When today’s children and adolescents grow up, will they see themselves as a “lost generation”, whose lives will forever fall in the shadow of a global pandemic?
The school closures are one of the most visible means by which Covid-19 is affecting children and young people across the world.
There has been much debate over the exact role that school closures have played containing the overall spread of the virus. It is just over five months since the novel coronavirus was first reported in Wuhan, meaning that the data describing its transmission and the effects of any particular measure are still patchy.
We know, after all, that transmission is higher in densely-packed, indoor spaces, and although the danger to children may not be as high as the risk to the adults teaching them, the virus does seem to evoke an extreme reaction in a very small number of paediatric cases. Crucially, children may become carriers who transmit the virus to the most vulnerable members of society, such as their grandparents. After all, they’re not exactly known for their fastidious hygiene!
While the child’s intellectual development may be the most obvious victim of these closures, it’s by no means the only thing at risk.
The coronavirus pandemic has thrust families into an extraordinary era that will be life-changing for all of us, with both short and long-term effects on children's well-being.
The disruptions children are experiencing right now are real: seeing their parents under stress, being isolated from peers and friends and family, being separated from the structure and routine of their school days, seeing people in masks and overhearing unsettling news. Parents are understandably wondering, "Should we be worried about what this is doing to our children's mental health?"
An emotional education gives children the building blocks they need to be successful at home, school and on the playground. And teaching children to be smart about their feelings (and the feelings of others) can help alleviate children's emotional stress, improve concentration, boost immune systems and enhance brain development.
So, here's how parents can provide an emotional education for children during this time that will help balance the impact of the pandemic and their long-term mental health.
Be there for them.
Past experience has taught us that caring grown-ups in children's lives can make an enormous difference by providing safety, comforting reassurance, age-appropriate information and helpful guidance. Once your child's immediate physical needs have been met, meeting their emotional needs is key to helping them deal with their confusion, anxiety or fear.
Listen, observe and talk.
Children may be upset seeing people wearing masks, overhearing anxious conversations, being physically distant from people they care about or having their routine gravely disrupted. Children's reactions will vary, but it's important to observe their behaviour while listening carefully to what they are saying.
Create a safe space.
Emotions are contagious, and when there's a lack of control and predictability it's natural for parents and children to experience stress. Living under one roof and in tight quarters can exacerbate those cooped up feelings.
Stay connected with friends and family
Social and emotional learning is an important part of child development. If children learn these skills at an early age, they'll be better equipped to handle the everyday challenges of growing up. Staying connected with their immediate family, friends and extended family members virtually, can be helpful. Whether it's a virtual chat, writing a letter to a pen pal or drawing a picture for a grandparent, the significance of social connections right now cannot be underestimated.
Remind them this will pass
When reassuring children who have worries, you can say, "Lots of very smart doctors and scientists are working hard to figure out how to keep us healthy and safe.
Try to remain calm because children will take their cues from you. Seek support from other adults or a counsellor.
Meet children where they are.
Assess what your child has heard and begin your conversation there. Provide clear, age-appropriate information. Remember ou are their best source for information.
Offer comfort and reassurance of their safety.
Increase physical contact and affection during times of uncertainty. Talk about all the people that are working hard to keep them safe.
Talk about your own feelings and give children opportunities to express their feelings.
All feelings are okay, and they are meant to be shared. Keeping them inside can cause aches and pains.
Help children stick to their normal routine.
Having a familiar schedule will reduce their stress and increase predictability.
Keep lines of communications open.
Some children may want or need more information; others may be better with less. Take your cues from them. Being engaged and available is what matters most!
As we begin transitioning children back to school and back to a normal routine, it will continue to be important that we provide the necessary emotional support needed for them to thrive. Be available, honest and open, as this will provide them with a sense of connectedness, normalcy and routine.
Advance planning will be important, too. Find out what their school has planned. Monitor your child's adjustment over time. Watch their behaviour and listen carefully to what they are saying. Have more than one conversation about what's happening—remember a child's understanding and questions will change over time.
Childhood is an amazing time of discovery, even during a pandemic. Nearly every moment of a child's life offers opportunities to teach important emotional skills such as caring, listening, empathy, problem-solving, self-regulation and resilience.
You are doing brilliantly – remember to listen to the children in your lives, and importantly remember to listen to yourself and your own wellbeing.
Peace and Love to you all,