Mental health issues among Chicago toddlers, children dramatically increases amid pandemic, survey finds

ByMichelle Gallardo and ABC7 Chicago Digital Team WLS logo
Thursday, April 1, 2021
Chicago family opens up about kids' behavioral struggles amid pandemic
EMBED <>More Videos

A survey out of Lurie Children's Hospital estimates at least 70,000 young people are exhibiting mental and behavioral issues.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The mental impact of the pandemic on toddlers and children is profound in Chicago, according to a new survey.

The survey, out of Lurie Children's Hospital, estimates at least 70,000 young people are exhibiting mental and behavioral issues.

For the Bejarano family, that survey helps them know they are far from being alone.

It's been a long twelve months for Roxanne Bejarano, her husband Angel and their two sons, 4-year-old Logan and 7-year-old Miles.

"The change is very tremendous. From a level 5 to a level 20," Bejarano said.

Not only are the stresses of the pandemic, working from home and online learning contributing to increasing behavioral issues from both of their sons, but they have the added health concerns since Miles is also a heart transplant survivor.

Some of the behavior changes the Bejaranos have noticed from the boys include clinginess and over-eating, she said.

"The tantrums really were a lot," Bejarano said. "From morning to night: 'I don't want to go to bed. I just want to play. I don't want to do the iPad.'"

Nearly half of parents surveyed said they've asked their doctors for help with their children's emotional health over the last year, with even the youngest affected.

"Children of all ages pay attention to not only the words but the emotions in the environments that they have," said Dr. Matthew Davis, a pediatrician at Lurie Children's Hospital.

Dr. Davis talks about what these mental and behavior changes look like and shares some of the resources available for families.

The pandemic has forced young people to convert to remote learning, giving children fewer opportunities to socialize with friends and loved ones, according to the survey. Less social interactions compounded with many families experiencing financial difficulties due to unemployment adds stress and anxiety about the future.

Dr. Davis said some things he has noticed is an increase in tantrums in younger kids, a loss in milestones, or challenges in just getting along with their peers.

The disruption in routine also leads to challenges in a child's sleep. He said they could experience more nightmares or have difficulty falling asleep. They could express being uncomfortable with belly pain or headaches that they didn't previous have prior to the pandemic, Dr. Davis said.

Dr. Davis said there are resources for parents concerned about their child's behavior health and well-being.

Reach out to primary care

First, parents can reach out and talk to thier primary care provider to discuss their concerns. The provider can offer guidance about the next steps, including screening and referrals to specialists who can help.

School resources

School administrators or school social workers can also guide parents to resources available through their school.


Parents are also encouraged to practice self-care in 15 to 30 minute increments throughout the day, such as taking walks, playing with pets and listening and dancing to music.

Mental resiliency

Lurie Children's Center for Childhood Resilience also helps fosters mental resiliency in youth.

Above all, Dr. Davis emphasizes the need for accessible, affordable mental health care for pediatric patients. In fact, he said nearly 1 in 5 (18%) of parents said they were unable to access mental or behavioral health care for their child at some point, most often because they could not find a specialty provider, they could not afford it or they couldn't get an appointment in a timely fashion.

He added that also learning that it's okay, not to be okay is important.

"We are doing our very best through this new way of life that we're living," Bejarano said. "To teach them that it's ok to ask for help, even though you might hit a wall cause we've all gone through that."

For more tips, visit Lurie Children's Center for Childhood Resilience website.