in terms of the screening, they're screening at eight. If you can catch anxiety at 8 and nip it, you could avoid things like alcohol and drug abuse and a more serious kind of mental illness."

Pheben: What should parents look out for in their children?

Lynne Rifkin Shine: "Kids will start eating more than they normally eat or less than they normally eat with the significant change or they'll start sleeping a whole lot more, or a whole lot less. You'll see them either isolating themselves from their room or isolating themselves from social situations or end up having real separation anxiety with their parents and not wanting to leave them at all. Feeling extra concerns, asking tons of questions over and over for reassurance. Those are the tell-tale signs, as well as grades change or you'll hear from a teacher that they aren't themselves."

Pheben: What are factors that make kids more anxious?

Lynne Rifkin Shine: "There's truly some genetics. If you have parents that are anxious, we often see some anxiety in kids, as well as environmental. During this post-COVID time, parents were either in the household either watching TV a whole lot, the news and either getting nervous themselves, or getting very angry. The kids were a product of that. You know, not wearing masks, needing to wear masks. A whole lot of controversy regarding immunizations, not getting immunizations, so there's a lot of anxious feelings regarding that. Also, situational, they themselves may be nervous about knowing someone who got sick or hearing a whole lot about quarantining. Depending on what household they are from, they could be experiencing a lot of pain regarding that."

Pheben: What have you been seeing from your practice?

Lynne Rifkin Shine: "I always say anxiety and control go into a 1:1 ratio. So, that is with the child or whether that's with an adult. If we feel like we don't have control over something then we are going to have an anxiety reaction. That's when you see an innate reaction to go into the arguing more and the tantruming more or flight where you're shutting down and going into your room. Some kids are in a hyper-fix-it mode and they're revving to be able to fix things for everybody around them. The biggest thing is starting too look at what can you control and to be able to divide. These are the things we can control and these are the things we can't."

Pheben: What are ways to treat the concerns that a child could be struggling with?

Lynne Rifkin Shine: "The one thing is as I said, that in terms of wanting to put things in their control, we want to be able to say, listen, you can always go up to a teacher and talk to a teacher about feeling anxious because you'll see things like stomach aches and headaches and kids will complain because they're holding all of their attention in so much. You want to be able to contact the school and have a great open communication with teachers. There's more often than not, counselors available within the schools. Within the schools as of late, they are also doing groups. Some people get concerned that their child will be pointed to that they have a problem, but that's not true. People are pulled out of their classroom for a million different reasons. It's nice to be able to catch this early. You want to reassure the kids that this too will pass, that they're not alone. There are a whole lot of people that are experiencing exactly what they are experiencing. It will get better. We need to have hope. Recognize that even though right this second you don't feel good, the likelihood that you will feel better soon is high."

Shine also shared specifics on grounding exercises:

Lynne Rifkin Shine: "When you're working with kids, it's really helpful for them to get out of that sympathetic nervous system of them feeling like they're in danger. The way that we do that is by doing different things to entertain the logical part of their brain. Certain thins like grounding exercises that will teach them when they're anxious. Take a look at a picture near you or take a look at somebody. Take a look at their features and really focus on that because if we're concentrating, we're not anxious as much. Do something that appeals to any one of their senses."

Pheben: How often should a child with anxiety meet with a therapist?

Lynne Rifkin Shine: That is such an individual thing. I would certainly identify it as soon as possible. The unfortunate thing is right now, there are so many people that are struggling from anxiety, it's really so difficult to get in right away to a therapist. Our best bet is going to the schools first and getting on a waiting list for a therapist or someone your school or your physician will recommend. If the anxiety becomes debilitating, where a child won't go to school or you're seeing significant trantruming or you're seeing a significant withdrawal, you may want to have their physician assess them to see if there needs to be some kind of medication assessment or anything further."

According to, therapists help kids believe in themselves and find their strengths. Therapy builds helpful thinking patterns and healthy behavioral habits. A therapist can either meet with the child and parent together or meet with the child alone.

Other ways to support your child if they have anxiety can be found here.