By Deborah Serani, Psy.D., author of Sometimes When I’m Sad
Studies about the impact of the pandemic on children have shown overall increases in anxiety levels and academic difficulties. Online learning, restricted school days, and virtual classrooms have created lapses in educational growth for children. Teachers and parents have voiced concerns that the chaotic structure of school has heightened inattention and frustration and led to inconsistent academic performance in students of all ages.
The pandemic has also negatively impacted the mental health functioning of children, with increased rates of anxiety, agitation, clinginess, irritability, and sadness affecting all children—irrespective of their age groups. When we get more specific, young children (ages two to six) experience separation-related anxiety, sleep disturbances, and nightmares more than their older peers. Children six years of age and older express worries related to infection and safety, uncertainty about the future, and fears about death. For all children, the social lockdown required to limit infection can cause feelings of loneliness and social isolation.
Tips for Parents
There are many things you can do to reduce anxiety and academic difficulties in little ones. The best way to start is to assess your child’s overall level of well-being. Identify the kinds of things your child does well, and then look at where they are struggling. Once you’ve identified your child’s strengths and weaknesses, you can begin a targeted approach.
The new normal of virtual classrooms or modified school days requires parents and children to be more flexible and patient. While some students may thrive in these situations, others may need more parental reassurance and redirection. Another tip is to create the best quiet and comfortable space possible for your child to learn remotely and to reinforce positive academic behaviors. It’s also important to be realistic about what your child’s learning curve will be during this pandemic, and to ask for additional school support if you think your child needs it.
Given the uncertain state of affairs we’re living in, make time to connect with your child. Younger children need more emotional and physical attention, so don’t just check in with your little one, spend more physical time with them.
Aim to reduce anxiety about contagion, illness, and the use of preventative infection measures by communicating in age-appropriate language. Make sure to use science as a way to ground yourself and your child in the real risks and real hopes for getting through this pandemic.
Help your child stay connected to friends, family, and schoolmates by setting up socially distant visits, virtual get-togethers, phone calls, or old-school letter writing. Consider doing virtual community volunteering or engaging in real-time outings with your immediate family when weather permits. Connecting socially will reduce loneliness, isolation, sadness, and anxiety.
To help your child work more efficiently at school or move through emotional moments, be a role model. Help your child notice how you schedule work time and family time and how you keep a steadfast structure to your chores and responsibilities. Let your child see and hear you negotiate problems, emotions, and other social issues. When you model appropriate coping mechanisms, your child will likely follow your example.
A consistent routine is vital during any traumatic event. So, make sure there’s a predictable structure to your family’s day. Work, school, meals, rest, play, bath, and bedtime should all have set times so children can rely on constancy as a source of comfort.
Parents should devote time each day to reassure little ones about what’s good in the day. Reminders of all that your family is grateful for can help build reassurance and resiliency. In spite of uncertainty, illness, change, and worry, when we count our blessings, we learn to ground ourselves in meaningful moments.
Deborah Serani, Psy.D., is an award-winning author and psychologist in practice for 30 years. She is also a professor at Adelphi University, and her writing on the subjects of depression and trauma has been published in academic journals. Dr. Serani is a go-to expert for psychological issues. Her interviews can be found in Newsday, Psychology Today, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, The Associated Press, and affiliate radio programs at CBS and NPR, among others. She is also a TEDx speaker and has worked as a technical advisor for the NBC television show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. She lives in New York City.
Deborah is the author of Sometimes When I’m Sad.
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