If your kids are acting out, they might just be sad

(CNN)The pandemic brought a major upheaval to the lives of Amber Sparks and her 5-year-old daughter, and her daughter is exhibiting unruly behavior because of it.

Sparks, a Washington, DC-based writer and author of the short story collection "And I Do Not Forgive You," recently witnessed her daughter having a meltdown over "something incredibly trivial, like a crayon breaking or something like that."
"She started screaming and throwing things around, including her whole body, and it lasted for half an hour, I think. She never has tantrums like that, until now," Sparks said.
    "She just kind of wore herself out. At the end she was just crying quietly on her bed, and I was hugging her, and she said very quietly, 'I miss school and I miss my friends.' It was so sad."
      Sparks and her daughter live in a small apartment in the city, where they used to walk to parks, museums, restaurants, libraries and bookstores. Now they mostly stay home alone, Sparks said. And her daughter never hit her mother or anyone else until this crisis.
      "I can see her get so frustrated, all the feelings rising up, and her little body can't quite contain them all," Sparks said. "I just try to hug her because what else can I do?"
      Sparks' tweet about that meltdown received more than a quarter of a million interactions, as other parents commiserated by sharing similar experiences.
        Kids are sad because they're missing their friends, routines, structure and predictability, said Christopher Willard, a psychiatry lecturer at Harvard Medical School and author of "The Breathing Book," a breathing practice book for kids.
        They're feeling the same emotions that adults are about the pandemic, Willard said, but expressing them in different ways: They cry, cut their hair, yell, scream, argue and fight with their siblings.
        With the advice of a psychiatrist and a psychologist who specialize in working with children, parents can pause and respond productively. They can help their children through the hard moments and prevent (some) future meltdowns by supporting their emotional stability and giving them the tools to express their feelings.

        Recognizing the root of bad behavior

        Even the best parents are having trouble keeping up with the basics as they work from home and try to keep regular daytime schedules, get three healthy meals on the table, make sure their kids get enough exercise and keep to bedtime routines, Willard said.
        "That's been hard for our kids," Willard said. "That's also going to impact their mental health. It's going to impact their impulse control and their ability to regulate their emotions."
        Children may also regress to the pastimes and misbehavior of their younger years because it makes them feel safe. Kids also aren't getting the social reinforcement from peers that tells them tantrums aren't cool. That's good peer pressure they're missing.
        If they're engaging in more destructive behaviors, such as cutting their hair, they could be bored, said Mary Alvord, a Maryland-based psychologist specializing in treatment of youths and coauthor of "