After missing two birthdays, her last year of middle school and middle school graduation, Sarah is finally going to high school! She is definitely excited. You don’t know how prepared she is, but she is definitely excited. You wave her out the door and on to this new adventure. School has gone back to what it was before the pandemic, so things should be back to normal... right?
Some things will revert back, some things will never be normal again. Or at least not for a long time. The repercussions of the pandemic will be felt in the coming years by our children, in particular.
The hallmark of the pandemic was and is disruption. Most parents realize kids need stability in order to feel safe. Most of the time, this comes from consistent structure and routine. When children know what to expect in most areas of their lives, it allows them to venture out into the world and take risks. Sometimes those risks work out, sometimes they don’t, but there is always a baseline of security they can count on.
The pandemic upended many of these (normal) structural expectations. School completely closed for months, then shifted to distance learning. We are discovering now whether “Zoom school” was sufficient to get children through their grade material. Additionally, all usual social interaction was put on pause indefinitely, not to mention extracurricular activities. Milestone events such as birthdays and graduations were also missed.
Furthermore, certain families also experienced job loss, or at least there was a lot more uncertainty in most career fields. Add all of this to the “cabin fever” of staying inside and around the same people 24/7, and you have a lot of potential issues to manage.
Children are always attentive. While they may not exactly understand exactly what something means, they are very sensitive to the general atmosphere, particularly the emotional state of parents. If we as adults, with our emotional maturity and learned coping mechanisms and methods of circumventing disasters, have had a difficult time over the past year and a half, just imagine what your kids have gone through!
The real problem is, the uncertainty hasn’t gone away! More lockdowns could be just around the corner depending on the numbers in your city, state, or in our country. This leaves children today in a very suboptimal position.
Amen Clinics, a leader in brain scanning and using brain imaging science to track and treat numerous cognitive, emotional, and behavioral problems, published an article titled “Kids in Crisis – The Pandemic’s Toll on Childhood Mental Health.” It presents a meta-analysis, or an analysis of multiple studies from the same time frame, which states, as of September 2, the numbers of anxious and depressed children have nearly doubled since the beginning of 2020.
Honestly, no one is surprised. What we need now is how we can support our children through a global crisis.
First Things First: Pay Attention
Mental health illnesses may be more subtle in terms of expression than other illnesses, but they always leave clues that can indicate what your child is going through.
Little interest in activities they normally enjoyed
Increased or decreased appetite
Insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
Self-isolation with little communication or engagement with friends
Easily startled or frightened
Irritability and/or outbursts of anger
Both of these complications can make success in school even more difficult to achieve than usual. What the doctors at Amen Clinics recommend is to acknowledge your children’s fears instead of allowing them to fester in the dark. Open communication is critical for processing these peculiar world events, and they help your children know that they are not alone—you are there for them.
Some fears are real though. Distance learning was no one’s first choice. Not only did the teachers have a hard time teaching last year, but this year is not business as usual either. The incoming class is not likely to be as grade-ready as teachers expect. Zoom school was not for everyone, especially the younger grades. How can a teacher compensate for a suddenly widened range of preparation levels among thirty children? Not easily, that’s for sure. Some are doing well. Others are doing as well as can be expected, but this year has the potential to be as challenging as last, though in a different way. If distance learning was unworkable for your child, what do you do now that the new school year has started and your child, for one reason or another, missed most of the prior grade?
Try to see clearly where your child is.
Maybe last year wasn’t quite as bad as it seemed and your child’s teachers this year have adjusted to cover missed concepts. A chat with your child’s teacher should give you a decent idea of how things are going.
Talk to your children about how they feel about the different subjects.
Are they reasonably confident about school? If so, is that reflected in their work or do they need some support, either personal time with the teacher or a tutor, to smooth the transition back to “normal?”
Are they anxious about school? If they are overly so, it may not matter how well or poorly your child is actually doing. Rebuilding confidence is crucial. Children need some small, consistent successes to realize yes, they can do this. Hopefully, teachers can provide this via homework. However, if a concept was missed, then that piece of homework turns into an insurmountable roadblock. Even supposing your child could manage to figure it out with some extra effort and googling, it can be discouraging and some children need more (and more personal) reassurance than teachers have time for. In that case, you may want to consider a few sessions with a tutor to help re-stabilize your child’s self-assurance.
Like academic confidence, social confidence may likewise have faltered. According to the article “How COVID-19 Could Affect Kids’ Long-Term Social Development” from Healthline, the long-term impact of little to no peer-to-peer social interaction on adolescents gets more severe as lock downs are prolonged.
The article cites an interview with Dr. Amy Learmonth, the developmental psychologist in charge of the Cognition, Memory, and Development Lab at William Paterson University of New Jersey, who says a younger child gets most of his or her initial social development from the family, but adolescents are starting to learn about complex social dynamics and how to have relationships beyond the immediate family. Social skills of supporting others and depending on others, dealing with betrayal, and learning to trust others are developed at this age.
Brain development is related to social development and both are critical during this time. Problems in these developmental processes could lead to relational problems down the road.
What Can I Do About That?
The good news: Do many of the same things! Confidence is built in the same way, with small wins. These suggestions were our favorites from Healthline’s list:
Allow in-person social interaction
An obvious counter to no social interaction is... social interaction! Encourage your child to connect with others via hang-outs, playdates, dinners with friends, maybe throw the occasional party or go to one if your family is ready for that. The in-person interaction allows children to learn subtle social cues which don’t translate across a Zoom video screen. Children learn what is appropriate and what isn’t by how others react. They learn the healthy ways to engage in relationships. It also allows for those surprising moments of connection that teach children why this is fun!
Give them time alone to process
Your children are trying to figure out how to be independent humans. They will not always be able to rely on you for social sustenance or to fix their problems. They are trying to solve the problem of living and are likely trying to figure out their own way through things. Letting them take the time to take responsibility for themselves and solve their own issues is very important. Learmonth recommends parents respect their children’s need for space while being available to support if called upon. We find this reasonable, along with keeping communication lines open throughout the week. Develop a habit of asking what the best and worst parts of your child’s day were. Allow the questions to evolve into a conversation where you primarily listen. Show you care about the small things and you are there when they need you.
Most people know “take a walk, clear your mind.” Movement helps physically process the stress of a day, both the good and the bad. It helps us calm down, reset to a more open frame of mind, so we can finish what leftover work we may have had and then relax properly after a full day. It’s not easy to relax with everything going on, but if we don’t, we will burn up and burn out. If a 20-minute walk can counteract that, it’s worth taking a quick trip around the neighborhood. Try it!
Humans have survived by being flexible to varying degrees. These times have required a lot of us, but we are capable of overcoming the challenges of our times. Your kids can too. It’s your job to remind them they are intelligent and competent (for their age) people who can make it through whatever difficulty they are faced with.
We at Spark Tutors would love to be a part of guiding and cheering on your child as adversity is faced, frustration is overcome, and fear is conquered. Let’s take on Fall 2021 with all the spirit and courage within us. We’ve got this! Let’s go!
We hope this article has made you aware of what your child is facing as we come back to school this year and what you can do to be there for your child in an effective, encouraging way. We are all growing through this process. Let’s grow together! We’ll see you at the tutoring table!