The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has been our reality and new normal for two years now. As the world adjusts to the many changes that the pandemic has forced upon us, it’s increasingly apparent that our children have experienced significant impacts. We’ve been reading around the web and checking in on the families we serve to understand a few of the impacts of COVID-19 on our kids. We’ve also looked for reliable resources to help parents mitigate some of the impacts to support their children to adapt and thrive during this challenging pandemic.
We’re Looking at Significant Mental & Emotional Health Impacts
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently called the pandemic an urgent public health crisis, citing rising suicide rates among 10- to 24-year-olds. Emergency room visits for issues like depression, anxiety, suicidality, self-harm, and increased substance use and abuse are also rising.
Many of the mental and emotional health impacts that we are seeing in our kids are related to the losses and massive changes that virus mitigation has necessitated. Some of the most common impacts being reported are:
- distance or separation from family members and friends
- atypical isolation due to virtual schooling
- stress and anxiety about family finances or illnesses
- school performance
- cancellations and changes of traditions, plans, etc.
- fear of the virus itself
- anger or hurt over racism and cultural divides
- uncertainty about the current climate and the future after COVID-19
What Signs Should I Look for in My Child?
When considering how your child is experiencing the impacts, it’s crucial to think about how your child typically processes and copes with stress or anxiety. Weighing your individual child’s typical patterns against the warning signs can help you assess when or how to intervene if your child needs help. Many warning signs of pandemic-related mental or emotional health distress are similar to depression or anxiety. They include (but are not limited to):
- Increasing or decreasing sleep time
- Erratic sleep patterns
- Changes in appetite – including over- or under-eating
- A rise in anxious behaviors, fussiness, tantrums, or moodiness
- Increased isolation, clinginess, or shutting down
- Decrease in ability to handle adversity or disappointment
- Shorter-than regular fuse for frustration or limits
You know your child best and if these symptoms or behaviors concern you, reach out to your child’s pediatrician right away for a consult or recommendations for mental health care.
What Can I Do To Support My Child?
If you feel that your child’s mental health is impacted by the pandemic and upheaval of the last two years, seek professional help. In addition, Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris recommended a few things in a recent interview on NPR.
1. Increase the safety of “HOME.”
“safe, stable and nurturing relationships and environments are healing and that they can help the body biologically be able to weather these stressors in a way that is much more healthy for kids in the long term.”
Felt safety looks different for each family. Your goal should be to increase the feelings of connectedness among you. Consider how to improve the messaging that “home is our haven and that we are all safe, loved, accepted, and cherished here” to buffer your children’s anxiety regarding the outside world. When your kids are out – at school, for extracurriculars, etc. – make sure they know that their home is waiting for them. Find ways to demonstrate that you are doing all you can to keep “home” safe from the negativity and anxiety of the world at bay.
2. Tune in to your kids.
During this pandemic, open communication is key to supporting your child’s mental and emotional health. Checking in regularly with your kids helps gauge their ability to face and handle the adversity around them. Your goal is to give them a safe, open space to share their experiences, thoughts, and fears, but many of our kids need us to initiate those conversations first. Many parents ask how to do that with a kid who might not love to talk. Here are a few ideas:
- Try asking leading, open-ended questions about their day.
- Share your struggles and how you are facing them.
- Start a tradition of conversation starters at the dinner table.
- Leave the radio off in the car, allowing space for chats that might meander a bit before they get to the point.
- Make a point of being available for a back-scratch or story at bedtime.
- Use movie night as a conversation starter.
3. Take care of yourself.
We say it a lot here at CreatingaFamily.org because it’s true: self-care is not selfish. It’s an essential restoration that allows you to attend to your children’s needs from a position of strength and health. As Dr. Burke-Harris said in her NPR interview,
“Self-care is not selfish. So we do need to care for ourselves, and that’s what makes us available to tune in to our kids so that we can be available. Because the science is very clear on this. These nurturing relationships really are healing.”
This article has some great tips for your self-care. The suggestions are also healthy to implement with your whole family, especially when you see that you are all growing weary of the weight of the pandemic presses upon us. Recharging together can be an excellent bonding and healing experience.
Check out this FREE COURSE to jumpstart your self-care!
