BY ANGELA M. WISEMAN
COVID-19 has created stressful situations for many adults - we may be concerned about many issues, including financial issues/job security, trying to meet professional obligations, and staying healthy. This is often magnified and multiplied with the children in our lives. Many of us are mentoring, supervising, teaching, caring, parenting and communicating with children in new ways due to the quarantine. These children, too, are reacting to this new situation and changes, many with big feelings of sadness and anxiety. The helpful graphic below* provides important insight about what we may see with children. When we understand that children’s behaviors may look different, we can use this information to support them.
In this blogpost, I want to start by addressing some of the anxiety, stress, and trauma that children might be facing during COVID-19. In a second blogpost on Thursday, April 30th, I will share some books that my colleagues and I have found helpful in talking with adults and children about trauma in hopes that these books can start facilitating conversations about feelings, fears, hopes, and dreams.
To understand issues facing children, I have thought about my own experience as a parent and also informally polled people using social media to learn more about what children were experiencing through the eyes of adults, guardians, family and friends. While this does not represent a systematic investigation and relies heavily on personal experiences (I am the mother of three boys, involved in family support groups and have a large extended family), I thought it would be helpful to understand the main concerns of children as perceived by the adults in their lives.
Missing friends - A prevalent concern is that children miss their friends. Adults have shared that many children missed being together with their friends and found it unfulfilling to engage in zoom, FaceTime, or other virtual methods of connecting. While it seems that older children spend a lot of time connecting through electronic means such as multiplayer videogames, texts and conferencing (and I can confirm this as a parent of teenagers!), younger children find it frustrating and wish they could see the person face to face. In addition, even though older children might be used to using technology to keep in touch, many high school children are incredibly disappointed to miss out on milestone events, such as prom, music concerts, sports events, or graduation.
Missing family - In addition to missing friends, many children miss their family. Families may find themselves separated from each other for many reasons, particularly if one family member is an essential worker. One mother shared that “my eight year old is staying with his bio dad/my ex-husband during the quarantine because my husband (his stepdad) is a nurse. He has been missing us terribly and we miss him so much, too!” One caring adult shared that she put together a care package for a child in their life with individual notes for them to open each day. They stated that “I hope this will let him know I’m thinking about him all the time!”
Missing Routines and Activities - Children miss their regular routines and activities that they do outside of school that have been shut down indefinitely, which could include sports and other activities they do with friends and on teams. One parent told me that, “My oldest son is a competitive rock climber, and he hasn’t been in the gym in over a month and really misses that physical outlet of climbing. He’s quite literally climbing the walls in this house.”
Many adults shared how difficult it is to transition to online schooling - both for children and themselves. There are countless memes that reflect these feelings, for example:
Many adults are sharing how challenging it is to help with school requirements, particularly if they have additional work responsibilities, technology challenges, or difficulties engaging with schools. As with their children, they may not be aware of how the change of routines and activities affect their lives or even have the bandwidth to support in ways they would like. As a result, caregivers, teachers, tutors, and parents feel additional stress because they are currently caring for or supporting children in various ways they had not anticipated prior to the pandemic.
Fear of Illness - A very significant fear and anxiety is getting ill. They might be scared that they will get sick, but they also worry about loved ones. I have friends and family who have been affected by COVID-19, experiencing the illness. While no one I know has died from COVID-19, I have family who has suffered from it and friends who have experienced loss. Many children worry about their own family members who are older, immune-suppressed or compromised, who are at higher risk for contracting the virus.
General feelings of anxiety - Finally, many children are sharing general feelings of anxiety that are not necessarily articulated to specific concerns. While it may be hard to pinpoint what the concerns are, these behaviors might show as sleeplessness, acting out, or tiredness. Children might not come out and say, "I'm worried about this!"
For the next blog post which will come out on Thursday April 30, I will share children’s picturebooks and resources that might help support children who are affected by trauma, anxiety and stress from the pandemic. Stay tuned!
April 30, 2020 Update: Part II of post