Missing social and educational milestones during COVID-19
Maybe it’s your preschooler’s graduation into kindergarten or your middle schooler’s end-of-year sport’s banquet. Maybe it’s high school prom or your college grad’s walk across the commencement stage. Celebrating life’s milestones is how we commemorate the progression of life and share its highlights with family and friends. Unless, of course, there’s a pandemic going on.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) is putting a damper on numerous traditions, rites of passage and celebrations that typically take place this time of year. Not only is that disappointing, it can affect your child’s emotional and social development as well.
Celebrating together strengthens relationships and family bonds. It helps create a sense of community and improves your mental health. Everyone wants acknowledgment that they matter. That others see their accomplishments and share in their victories. That hard work and effort pay off.
It’s important to pay attention to the impact social isolation has on our youth. With COVID-19, kids of all ages are missing opportunities for growth.
“It’s important to pay attention to the impact social isolation has on our youth,” says Dr. Robin Henderson, Chief Executive, Behavioral Health for Providence. “It’s great to be with family, but teachers, mentors, friends and other unrelated interactions are a large part of normal development, providing valuable interpersonal feedback that stimulates healthy emotional well-being. With COVID-19, kids of all ages are missing these opportunities for growth.”
Toddlers and preschoolers
It may not seem like missing a toddler’s end-of-year play is in the same league as canceling senior prom, but for kids in the 2-5-year-old age range, there may not be much difference. The socialization that happens during school and with friends outside of school is an important aspect of your child’s development, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The routines and connections with friends, family and teachers are a regular part of your child’s early years and help shape their personality, form social skills and build a strong foundation for their developing sense of self.
Reducing social interaction to limit exposure to COVID-19 can help keep your preschooler healthy but it also cuts down on essential interactive experiences. Although you can’t replace these, you can work to minimize the impact by adopting tactics that keep your young child engaged, involved and on-course developmentally.
Keeping a regular schedule gives your child a sense of control and comfort when the world around them is unfamiliar and different.
- Model calmness. Even very young children notice and react to stress and tension when it invades their home. If you can stay composed and unruffled—or at least pretend to—your child will feel less anxiety as well.
- Maintain a routine. Keeping a regular schedule gives your child a sense of control and comfort when the world around them is unfamiliar and different. Try starting the day with outside play (as they might at daycare), and continue to settle in for nap time or quiet time after lunch – they may need more rest now that they are processing so much.
- Take time to play. Play is one of the ways your child learns and grows developmentally. Use this time to interact. Work on puzzles, dance, play dress up or brush up on your Candyland and Chutes and Ladders strategies. The important thing is to have fun. Together.
- Keep it simple. Provide brief, easy to understand explanations about why things are different than they used to be. Give examples and use words and phrases your child is familiar with.
Grade school and pre-teens
According to the National Institutes of Health, peer acceptance becomes increasingly important during your child’s grade school and middle school years. By this age, children are learning to navigate the ins and outs of friendship, competition, school and a wide range of extracurricular activities and interests. Social interaction is a very important part of the process. This is also a key time when they start to form identities and strong bonds to others who share their interests in activities like sports, dance, band, art and other hobbies.
The isolation many grade school children are experiencing because of COVID-19, combined with the disappointment brought on by cancelled activities, can be difficult for them to process.
The isolation many grade school children are experiencing because of COVID-19, combined with the disappointment brought on by cancelled activities, can be difficult for them to process. Strategies that can help, include:
- Focus on the positive. If your child was looking forward to a special event like a sports banquet, a performance or annual summer camp, acknowledge their disappointment. Let them vent to you and their friends but help them find the silver linings.
- Continue their education. Teachers are special people, and many parents are realizing how important teachers are to their own and their children’s lives. With schools closed for the foreseeable future, it’s incumbent on parents to step in and embrace home-schooling as part of the daily routine. From Khan Academy Kids to Flocabulary, there are innumerable online resources.
- Connect virtually. Use virtual resources to help your grade school child stay socially connected. Facetime, Zoom or an old-fashioned phone call or letter to friends or family can help reduce isolation and brings a sense of community to your shelter-in-place routine.
- Monitor news and social media. Pandemic information overload can be stressful and anxiety-producing for children of all ages. Turn off the television occasionally, restrict social media and set parameters that define acceptable use.
High school is the time when teens are supposed to differentiate from their parents, and begin to spend more time with friends than with family. Studies show social connections are particularly important during the high school years and this year COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on many of the annual traditions that promote togetherness and group celebrations.
“The social isolation required during quarantine can significantly impact normal emotional development and well-being,” warns Dr. Henderson.
Although it may be difficult to compensate for a missed prom or graduation party, there are still things you can do to help your teen overcome their COVID-19 challenges.
Although it may be difficult to compensate for a missed prom or graduation party, there are still things you can do to help your teen overcome their COVID-19 challenges, including:
- Explore alternative celebrations. Many schools and organizations are hosting events that offer a different way to celebrate. A virtual event may not take the place of the real thing, but it can provide an alternative way to mark the milestones that take place during this stage of your child’s life.
- Acknowledge their feelings. Let your child know you understand how different the current reality is from what they were expecting and how disappointing that is for everyone. Don’t minimize what they’re feeling or act as if their loss isn’t valid.
- Emphasize the greater good. It’s easier for your child to make sacrifices if they understand the reasoning behind their actions. They are at the age where they can understand communal responsibility so focusing on how they are helping can go a long way.
Check out resources to help your teen build their own “Emotional Self Care kit” and learn the warning signs that indicate they may need additional support to cope at www.work2bwell.org.
College students and young adults
Research indicates college students and young adults are facing unique challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when they expected to be living independently, gaining an education or starting a career, many find themselves socially isolated and unsure of what their future holds. Missing commencement is just the tip of the iceberg.
You can help them by:
- Setting clear expectations. Don’t wait until there’s a problem. Sit down and have an honest conversation about what’s happening and how they can step into adulthood by helping. Set boundaries, outline responsibilities and find productive ways to keep them engaged (e.g. reading or helping teach younger siblings).
- Temper your “advice.” Avoid the temptation to offer unsolicited advice that minimizes your child’s input. Don’t assume you know all the answers. COVID-19 has created a completely unique situation for everyone and it requires innovative solutions to ensure success.
- Celebrate twice. Just because something usually happens at a certain time doesn’t mean that’s the only valid option. Consider multiple celebrations to commemorate the big events of this stage—a virtual party now and an actual party later can give you the best of both worlds—even during a pandemic.
Helping your child handle the disruptions and disappointments caused by COVID-19 can be challenging but you don’t have to do it perfectly to do it well. Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said, “Doing your best is more important than being the best,” and that sentiment is particularly true today.
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You can also learn how your state’s department of public health is responding to the situation:
Well Being Trust: Mental health resources
Things will get better, stay diligent
Three lessons learned from the outbreak by Dr. Rod Hochman
A spiritual help guide for loss, anxiety and more
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.