How the Pandemic Has Changed the World For Children
Takeaway: The pandemic has forced children to deal with uncertainty, trauma, interrupted learning, and potential bullying. But it’s also brought communities together and changed the way children learn. So, as parents and caregivers, we need to help our children cope with their challenges and celebrate their victories.
The pandemic seems to have left children with a seemingly new world to adapt to.
The ‘new normal’ we’ve all been preparing for is well underway. And as hard as it is for adults to adapt, it’s even harder for children. They’re so much more sensitive to changes in routine, and they haven’t yet developed many of the coping mechanisms they’ll need. But what precisely is different about this post-2020 world?
For one, there’s a great deal of uncertainty about so many things.
Children have had to deal with constantly changing routines for a while now. They’ve been through the panic of the first few months of 2020, then a period of adjusting to the lockdown, and now, re-entering school life with rules about masks and social distancing. Each of these phases brought new daily routines and dramatically varied lifestyles, but the unexpectedness of it all was particularly trying. For example, many children were optimistic about the lockdown being like an extended holiday. But this optimism soon faded as they got bored and stressed and as people they knew fell ill. So, now they may be back at school and resuming their old lives, but is it worth being optimistic again? Life seems too uncertain to know for sure. Acknowledging this uncertainty might be a necessary and important lesson, but it’s happening too quickly and too early for many children.
Some children also still have memories of unprocessed trauma.
Many families had to cope with losing jobs, homes, and even family members to COVID. Also, children who fell seriously ill have memories of deep fatigue, struggling to breathe and more. These experiences can scar them permanently unless they’re able to explore and process their feelings. This is especially so for younger children who tend to blame themselves for things they have no control over. They might assume that their thoughts and behaviours magically caused the pain their families went through.
For many, the time away from school will have other long-term effects that we’re just finding out about.
Research suggests that time away from school can impact a child’s intellectual development. For example, in the US, a 2007 study showed that the overall pass rate of students in Maryland dropped 3% when schools shut for a week. And this fits in with other studies showing how children progress steadily during term-time but regress during summer holidays. Now, we can’t read too much into these findings, but they indicate we’ll likely have to help children make up for lost time.
Not all children will face these long-term effects, though. It’ll depend largely on their background.
Children will likely have regressed from time away from school, but not all of them. Other studies in the US show that children from less-privileged backgrounds are affected the most by school closures. And it’s primarily because they don’t have access to key educational resources (e.g., adults who can teach them, books to read, etc.). For instance, a UK study recently showed that children from affluent families spent about 30% more time learning at home than children from less affluent families. So, some children will struggle in ways their classmates won’t, and they’ll need extra support from the adults in their lives.
Unfortunately, there’s another problem that many children will face. And that’s bullying.
During the lockdown, first-generation immigrants couldn’t practise speaking their second language with people outside their families. So, there’ll be a transition period where their children will find it harder to fit in — which opens them up to bullying. But there’s another factor at play as well. Now that we’re all trying to avoid the coronavirus, how will children respond when their classmates get infected?
But it’s not all bad news. There are also compelling reasons to celebrate our post-2020 world.
As difficult as the pandemic has been, it reminds us how adaptable children can be. For example, many children worked through their trauma by channelling it into something creative. They’ve written songs, poems, and stories about their feelings and reached out to parents and older siblings to discuss their worries and fears. Meanwhile, other children have thrown themselves into new hobbies like painting, colouring, and playing the guitar. Finally, communities are coming together to help children who need support. For example, 60 humanitarian organisations (the WHO, UNICEF, International Red Cross, etc.) collaborated to release a children’s book. They surveyed 5000 children, parents, and teachers worldwide and distilled their findings into a book titled ‘My Hero Is You 2021: How Kids Can Hope With COVID-19!’ The book’s lovable main character Ario travels the world, helping children cope with their frustrations, fears, grief, anger, and sadness.
Perhaps the biggest thing for us to celebrate, though, is how comfortable children now are with online learning.
The pandemic has helped children get used to learning via the internet. For one, looking things up online became a welcome distraction for many. Older children, in particular, suddenly had a world of live streams and podcasts to watch and listen to. That’s in addition to regular online classes. And businesses jumped at the opportunity to create educational websites and mobile apps. What’s exciting here is that these tools are interactive, so children can choose what to learn, when to learn it, and how fast (or slow) to go. Crucially, this self-directed learning teaches them to think and reason critically, rather than just passively absorb information. The internet is unlikely to replace the classroom because children do need structured, real-life interactions and the routine of coming into school. But it’ll be interesting to see if a new hybrid educational model evolves, mixing in-person classes and online lessons.
As scary and exciting as all this seems, what matters is that we’re there to help children process and adapt to these changes.
If you feel your child is struggling to cope with all this change, please do reach out to us for support. At The Ed Psych Practice, we offer face-to-face and online assessments, consultation, advice, and problem-solving strategies for parents, nurseries, schools, and universities in London. We have psychologists, paediatricians, and therapists who can help assess your child and offer guidance and support. To consult with us or set up an appointment:
- Phone: +44 (0) 78 3344 7356
- E-mail: Office@TheEdPsych.com
Want to see how else you can help your child? You might enjoy some of our other posts.
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