Since COVID-19 first rocked the world and caused global-wide fear and panic, studies have begun to emerge that address the concerning impact that the Coronavirus pandemic is having and will continue to have on our youngest members of society. Whilst the world struggles to cordon and contain the steady stream of outbreaks from country to country, it can be easy to overlook the effects of the pandemic on our children and adolescents. The implementation of restrictions and safety measures has forced them into a world of unfamiliar routines, limited social contact and confined home quarantine. Schools have been closed, playgrounds fenced off and ‘stay home’ orders strictly enforced. The pandemic has changed our way of living and of course those changes haven’t come without challenges. Here are just 8 of the ways that the Coronavirus pandemic is impacting upon our children.
1. From face-to-face teaching to home education
Whilst some might have initially rejoiced at the prospect of school closures, many children and young people have faced significant struggles in adjusting to home education and online learning. Teachers have spoken of the difficulties of keeping kids engaged and parents have reported feeling out of their depth whilst trying to assist and support their children’s learning at home. We have seen our teachers become more creative than ever and have adapted their practices very quickly to be able to facilitate online learning from preschool age all the way up to university level. Teachers, parents and children have been required to be flexible, resilient and tolerant and whilst online learning comes with significant challenges – we have certainly seen a whole profession doing their best to minimise the interruption COVID-19 is having in terms of education.
2. Reduced social contact
According to Meyers and Cowie (2021), the closure of schools and limited access to friendship groups can result in acute anxiety and stress in young people. At a time where important events like graduations and birthday parties are cancelled and daily life revolves around a single household, it is the very young children and teens who are most affected. Loades et al. (2020), highlight that social isolation can impact young children’s developing social skills and reveal that it is our teens who are at greater risk of depression during isolation. Thankfully, video conferencing platforms are useful for helping families keep connected with the outside world whilst we eagerly wait for lockdown life to end.
3. Cancellation of sport and recreation activities
The ‘stay home’ orders and periods of lockdown enforced across the world have meant that children have been faced with significantly reduced opportunities for outdoor and recreation activities. Instead, children are spending larger amounts of time on screens for education and entertainment which means a more sedentary lifestyle. Unsurprisingly, a reduction in physical activity has experts worried about growing levels of obesity – especially as children are also eating more to combat the stress and boredom of long days stuck at home and where quality food resources have at times been in limited supply (Ashby, 2020). Now is a great time for families to play together and get creative to ensure that some physical activity remains a daily part of life – even when stuck at home.
4. Increased anxiety and stress
Whilst adults keep a close eye on the ever-changing news updates and tune into frequent ‘special announcements’, children and adolescents have been suddenly forced into a world of fear and anxiety – never knowing what tomorrow might bring. With the adults in their lives displaying signs of stress and worry, it is expected that the younger members of a household will also feel these impacts. Cowie & Meyers (2021), suggest that clinical services are useful for offering preventative support so that early intervention can be accessed to prevent any significant long-term impacts resulting from increased stress and loneliness during isolation.
5. Protective practices
The introduction of protective face masks and the massive increase in hygiene practices such as hand washing and sanitisation is in stark contrast to the care-free way of being that many children experienced before COVID-19 hit our shores. Whilst we have heard that these increased hygiene practices have reduced the spread of a range of illnesses and infections, they have also placed a physical barrier between people that was not there before. The wearing of face masks results in less face to face interactions and relational communication, which can be especially problematic for babies and very young children in terms of their need for human connection and attachment (Green et al., 2020). To mitigate these impacts we should certainly follow safety recommendations, but minimise the use of masks at home – particularly for babies and young children.
6. Reduced access to health and support services
With the COVID-19 pandemic overwhelming health care systems, a reduction in families attending health care facilities has also been observed (Gupta & Jawanda, 2020). This is due in part to families feeling fearful of exposure to the virus and therefore routine health checks have significantly declined, as has health and parenting support for new and expecting parents. This is very concerning for the long-term health and wellbeing of children who may need more significant health and dental intervention in the future as a result of not having access to these services at a time when it was most needed. Thankfully, most medical and care providers are offering Zoom and teleconference appointments so whilst we might not be able to leave the house, it’s important to remain in contact with relevant health professionals.
7. Increased family pressures
With families being required to stay at home and being placed under the added pressures of financial uncertainty and the need for them to support home education, often whilst working from home themselves – home environments have become increasingly stressful places. According to Ghoshand colleagues (2020), ‘incidents of domestic violence, child abuse and adulterated online contents are on the rise’ amid the Coronavirus pandemic. The greatest impact of the pandemic is being felt by rural families, families who are disadvantaged, and those who have family members with disabilities (Gupta & Jawanda, 2020). At a time when they are needing more support than ever, it is important that people stay connected to support services in any way they can to ensure that children are safe and protected through the pandemic lockdowns.
8. Implications for child development
Of course, it is reasonable to wonder about the impacts of reduced social interaction, increased stress and less physical activity can have on the development of children. Long-term studies of the impact on children following natural disasters and famines has shown that consequences of such events can be significant and lasting (Yoshikawa et al, 2020). Effects such as lower educational attainment, increased health problems and difficulties with emotional regulation and overall wellness are all potential impacts that could be felt long after the COVID-19 virus has been controlled. This is why it is crucial that we are doing all we can to combat these effects now so that our children can be supported to navigate the short-term impacts of the pandemic before they become long-lasting negative impacts.
Cowie and Meyers (2021), state that the COVID-19 pandemic has affirmed our deep need for connectedness and since the health and wellbeing of our children will determine the health and wellbeing of our future adult population, we must draw on the strength of ourselves, others and the systems around us to ensure that our future generation is not lost to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Ashby, N. 2020, Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Unhealthy Eating in Populations with Obesity, Obesity, Vol. 28, No. 10, PP. 1802-1805
Cowie, H. & Meyers, C. 2021, The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people, Children & Society, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 62-74
Green, J. Staff, L. Bromley, P. Jones, L. & Petty, J. 2020, The implications of face masks for babies and families during the COVID-19 pandemic: A discussion paper, J Neonatal Nurs, Vol. 27, No. 1, pp. 21-25
Gupta, S. & Jawanda, M. 2020, The impacts of COVID-19 on children, Acta Paediatricia, Vol. 109, No. 11, pp. 2181-2183
Loades, M. E. Chatburn, E. Higson-Sweeney, N. Reynolds, S. Shafran, R. Brigden, A. Linney, C. McManus, M. N. Borwick, C. & Crawley, E. (2020). Rapid Systematic Review: The Impact of Social Isolation and Loneliness on the Mental Health of Children and Adolescents in the Context of COVID-19. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Vol. 59, No.11, PP. 1218-1239
Yoshikawa, H. Wuermli, A. Britto, P. Dreyer, B. Leckman, F. Lyn, S. Ponguta, L. Richter, L. Stein, A. & FRCPsych. 2020 Effects of the Global Coronavirus Disease – 2019 Pandemic on Early Childhood Development: Short and Long-Term Risks and Mitigating Program and Policy Actions, Journal of Paediatrics, Vol. 223, pp. 188-193