Planning To Reopen - Our Schools, Helping Children Cope with Changes in School Routines
The COVID-19 pandemic can be stressful for most of us, especially our children. Fear and anxiety about what could happen can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions children. Public health actions, such as social distancing, cancelation of school sports and remote learning can make children feel isolated and lonely leading to increased levels of stress and anxiety. Parents, however, understand that these actions are necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep our communities safe.
As communities finalize their academic plans for the coming school year it is clear that, whatever the solution is, returning to a traditional school setting is not an option. Regardless of your child’s age, this realization can have traumatic effects on them. They may feel upset, depressed or have other strong emotions. Some children react right away, while others may show signs of difficulty much later.
According to the CDC, creating a support system and helping our children cope with the stresses resulting from the changes in our lifestyles caused by the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic is vital to their mental wellbeing. The following highlights influential factors to a child's emotional wellbeing, common reactions children exhibit, and how to help them cope.
NOTE: According to the CDC, in lieu of a vaccine or therapeutic drug, mitigation is the greatest weapon communities can wield to slow the spread of a virus with pandemic potential such as COVID-19. COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a new (and some data suggests evolving) coronavirus.
COVID-19 is highly transmissible. Individuals should follow these universal precautions regardless of the extent of mitigation needed:
- Follow healthy hygiene practices
- Stay at home when sick
- Practice social distancing
- Use a cloth face covering (with some exceptions) in community settings when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
(See our Planning to Reopen series of blogs for more information regarding CDC, EPA, FDA, Mass EEA and OSHA safety requirements). To review the administration's reopening guidance from the state click here. To view Governor Baker's full report click here).
Factors that Influence the Emotional Impact on Children During a Pandemic
The prolonged separation from school, family, and friends can create a great amount of stress and anxiety for children. The emotional impact of a pandemic on a child depends on a child’s characteristics and experiences, the social and economic circumstances of the family and community, and the availability of local resources. Not all children respond in the same ways. Some might have more severe, longer-lasting reactions. The following specific factors may affect a child’s emotional response:
- Direct involvement with the pandemic (i.e. have they or someone they care about been infected)
- Previous traumatic or stressful event
- Belief that the they or a loved one may die
- Loss of a family member, close friend, or pet
- Separation from caregivers
- Physical illness
- How parents and caregivers respond
- Family resources
- Relationships and communication among family members
- Repeated exposure to mass media coverage of the pandemic
- Ongoing stress due to the change in familiar routines and living conditions
- Cultural differences
- Community resilience
How a child reacts and the common signs of distress can vary according to the child’s age, previous experiences, and how the child typically copes with stress. The common reactions to distress will fade over time for most children. Children who were directly exposed to the effects of a pandemic can become upset again; behavior related to the event may return if they see or hear reminders of what happened. If children continue to be very upset or if their reactions hurt their schoolwork or relationships then parents may want to talk to a professional or have their children talk to someone who specializes in children’s emotional needs. Learn more about common reactions to distress:
- Infants to 2 Year Olds
- Infants may become more cranky. They may cry more than usual or want to be held and cuddled more.
- 3 to 6 Year Olds
- Preschool and kindergarten children may return to behaviors they have outgrown. For example, toileting accidents, bed-wetting, or being frightened about being separated from their parents/caregivers. They may also have tantrums or a hard time sleeping.
- 7 to 10 Year Olds
- Older children may feel sad, mad, or afraid that the pandemic will never end. Peers may share false information with them, worsening their fears. Parents or caregivers must correct the misinformation as soon as possible. Older children may focus on details of the pandemic and want to talk about it all the time or not want to talk about it at all. Also, they may have trouble concentrating.
- Preteens and Teenagers
- Some preteens and teenagers respond to stressful situations by acting out. This could include reckless driving, and alcohol or drug use. Others may become afraid to leave the home. They may resent the inability to spend time with their friends. They can feel overwhelmed by their intense emotions and feel unable to talk about them. Their emotions may lead to increased arguing and even fighting with siblings, parents/caregivers or other adults.
- Children with Special Needs
- Children who need continuous use of a breathing machine or are confined to a wheelchair or bed or are at a higher risk of infection, may have stronger reactions to pandemic such as COVID-19. They might have more intense distress, worry or anger than children without special needs because they have less control over day-to-day well-being than other people. The same is true for children with other physical, emotional, or intellectual limitations. Children with special needs may need extra words of reassurance, more explanations about the event, and more comfort and other positive physical contact such as hugs from loved ones.
How to Help Children Cope with a Pandemic
While it is necessary for parents to stay informed about the effects of the pandemic to their local communities and the world around them it is equally important to understand that children can become more distressed if they see and hear constant, negative reminders of the current reality in the media. Parents should consider limiting the amount of exposure your children get to media coverage.
Setting a good example for your children by managing your stress through healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating healthy, exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep, and avoiding drugs and alcohol, is critical for parents and caregivers. When you are prepared, rested, and relaxed you can respond better to unexpected events and can make decisions in the best interest of your family and loved ones.
The following tips can help reduce stress before, during, and after a disaster or traumatic event such as a pandemic.
- Talk to your children so that they know you are prepared to keep them safe.
- Review safety plans. Having a plan will increase your children’s confidence and help give them a sense of control.
- Stay calm and reassure your children often.
- Talk to children about what is happening in a way that they can understand.
- Keep it simple and appropriate for each child’s age.
- Provide children with opportunities to talk about what they went through or what they think about it.
- Encourage them to share concerns and ask questions.
- Encouraging them to take action directly related to the pandemic. For example, they could make masks or hand sanitizer. This will help your children feel a sense of control and enable them to better manage their feelings.
- It is difficult to predict how some children will respond to traumatic events. Because parents, teachers, and other adults see children in different situations, it is important for them to work together to share information about how each child is coping after a traumatic event.
While the administration continues to work with communities to implement best practices and protocols for reopening our schools we will continue to share with you guidance from the CDC, EPA, FDA, Mass EEA and OSHA and the Governor's office to follow as we prepare for the new school year.
Also, we at SERVPRO of Norwood/West Roxbury know that not every community has access to the resources necessary to meet the strict cleaning guidelines to ensure a safe environment for our children. For those communities, we are here to help!
Certified: SERVPRO Cleaned
The Disaster Remediation Teams at SERVPRO of Norwood/West Roxbury are specialists in cleaning services and we adhere to the highest cleaning and sanitation standards. We are prepared to clean and disinfect your schools, according to protocols set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We have years of experience in dealing with biological contaminants, and we will go beyond the scope of work of "normal daily cleaning". Call SERVPRO of Norwood/West Roxbury today for a free consultation - (781) 769-9125.
All of us here at SERVPRO of Norwood/West Roxbury want you and your loved ones to stay safe and know that we will make it through this together! Rest assured, we will continue to do our best to keep you up-to-date and informed!