Walton Foundation Chief: 5 Ways We Can Help Children Cope With COVID-19 Pandemic
We ask our children to be socially distant. The least we can do is be emotionally present.
For all the burdens that COVID-19 puts on adults, the toll on children is its own menacing mix of fear, confusion, anxiety and isolation. This is a disaster where the despair is quiet. There is no siren to jolt us out of our pandemic pattern of adjusting, enduring, hoping and coping.
And that means we have to listen more carefully.
Even as they are resiliently upbeat about their future, young people are living a virtual reality with a visceral sense of loss. It can be easy to forget, after all these months, how massively life has changed for them. Across parts of two school years, they have masked their faces, missed their milestones and traded classrooms for learning that is as remote as that word suggests.
Children cannot rely on adults to be the grown-ups in the room when there is no adult in the room. Think of the Denver public schools students who showed up for their teachers’ online office hours without any questions to ask.
As the school system superintendent Susana Cordova told an interviewer: “They just wanted to be around somebody while they were doing work. And they’d look up every now and then to make sure the teacher was still there.”
Kids needs these people in their lives — teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, mentors. That is even more true when pandemic parents are struggling just to have time to think. The legitimate health reasons for limiting in-person learning across America has shut out a lot of coveted adult time for children, undermining their social and emotional development.
The consequences are right in front of us.
About 7 in 10 students have obstacles to learning virtually. Of those, half of the children say they feel depressed, stressed or anxious, according to a sprawling Youth Truth survey of 20,000 students taken in May and June, when the pandemic was becoming a way of life.
Learning from home, students reported their own version of what many of us feel: the tension of schedule conflicts, family health concerns and a lack of anyone with whom to share their problems.
The COVID-19 effects are widespread but also predictably inequitable: black, Hispanic and poorer students are expected to experience the greatest loss of learning and engagement.
Our tendency in disasters is to rescue, recover, regroup and rebuild. Yet then we leave out the last part: remember. We must remember to keep helping children deal with what will be the long-term implications of this troubling time.