The Academic Impacts Are Not Just on the Kids
It’s in the news almost every day. The toll that the pandemic is taking on our school systems is distressing. Students are struggling to find their academic groove again. Teachers function at maximum capacity as educators, public health officials, counselors, IT support, and more right now. Principals are juggling all sorts of additional responsibilities like contact tracing, building test-to-stay policies, and filling positions left by teacher absences. Districts all over the country are short-staffed, and substitute teachers are extraordinarily hard to find. Administrators are scrambling to keep up with ever-changing protocols. It’s a tough time to be an educator.
Teachers and administrators try their best to keep your students engaged, supported, and motivated. Virtual schooling is a massive challenge for many students who need the in-person experience to stay on track. It’s challenging to keep educational interventions consistent for kids with needs when quarantine is required or shuts down school. Many families are seeing regressed skills, difficulty remembering how to “be a student,” and of course, academic delays or gaps that show up when testing or classwork is required.
Additionally, and unfortunately, academics sometimes take a back (or side) seat to the struggles our kids bring to school every day. As one principal said in a recent op-ed:
“Students, who have not physically interacted day to day for the better part of 18 months, are now back in school trying to remember the social and academic organizational skills they once had. Understandable worry is pervasive as families deal with the trauma and fallout from the COVID pandemic. Students can’t help but bear that hurt on their backs. Whatever our students carry, our teachers, support staff, and even office staff feel it, too, and carry their equal weight. It’s so much for everyone. Schools are losing in the social media court of public opinion every day.”
What Can I Do to Support My Child?
We understand that parents are probably “at maximum capacity,” just like the teachers and principals. However, you can do a few simple things to support both your children’s academic performance and their teachers’ efforts in the classroom.
1. Give grace all around.
As your child’s teachers attempt to re-align the classroom expectations to a more regular and ordinary experience, offer plenty of patience and grace to your child. He might feel resistant or overwhelmed by the changes. However, be sure also to give your child’s teachers grace, kindness, and margin to return to normal. You’d be surprised how far a kind note of appreciation will go with the teachers who are working so hard to support your kids.
2. Address your child’s learning needs.
Plan with your child’s teacher to address the challenges that the pandemic has created or exacerbated for your child. If you see specific academic challenges since the pandemic began, open the conversation with your child’s teachers. Many kids lost significant ground in daily school habits or academic performance. Teachers report increased struggles with sitting in the classroom, foundational math or reading skills, and study habits. You can help mitigate these challenges, but it will be easier for your child to fall through the cracks if you and the teacher don’t discuss them.
3. Get them moving.
Our kids need plenty of physical exercise and movement to keep their brains healthy and regulated. They likely need exercise and fresh air to be refreshed before settling into homework time. Watch for signs of burn-out or over-stimulation that can come from sitting all day long in school. Try to offer “brain breaks” when they get home to allow them to re-set from the school to home environment.
4. Establish regular homework routines.
Equip your kids with the school supplies they need to do homework and be consistent with your expectations and schedule. Set one up today if you don’t already have a specific time and place where homework happens! Teach your child the value of self-discipline – even during hard times like pandemic learning – with the practical support of a desk or designated home-learning space.
5. Fuel their bodies well.
Your kids are working harder than ever at school during these days of irregularity and uncertainty. You can send your kids off to school for the day with the best possible chance for success that day if you are supporting their bodies well. Give their bodies what they need in the form of healthy sleep habits, excellent nutrition, and proper hydration.
Look for the Positive Impacts of This Pandemic
The new normal of the COVID-19 pandemic has also created some benefits for our families. Families have found the slower pace, with fewer calendar demands, to be healing for relationships. We’ve learned how to connect at home in new ways with family movie nights and bread-baking. Some families took up new hobbies together, started book clubs, and held Zoom dates with extended family members from across the country. Make sure to talk as a family about what has been good during this season.
Take what was fruitful for your family during the shutdowns and quarantines and figure out how to keep implementing it together. Even as the world keeps opening a little more each month, keep trying to connect and build those positive impacts into your daily life as a family.
Choosing mindfulness about the struggles and the successes your kids have experienced in these last few years will help you figure out how to handle the impacts of COVID-19 together. Plus, you have another opportunity to give your kids practical tools for facing great adversity as they continue to grow.
How have your kids been impacted by COVID-19? How are you managing it as a family? Tell us about it in the comments.
Image Credits: Ivan Radic; Sherif Salama; Matt Seppings