Everything that parents are experiencing, kids are too. Kids are affected by the stress that their parents have in their lives. Whether it is the mild frustration of being cooped up too many days in a row, or the panic of not knowing where the money for food and rent is going to come from, children are affected by what their parents say and what their parents don’t say, as early as before they are even born.
The most at risk children, who get many of their meals from school and who depend on their teachers to notice when something is really wrong, are now at home full time with few resources and in some cases, their abusers.
Children with disabilities are also more at risk right now. Children with accommodations and services at school—speech, behavioral therapy, structured interventions—they will be likely to regress without these services being available at home on a regular basis.
It’s too soon to know the extent of many problems that will occur. Kids who struggle with mood disorders like anxiety or depression may improve or get worse, depending on how safe and supported they feel at home. Older children and teenagers who are at a point where their peers are most important to their social life will likely struggle the most with this. And it will get worse the longer it goes on. With education, the spring’s quick move to online learning was a mess for many school systems—it’s unclear whether more time to plan will be better for students and help them get the information they would typically be learning in a normal classroom environment. And to be clear, when we talk about distance learning, we are not comparing distance learning to just regular schooling as normal, because even sending students to school right now is very different than it was 8 months ago. Wearing masks, maintaining 6 foot distances from one another, worrying about germs, there is no normal option right now. We all hope that it will be better this fall, but this is new, uncharted territory. What is ironic with all of this is that the answer seems to be the internet—that which we have worried so much about is now a safe way that children and adolescents can connect with peers and teachers and feel less isolated.
And finally, the direct impact of Covid. Some kids will get sick—some kids will get really, really sick. And some kids may not get so sick, but may bring that illness home to their loved ones, and they may get very sick or die. These kids will experience trauma, and it will be significant. We don’t know how many or who it will affect, but it will touch many families, and it is heartbreaking.
I wish I had answers for how to improve this. There are no easy answers. But I do have some ideas and suggestions for those of you who feel called to help.
If you have children and families in your life, I encourage you to connect with them in any way you can—bring a friend or mentor to a child, or a struggling parent can mean the world to someone. Interacting with a child on the phone or over a zoom call can provide them opportunities to take turns, negotiate, and practice some social skills, all of which would be beneficial to them.
I do feel that this is a great opportunity for churches and other community organizations right now to connect with children and families. This is a time when many of the things that families do—sports, activities, travel… are either not taking place or are much different. Providing children and families with a sense of security and regularity can help add some positivity to the week.
Finally, just practicing kindness and non-judgment of others. Nobody fully understands the struggle that anyone of us is going through right now. It’s easy to have some negative thoughts about someone’s Facebook post, political position, or perceived action right now from where you are sitting. We will go much farther working together than we will by tearing one another down. Bite your tongue when you have to, and go out of your way to be kind and supportive when you can.
This is a challenging time for everyone right now—be safe, and take care of yourself and each other.