New House, New School, New World

How A Father Helped His Son With 2020 Stress

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has certainly hit adults hard—a shaken economy, loss of jobs, health fears. But what about children?

Kids' routines have been dismantled by school closings and quarantine. No more riding the bus to school, sitting in lunchrooms with classmates, playing games with friends. And despite their young minds, even elementary school children are wrestling some big life questions.

"I could hear my son asking himself ‘What is going on? What am I supposed to be doing?'" said Josh Koziel, an IT finance manager at Newport News Shipbuilding. "All the uncertainty was causing him angst."

Koziel's family, including his 11-year-old son, was facing a lot changes even before the pandemic took hold in the U.S. in March. In January they had sold their home and moved into a rental while building a new home in a new school district where their son would enter middle school that fall.

"My son was going to move from his small elementary school to a new school," Koziel explained, "but when COVID-19 hit, over just a few days he had to learn that he would end his last year of elementary school at home, not in the classroom with his friends."

The sudden switch to online schooling meant a change in routine and a lack of social interaction.

"There's so much to school that as adults we forget, but they're a big deals to kids," Koziel said. "Field trips aren't the same now. They don't get field day or a class pet—things that are so important to students."

Koziel and his wife tried to reassure their son, but they felt like they could use some help.

"I had heard about HERO in a presentation and decided to call one evening," Koziel said. HERO: HII Employees Reach Out, offers all HII employees, their dependents and household members access to free, confidential counseling. "I told the person on the phone that we were experiencing a lot of change and that my son was having a hard time dealing with it so we needed a professional for him to talk to."

HERO's trained representatives did research from their databases of counselors and emailed Koziel a list of counselors to choose from the next day. The Koziels were able to find a counselor local to them that they were comfortable with.

"We set up our son's first appointment and it was a video call, which actually added an extra comfort since he could be at home," Koziel said.

Since that first session, Koziel's son has met with his counselor via video multiple times and completed some brief assignments to prepare for their sessions.

"Other than making sure he's set up on the call," Koziel explained, "it's between him and the counselor. My son is a social guy so he enjoys his time with the counselor and is getting a lot out of it. He's learned ways to deal with his anxiety which he says are helping."

And the counseling has helped Koziel and his wife as well.

"It's a relief to us to see his demeanor change as he progresses through the counseling," Koziel said. "It's good for him and helps him recognize he's not alone in these feelings. I can see how counseling is a process and a building experience."

A global pandemic, a new neighborhood and a new school is a lot for an 11-year-old to handle, and Koziel knows this.

"I moved when I was in second grade and again during my senior year of high school," Koziel said. "When I came into a new school I felt like I couldn't get as close with people because I was the ‘new kid.' That's why I want my son's transition to be as smooth as possible."

And by meeting with a counselor, Koziel's son is less stressed about all the changes.

"I definitely feel like he deals with change better now that he has counseling," Koziel said. "If I could do it all over again I would have called HERO sooner. It's a free service that helps with so much, and with so many people struggling with mental health right now, there's no harm in giving it a try."


Back-to-school help for your family.

For back-to-school help during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit HII's COVID-19 mental health resources hub.

HERO: HII Employees Reach Out offers emotional support and resources to help with personal and work-related challenges. Call 1-855-400-9185 or visit (code: Huntington Ingalls) to speak with a trained representative. All HERO support is 100% free and confidential.