It seems that after nearly a year and a half of shutdowns and quarantines, we may finally take a breath of fresh air. Literally. Masks are coming off, there is singing in the streets again, festivals are resuming, and we are more than ready to put COVID- 19 behind us.
Most of us desperately want normal back, and as we begin to turn a new page and head there, we may find the pandemic runs low on our list of desired things to chat about.
But our children have something to say.
While we have faced the same pandemic as our children, we have had different experiences. I was able to use the skills I’ve collected over 40+ years of living, learning, and growing to cope with the changes. But our children? They grew up in the midst of it all. Their brains developed in quarantine. Their bodies changed in lockdown. They are emerging from this as different people, and the impact it had on them is yet to be told. I suspect we will be discovering it for years to come.
So, as much as we, adults, are ready to move on, our children are still processing the very real social and emotional effects this pandemic had on them, and we owe it to them to listen.
I spoke with the parents and children about how this pandemic affected them. While this is a small sampling and not equivalent to a scientific study in any way, I can tell you that some of the stories I heard were heartbreaking. Stress and anxiety are a common thread, and it is going to take time to heal these wounds.
Evelyn, age 9, told me, “COVID-19 has affected me in some bad ways and some good ways. What I don’t like about it is that we all had to stay home and look at everybody through a computer screen. We can’t go anywhere, or see any friends and family, or go to school in person. We also had LOTS of technical difficulties.”
Jonah, age 13, said, “The hardest part of the pandemic for me was that I didn’t get to see my friends for so long. When school started back in person, everything was weird and different, and it still doesn’t feel normal.”
Shana told me her seven-year-old son lost sleep during the pandemic. He woke nightly and couldn’t get back to sleep unless she laid with him, so he slept on a crib mattress on her floor for comfort.
Mary confessed that online learning was a terrible experience, and their relationship suffered from the frustration. Her child had meltdowns every day, and the entire home environment was “miserable.” Her son had to seek professional help as he suffered from anxiety and developed esophageal spasms and reflux, which she attributed to stress.
Lea’s 16-year-old daughter who loved school prior because of sports and drama club now has underlying anxiety. She felt that the school environment became negative as teachers and other students would confess their fears, and she was relieved when the school shut down. Her sleep and appetite improved out of school and away from the stress, and she has decided to continue with online learning this year.
Meanwhile, an 18-year-old was in his final year of high school, head student, and a prefect who played sports and did a lot of volunteering expressed that when the pandemic began, he felt like everything fell apart for him. He didn’t enjoy online learning and he felt all his work had been for nothing.
While many shared stories of missing their social lives, feeling more anxious, and struggling with online learning, I also spoke to children who thrived during quarantine.
Hunter, age 14, has social anxiety. He told me, “Quarantine was fine. I enjoyed staying home, and I’m anxious about going back to school again. I liked the slower pace.”
Ellie told me her children both thrived during the pandemic. They adjusted well to online learning and had relaxing, happy days together at home. They enjoyed leisurely breakfasts around the table and quiet evenings bonding with one another.
Braedon, a high schooler junior who was struggling to maintain a D average, blossomed tremendously when switching to virtual learning. The one-on-one setup diminished distractions so that he was able to focus on what he needed to do for his classes. His social anxiety lessened, the expectations eased up, and he ended up coming out of COVID as a graduate with honors.
Hazel, a social girl who was enjoying a small preschool class but struggling to feel seen and heard in the classroom transitioned really well to homeschool learning. She shares, “I like being home. My mom and dad are working from home, too. We are all together and that is the way I like it.” Although her academics soared and she tested into a gifted academy for next year, Hazel has massive anxiety about returning to a classroom and being away from home.
Finally, one mother told me that, while her outgoing, social daughter suffered, her quiet and introverted boy did quite well.
4 Ways To Support Children Post-Pandemic
My biggest takeaway in writing this article is that each and every child has a story to tell about this pandemic. And they are telling their stories, not only through words, but through symptoms, body language, and behavior.
No matter where our kids are in their process of coping, we can meet them there and listen for their stories.
Here are 4 things we can do to support children this school year:
1. Get Connected
Using a Time-In can help your children open up about their feelings and gives them tools for coping with anxiety, stress, anger, and other heavy emotions.
There are many ways to connect via a Time-In. Perhaps your child wants you to sit there silently with them, showing with your body language that they are safe and supported. Other kiddos may desire active listening and validation of their experience.
By helping children explore what happened, how they feel, and in giving tools for managing emotions and behaviors, we nurture resilience, grit, and emotional regulation.
2. Tell Stories
You may also consider using scripted stories to help your child process their emotions. By writing simple, playful narratives with your child, it helps them navigate challenging situations and learn new skills.
Not only does this feel fun, but there’s also a science behind it. Storytelling helps integrate the emotional and logical sides of the brain, which helps our children process, integrate and overcome stress and trauma.
3. Empower Their Power
In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey explains that each of us has a circle of concern, a circle of influence, and a circle of control.
There are many things in our lives that we have no control over such as the news, natural disasters, and what other people think of us. Although many of us spend plenty of time worrying over these things (known as the circle of concern), such worry is futile because we have no power there.
Where our power lies is in our thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. This is our circle of control. When we learn that there are things that we cannot control, and learn to focus on what we can, we feel more empowered to take the next step and can better cope with what is happening at any given moment. And all of this - the way we show up into the world - influences those things we touch such as our friendships, family relationships, work, school environments, and our communities.
4. Go Slow
Invite your child to go slow. The idea of jumping back into all of their pre-pandemic activities could feel overwhelming. They may be worried about catching the virus now that restrictions are falling away. Or they may feel more anxiety than before about all of the socialization. Honor their feelings as they go through this adjustment with empathy, support, and unconditional love.
The COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on us all, and it may take time to heal. Let’s go easy on ourselves and our children and remember the positive lessons that this pandemic has taught us - people matter more and we need each other.
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Generation Mindful creates educational tools, toys, and programs that nurture emotional intelligence through play and positive discipline.