Life as we knew it, has completely transformed during the last two years of the pandemic. Most parents I know are concerned about the effect of social isolation on their children. Online learning is definitely not suitable for the development of children or teens, and most kids miss the social interactions that are part of the school day, as well as the after-school activities.
Masks and social-distancing restrictions can trigger a sense of disconnection and sadness for many and it becomes cumbersome for them to stay excited about learning under these conditions. And as the pandemic continues, many youngsters are battling anxiety and depression, just as adults are. And of course, children will be affected differently, depending on factors such as the supportiveness of parents, siblings or if they are extraverted by nature.
Given that this pandemic positions some palpable risks that may affect your child, what can you do to protect your child and reduce those risks? Here are a few resources and tools that you can use.
Children of all ages will experience anxiety
Develop healthy family habits to manage stress. Routines, traditions and rituals all lessen stress and power struggles while regulating healthy habits. Create a daily schedule that includes time outside in nature, exercise and positive family interactions, board games or an evening family guided meditation.
Discuss to come up with a list of positive actions everyone in the family can take to feel better when they’re having a hard day, such as snuggling, reading a book, dancing together or maybe just painting freely to express and release their emotions. Check in often. Listen, accept and validate whatever your child is feeling. Their disappointments are real, and they need to grieve as much as adults do. You don’t have to solve what they’re upset about; just make space for them to feel it and to share it with you.
Excessive screen time and online classes
Children required to go to school online all day may disengage and lose interest in learning. Isolation can negatively impact social skills and the development of empathy for others. Kids don’t necessarily need large group experiences, but they do need to play with other children one on one, which develops essential interpersonal skills.
Before online school every day, take your child outside for a walk or other physical activity, preferably in nature. Spend some time simply having fun and doing lighter things to ease them off. Laughter reduces your child’s stress hormones so they have more inner resources to handle school stress.
Plan regular online or if possible (in person with a few children keeping safety protocols in mind), playdates for your child and other children. Help your child sustain interest in virtual school by asking questions about what they’re learning and letting them teach you. (This one is a toughie, but make it fun instead of making it sound like a test).
Be sure that you continue reading exciting books to your child on a daily basis so they continue to love books and reading, as the school version of reading might not be exciting to them right now. (Cannot emphasise more on the advantages of this).
Be mindful of online safety
The risk of cyber bullying increases as children are spending more time online, as kids are just learning to use social media appropriately and are often unsupervised. Preteens required to go to school on zoom all day may find it hard to share devices with siblings, or may disengage and lose interest in learning.
Encourage your teen to communicate digitally with friends in whatever ways work for them. (Remember that everyone is under stress right now, and choose your battles). Allow your teen to take positive action against the pandemic, to ward off anxiety and powerlessness. Brainstorm a list of things they can do to help others. When teens feel empowered to take action against things they perceive as unfair, they gain confidence and resilience.
This too shall pass
The bad news is that you can’t completely alleviate the risks of isolation. But we must be mindful that ids are quite resilient and they will eventually be able to make up for the social and educational losses they’re suffering now.
Parents who are calm, warm, receptive and patient can help in regulating emotional health for children of all ages, so taking care of you may be the most important thing you can do to protect your child.
Model positive stress-management habits like regular physical exercise, meditation and emotional connection. What’s more, you have more power than you know. When your child looks back on this time, they’ll look back on how you stayed calm and with your sense of humour intact (most of the time!), how you modelled kindness in the face of uncertainty, how you went for walks together or enjoyed family dance parties, how you made cookies together or grew seeds in your balcony/garden.
Summing up with these famous lines – “What is the difference between an obstacle and an opportunity? Our attitude toward it. Every opportunity has a difficulty, and every difficulty has an opportunity.” – J. Sidlow Baxter