March 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the end of life as we knew it. Over the past 12 months, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we and our kids have adapted to massive changes in our social, academic, and personal lives. Although many children and adolescents have settled into their “new normal,” it is important to reflect on the various ways in which our children have experienced, and are still experiencing, the impact of the pandemic.
Throughout the past year, most aspects of our childrens’ lives have changed drastically. One year later, things are still not “normal”. Many children remain in remote school. Many of those who are attending school in person are learning alongside children who are learning from home, meaning that their classroom structure and routines are vastly different from anything they’ve experienced in the past.
Like many of us, our children and adolescents have also experienced grief and loss. Some children have experienced traumatic losses, such as the death of a loved one due to complications of COVID-19. All children and adolescents have experienced other disruptions, from the loss of their daily routines and activities to the loss of major events and holidays. Perhaps most impactful is the loss of positive daily interactions with a range of people outside the home, including friends, teachers, and coaches. This limitation of social opportunities can lead to increased feelings of isolation and loneliness, which may heighten overall emotional distress.
Additionally, children and adolescents are still facing the future with an exorbitant amount of unknowns: “when will my parents be vaccinated?”, “when will I go back to school?”, “when will we travel again?”, “will I get sick?”, “will my family get sick?”, “when will this end?”.
As adults, we may be equipped with a wider range of coping skills to adapt and move forward. Children, however, may struggle to fully understand the broader situation while also attempting to cope and continue to function according to “pre-pandemic” norms.
At this point, the patience of children and their parents alike has (understandably) run thin. As we navigate what’s next, this is a good time to validate how hard this has been for us all. Parents may validate their children by listening to their experiences and acknowledging, with empathy, the difficulties they’ve endured. At the same time, parents can take this opportunity to model gratitude by making a point of talking about the things for which they are thankful.
For parents and their childrens’ sake, parents can also reduce academic pressure where possible. The past year has been anything but stellar, and it is only natural that childrens’ grades may not be either. Where parents are willing and able to reduce standards, it may be helpful to aim for “good enough” rather than “perfection”.
Additionally, parents can praise their children for the effort that they are able to put forth amidst an array of stressors. This year has been traumatic, and many kids are doing the best that they can under the given circumstances. It may also be beneficial for parents to model labeling their own emotions and positive coping strategies. For example, “I’m feeling sad because I miss your grandparents; I am going to take a break and go for a relaxing walk.”
At this point in the pandemic, we shouldn’t be “used to it,” because “it” isn’t normal. We, and our children, are enduring a tragedy, and it’s OK to take a moment to acknowledge that. In doing so, parents may reduce pressure on their children, and subsequently on themselves, to continue on exactly as normal. Things are not normal, and we can all only do the best that we can.
Written by: Meghan McMackin, PhD, Supervised by: Misti Nicholson, PsyD