It has been a little over a year since the world utterly stopped. Airplanes' white streaks crossing the skies vanished, cruise ships parked a few miles offshore stood empty while traffic on our roads greatly diminished. It took everyone by surprise, there was an eerie feeling in the air, and no one predicted how the next year would unfold.
Reflecting on the past year and how people survived lockdowns associated with job losses, canceled weddings, vacations, graduations, and events, forced us to deal with ourselves and find an appreciation for the little things we had forgotten due to our busy lives.
Parents, educators, and caretakers learned quickly that the pandemic had altered their lives forever.
As adults, we can illustrate endless stories about our realities while being stuck at home, and we could even laugh a little about some of those stories. But how did it look like in the eyes of a child? Or teen? And how did it feel for them?
Imagine for a moment being five years old, and you have already accomplished your half-year of kinder! Finally, you mastered the daily routine of getting up each day, prepare for school, go to school, accepted with joy that your parents or caretaker left you behind, you have a best friend and love each task you do, every hour of the day at school. And by the way, you are excited to get to school to have your first good meal of the day.
What if you are 12 years old, it is March 2020, and you have finally managed to be part of a social group that you have desperately wanted to join. Finally, you see the positive results of your hard work at school and are looking forward to your group studies for testing. You finally get to go to parties with your friends! And by the way, you are excited to get to school to have your first good meal of the day.
How about being 17 years old? It is March 2020, you and your best friend had planned to go shopping for a prom dress! You were planning to visit some of the potential colleges, and you were already celebrating one of the most crucial educational milestones in your life! You loved your part-time job, which has provided you and your family with some extra money for some fun on the weekends.
Then on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declares COVID-19 a pandemic. By March 16, most of our nation’s schools suspend onsite schooling, and most of them scramble to provide essential services amid closures. By May 7, remote learning becomes commonplace, but remote teaching is exhausting.
By mid-May, kids are missing school. Children are grieving the loss of stability, safety, friendship, graduation, and fun. But most importantly, COVID-19 has affected kids in terms of food insecurity. Lots of kids get their nutrition through school meals, and that was disrupted.
By the end of May 2020, I dare to say that most adults were anxious and confused, not knowing where the world pandemic was heading. As it certainly amplified some real continuous societal challenges rooted in meeting month-end needs, racial tensions, elections, divisions & polarization, and climate change, to name just a few. Now imagine what was going through the mind of a child or teen? And how has this last year changed them?
They felt as if their world was collapsing right in front of their eyes. Confusion and fear were unimaginable. Would they contract this awful virus? What if their caretakers got sick and die? Kids were thinking about death more than about their next play date. When will they see their friends again? When can they go to the park again? Will they be able to hug their grandparents soon? Would they graduate?
Many children were seeing and hearing frightening news about COVID-19 on TV. Some had family members that got sick or may have died. Parents and caretakers were also overwhelmed with their worries and maybe even mourning a loved one, making it hard to provide positive reassurance for their kids. It was inevitable to avoid traumatic stress while remaining in lockdown.
A year later, what I see in schools are young children from pre-school through 2nd grade angry, afraid, anxious, and less socially adept. Middle schoolers are more anxious, stressed, worried, aggressive, defiant, and less socially competent. High schoolers are stressed, anxious, less patient, and less interested in school.
I see an urgent need to support and address mental health for children from 2 and up today more than ever! We need to unite with parents, educators, and society to implement programs at schools to teach our children about emotional intelligence and coping skills for the unpredictable and challenging world we live in now. I believe in kids, I have faith in them, and I see how quickly they can adapt and change positively only if we give them the tools to do so.
At schools, our teachers are reaching a breaking point, and our children feel it. There must be a support system for teachers to positively and effortlessly care for our young ones. Everyone needs time and resources to overcome this past year, and for the sake of our children, we must unite all fronts to find self-care, self-regulation for balancing ourselves, and model calm.
Understanding what the Pandemic felt like through the eyes of young people has been alleviating for me. Because, despite all those difficult emotions, I see kids with a positive concern for their families, friends, teachers, and the future. Little ones are afraid that their loved ones could get sick, older kids feel responsible for their siblings (check out this excellent read on instagram on “How schools can help kids heal after a year of Crisis and Uncertainty”). Teenagers are amazing. They are voicing a sense of activism to come together to prevent future pandemics, and generation Z may be one of the most successful and resilient generations in history. For most kids, a sense of conciseness has surfaced, and that gives me hope for the future.
What has been your experience with kids dealing with the pandemic and do you have have some useful tips that helped to you navigate through all the changes the pandemic has brought upon us? Please feel free to share!