As the start of the school year approaches, the media attention has swung to the group that was originally somewhat ignored in all of the COVID19 chaos immediately after the virus surfaced, children. With the original belief that kids were less susceptible to the virus than everyone else, they became somewhat of a forgotten entity. Yet, in many areas, the first places to close were schools. This took children from their routine, threw them into the unknown of homeschooling/virtual learning or gave them an early summer vacation. But, as fall approaches, concern for their wellbeing is now at the forefront.
First we need to consider the impact of the pandemic on children and their mental well-being, especially after schools were closed in early spring. We have talked about how the lack of a routine causes issues for adults and the same is true for children. In young children, this stress manifests as nightmares, clinginess, a return to thumb-sucking or bedwetting, and temper tantrums (Farber, 2020). For older kids, they may experience physical symptoms such as an increase in headaches or stomachaches, they may seem withdrawn or lethargic, and their appetite might be affected (Farber, 2020). For children of all ages who struggle with mental or physical challenges already, this change can be even more detrimental, especially when their socialization with their peers and teachers had been eliminated. For children whose families struggle financially and school is their food source or for children who are the victims of domestic violence and school is their safe haven, this pandemic has been nothing short of hell.
However, as children face a return to school there are several new concerns. Clearly the children in the latter group will welcome the change no matter the dangers of the virus, but for other children the risk versus rewards is less obvious. Schools seem to be going in a variety of directions when making plans to re-open, including: a delayed start, offering a hybrid between in-class and virtual learning, giving parents the option to sign their student up for full virtual learning, and some are just going back to business as usual but with added safety precautions once in the building.
Experts are suggesting that for K-6 learners, the benefits of school outweigh the risks, because this age range especially needs the socialization with peers and the direct instruction from teachers (CBS Pittsburgh, 2020). For middle and high school students, the experts suggest it depends on the child more than anything for parents to determine the best course of action. While that age range can theoretically work independently, some students benefit from direct socialization and guidance more than others (CBS Pittsburg, 2020).
While parents have to wade through the advice and the options and make this tremendous decision on their own, parental peer pressure is a contributing factor for everyone. Everyone has an opinion and everyone feels they can voice it no matter the consequences these days, and that is a daunting scenario for parents who are just trying to do the right thing for their children.
So, parents, you know your child better than anyone. Do not feel guilty for what you believe to be the best decision for your child and your family. Health coaches, if you have parents expressing anxiety over this, help guide them to determine what is best for their own child, no matter what others are saying.
CBS Pittsburgh. (2020). Parents Forced to Weigh the Risks Versus the Benefits of Sending Children Back to School During the Coronavirus Pandemic. Retrieved from: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/parents-forced-to-weigh-the-risks-versus-the-benefits-of-sending-children-back-to-school-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic/ar-BB16X7eb
Farber, M. (2020). How Does the Coronavirus Pandemic Affect Children’s Mental Health? FoxNews.com. Retrieved from: https://www.foxnews.com/health/how-does-the-coronavirus-pandemic-affect-childrens-mental-health