Helping Kids with ADHD Cope with the Mental Health Impacts of COVID-19

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

We are now nine months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and school closures, social isolation, and uncertainty have persisted far longer than most of us could have imagined. During this time, parents, teachers, and clinicians have all worried about the toll the pandemic is taking on the mental health of all kids, and especially kids with mental health challenges like ADHD.

A new survey from Nationwide Children’s Hospital shows that parents are increasingly worried about the long-term mental health effects of the pandemic. According to the survey, 66% are worried that their children’s mental health will suffer even more as the pandemic continues this winter, and 57% say they are running out of ways to keep their kids positive. Research from across the globe shows that kids with pre-existing mental health challenges, like ADHD, are among those at the highest risk for anxiety and depression during COVID-19.

While it’s not possible for parents to completely prevent pandemic-related mental health difficulties among kids with ADHD, there is a lot you can do to decrease their risk of anxiety and depression.

  • Manage your own stress. Whenever we are on an airplane, we are reminded that in the event of an emergency, we should put an oxygen mask on ourselves first before we put oxygen masks on our children. This principle applies to our everyday parenting now more than ever. We all need to help ourselves first in order to be able to effectively help our children. Multiple studies have shown that when parents lower their own stress and anxiety, their child’s anxiety decreases as well. So, do whatever you can to get the support you need from friends, family members, and therapists.
  • Stay connected with your kids. All parents are overwhelmed right now, and when we are busy keeping so many balls in the air, it’s easy to become emotionally disconnected from our children. Kids are craving closeness with their parents now more than ever, but they often don’t know how to ask for what they need. Instead, they act out and do things that are destructive or annoying to get our attention. Spend a few minutes each day (or every other day) talking to your child about how things are going for them. They may not open up right away, but over time, they’ll eventually start chatting. Conversation-starters, like these from #onoursleeves, can help get the conversation moving.
  • Monitor ADHD symptoms and adjust treatments as needed. Your child’s ADHD treatment needs may change both in terms of medication and behavioral interventions. If your child’s ADHD symptoms seem to be worsening, or their ADHD treatments don’t seem to be as effective as they once were, don’t wait to see if things will improve on their own. Reach out to your child’s doctor quickly and request a review of your child’s treatment plan.

Watch for signs of anxiety and depression and act quickly if they show up. Monitor your child for signs of anxiety and depression. Depression is typically characterized by increased sadness or irritability, a loss of interest in things a child typically enjoys, and changes in eating or sleeping habits. Anxiety can show up as increased worries or fears, but it can also be tricky to spot in kids with ADHD. Check out my earlier post on this topic to learn more about the signs of anxiety in kids with ADHD. If you see any of these symptoms lasting a week or more, reach out to your child’s pediatrician or mental health provider to request an appointment.



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


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