Dr. Sheldon Kaplan ’66 is a licensed child and adolescent psychologist who has been on the front line for children and teenagers coping with the stress of COVID-19.
“In this pandemic, many children and teens are struggling with the fears of contracting the virus,” said Dr. Kaplan. “In my practice, I, along with my colleagues, treat children, teens and their families, helping them cope with their fears, anxiety, and depression as COVID-19 continues. These children and teens appreciate being able to talk to professionals and learn methods to cope better and develop a ‘new normal’ lifestyle as they gradually re-enter their world.”
Based in Jacksonville, Florida, Dr. Kaplan has been practicing since 1975. After owning his own practice for more than 40 years, Dr. Kaplan joined the Baptist Healthcare system.
“I had them take over my clinical practice so I don’t have any business worries,” said Dr. Kaplan. “I get to just treat kids, which is what I love.”
The former Pine Crest “dormie,” or boarding student, says he was always curious about human behavior.
“The study of psychology came easy for me because I was curious about why people do what they do,” said Dr. Kaplan. “I have always been interested in helping children because I know people that went through difficult times as children. Pressure on children is immense, with increasing numbers of children and teens diagnosed with anxiety and depression.”
COVID-19 has changed the nature of Dr. Kaplan’s work on several fronts.
“We cannot have face-to-face therapy, so we have Zoom therapy,” said Dr. Kaplan. “That has been difficult for me and the kids because we are talking through a computer screen, essentially. I am accustomed to getting down on the ground with kids, playing with them, providing therapy, and now it's just face to face on Zoom.”
“On another dimension, kids are more afraid,” he continued. “They are afraid COVID is going to hurt their parents or grandparents. They have more fears, not just the typical fears children have. Separation anxiety has increased, many children are afraid to leave their parents, afraid to sleep alone. Some will compulsively wash their hands out of fear of contamination. Teenagers are bored and more angry because they can’t hang out with their friends, or they get complacent, and don’t want to do anything.”
Common themes that are brought up by patients include fear about going out and teenagers who do not want to wear face coverings.
“It’s important to remember that children can get COVID, and may not show symptoms, but easily pass it on to their family members or immunocompromised people,” said Dr. Kaplan.
In addition to treating adolescents, Dr. Kaplan also provides support to hospital staff.
“Staff in the hospital have their own stress,” he said. “We have a support system in the hospital, and we provide support to the frontline workers. They are stressed about the personal protective equipment (PPE), seeing people admitted to the hospital who later die. It’s frustrating and depressing for them.”
For families and parents, Dr. Kaplan offers some advice for keeping children happy and healthy.
“Make sure they wear masks and wash their hands for their physical well-being, and from an emotional and behavioral point, keep a routine,” said Dr. Kaplan. “Set up a system for planning their day. Reading, playing a game, writing a poem, doing something creative and provide structure that they can enjoy and depend on. Most importantly, reassure them that, with our safety precautions, our family will be safe and will get through this pandemic.”