Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in December 2019, much of the conversation surrounding the virus has focussed on the older portion of the population. This, of course, has been for good reason- an overwhelming majority of severe or deadly cases have been in adults over the age of 65 and those with compromised immune systems .
There is another portion of our population that has been affected by the COVID-19 virus in a significant, albeit different, way: our children. Seemingly overnight, children in countries around the world had their lives turned upside down. Schools everywhere have closed, and with that, children have lost any resemblance of their usual daily routines.
How COVID-19 is Affecting Children
While children may not be at high risk for developing a severe case of COVID-19, they are at risk of experiencing psychological and emotional trauma as a result of the complete upheaval of their daily lives.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children do best when routines are regular, predictable, and consistent . With schools closing all over the country, children everywhere have been forced out of their usual routine, which can have a significant impact on their mental health.
During a severe pandemic such as this, everyone’s stress levels will be running high. Both children and parents are now at home all day together, and parents may be coping with job loss or attempting to work from home while taking care of their children. The illness of friends or family members can pile on the stress further, making home life tense and difficult.
Children are particularly susceptible to this stress because they may not understand what is going on, or why they can’t see their friends and family members. This confusion, coupled with seeing their parents’ worried faces can cause children to be scared and anxious .
Nikhil Chopra, a family doctor practicing in southern England, is concerned that during this pandemic we will develop a generation of children with health anxiety.
Prior to school closures, he explains that unfamiliar words like pandemic, isolation, and lockdown, began circulating in the schoolyard and that his own, normally carefree four-year-old was coming home saying “if we don’t wash our hands we could die” .
Alexandra Wax, the mother of four-year-old Asher in Houston, Texas, described how her son’s behavior has changed since the outbreak began. He has become clingy, constantly asks questions about the virus, and has started wetting the bed again, which he hasn’t done in years .
Lucy Russell, a clinical psychologist in southern England, is primarily concerned about how panic among adults will affect their children.
“I’m most worried not because of the distress I’m seeing in children right at this moment, but because of the distress I’m seeing in adults and how that will be transmitted to children,” she explained. “Adults panicking is going to mean children panicking because they will be feeling very unsafe.” 
She explains that children’s brains are not yet fully developed and are much more susceptible to stress and trauma, because the rational, thinking part of the brain is incapable of calming them down .
Children are Losing Months of School
On top of this stress, children are now missing a significant portion of their school year. For this reason, many parents are now feeling an immense amount of pressure to take their child’s education into their own hands. This is particularly overwhelming for parents who are working from home and are unable to give their children their undivided attention all day.
Teachers across the country are doing their best to support their students by offering virtual, online lessons, however uneven access to technology among students makes it difficult for them to help every student equally.
Many teachers are concerned less about their students missing out on educational classroom time and more about their student’s personal welfare and mental health. Among them is Leslie Greenberg, a middle school teacher in Philadelphia.
“Academics are the least of it,” she said. “At this point, it’s mental health.” 
To help, she has started a program where teachers, parents, and other community members record a video of themselves reading the first five minutes of a book, in hopes that she will inspire her students to do the same.
Julius Brown, a music teacher in Philly, has started a Facebook page called “Mr. Brown’s Sing A Long and Music Class”, where he posts videos of him and his son singing the songs he would normally teach in class. He also provides a live, thirty-minute class every weekday at noon.
“I know that I’m doing it for me, too,” he said. “Being a music teacher is who I am. That’s a central portion of my identity. To be able to stay in touch with that is keeping me grounded.” 
Advice to Parents From a Teacher
One primary school teacher in Lancaster, England, who introduced himself as Mr. Hodder, recently shared a video online of himself, asking parents not to homeschool their kids during the pandemic, but instead to act as their support system.
This may seem counterintuitive to many parents, who are concerned that their child is not receiving a proper education while they are away from school, but the teacher explains that the primary concern of all the staff at Cathedral Catholic Primary School, where he works, is the welfare of their students.
He explained that many children are going to be very upset, scared, and they will be missing the social interaction they are used to having every day. He wants parents to know that what their kids need right now is not a classroom or a timetable, but instead talking, listening, and support.
In place of homeschooling, he gave all the parents at his school a very unique assignment:
“…my homework for everyone out there at Cathedral is to bake a cake, build a lego model, set up a den in the front room, tell each other a story, do a jigsaw, play a game, make a card, paint a picture.” 
The video has now been shared over 83 thousand times, with many grateful parents commenting, thanking him for his message.
He noted that with his own kids, he is doing a bit of schooling, but describes it as more of a “side-project”. In his opinion, highly-structured learning is not what kids need right now.
“Just be what they need,” he emphasized. “They need love, they need reassurance, we can’t control the situation but we can control how we react to it.” 
How Parents Can Help Their Kids During the Pandemic
According to Leonne Hoffman, M.D., the best thing parents can do during these uncertain times is to listen to their children.
When children begin to talk to you, stop what you are doing and try to give them your full attention. Watch them carefully and look for changes in their non-verbal behavior, and listen not only to the words they are saying, but the tone of their voices .
Psychologist Genevieve von Lob suggests establishing a routine as a way to create some predictability and normalcy for you children.
“Consistency and structure are very calming during times of uncertainty and stress,” she said. “So set up a schedule which works for you and your family, ensuring you have regular mealtimes and a consistent wake-up and bedtime.” 
Another way parents can help their kids is by setting up virtual hangout times with their friends to help them feel connected to their peers and making time every day for physical activity to give them the opportunity to let off some steam.
It is also incredibly important that parents take care of their own mental health during this time as well. Like in an airplane situation, you must put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else, and mental health works the same way.
Kids are like sponges and will take their cues on how to cope with an uncertain or stressful situation from the adults around them, so the best thing you can do as a parent is to remain calm and stay positive.
Most importantly, parents should continue to talk to their children, check-in with them frequently and ask how they are feeling. They should validate their child’s feelings, as much as possible be present and available when their kids need them.
Like Mr. Hodder, von Lob explains that what kids need from the adults in their lives is emotional support.
“During periods of uncertainty and change, what our children need most from us is to feel safe, loved and protected,” she said .
Editors Note: Even though Mr. Hodder was applauded by many for sharing his message, the original video seems to have been removed from Facebook. However, it is still available here for the time being.
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