COVID-19 and the global impact it has had on the world can be seen in almost every walk of life. Masks have become common life-saving accessories to everyday living. Teleworking is a reality for many who are fortunate enough to work from home. Various lockdown levels, constant streams of video calls, and online shopping instead of risking an outing (things that would have been considered strange or even indulgent in the bygone years of 2019 and earlier) are now almost daily occurrences. Humans are incredibly adaptive.
However, there have been other effects of the post-COVID world we live in today. The isolation and constant instability have wreaked havoc on the collective mental health of people around the world. Moreover, people with pre-existing mental health issues are finding an increase in their distress the longer they experience a lack of access from care options. It is not only adults who are feeling these mental health issues in the wake of a global pandemic. Increasingly, children are struggling to cope with the distresses of the world. It is not surprising since, as the findings in Brain Stimulation volume 13, issue 4 assert, “social isolation will likely lead to an increase in depression, a link that has been established with previous studies in humans and non-human mammals such as prairie voles.” Added to the already staggering weight of puberty and other developmental experiences in childhood, fears about the global pandemic puts unique pressures on children that can unfortunately only be met with so much assurance from their parents.
How do we help the children of 2021 as the adults meant to help them are just as desperate for a light at the end of this confusing COVID-19 tunnel?
- Talk to Them—Simply talking does a world of help. According to Healthychildren.org, “Children rely on their parents for safety, both physical and emotional. Reassure your children that you are there for them and that your family will get through this together.” Children need their questions answered. More than that, they deserve to have their questions answered. As parents there is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to protect children from the sometimes vicious truths of the world. However, with the massive amounts of technology filling their minds with information—true and untrue—protecting ones child has also come to mean educating them on the facts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a comprehensive list of reliable research on COVID-19. Do your homework first and then help to answer their questions.
- Connect—As the above study showed, isolation is difficult to endure not only in the human species but in many others. We are designed to connect, especially children. Children grow and learn largely due to their experiences with others, especially their peers. They need to connect. First, they need to connect to those they’re experiencing isolation with. For example, take 15 minutes out of your busy day to play video games with them or show them what you are making for dinner. There are a million ways to connect as a family, no matter how big or small that family is. Do yoga together. Bake a cake. Play paper-ball soccer. Get creative! The American Academy of Pediatrics says, “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them. Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adult caregivers.” It is vital to a child’s physical and emotional health that they take some time to play, inside and outside of their home space. So yes, interact with your child, but also set up virtual “play-dates” with peers they need to reconnect with. Have a virtual movie night or sleepover. Again, try to find creative ways to make sure your kids can connect. They need it, and so do you.
In more serious cases healthcare professionals may need to be contacted, and that is a very personal decision for each individual parent and child, but in many cases children are incredibly adaptable. Reassurance from their loving parent goes such a long way to erasing any fears they could have. We’ve all come a long way from the simple kinds of fears that could be solved by checking under the bed for monsters, but we’re in this together and we will get through this together.