Helping Kids Adjust Post-PandemicMay 28, 2021 09:31AM ● By Jolene Ross
COVID-19 is a global trauma that has affected everyone in different ways. Returning to our “normal” lives is going to be complicated, and it is going to take time to adjust, especially for kids.
Changes in a child’s behavior may already have begun because of anxiety leading up to a return to activities and social interactions. A child can be excited about upcoming events and also be stressed about the transition. They know things will be different, which raises questions about how COVID protocol will impact their experiences. Moreover, activities can vary in their COVID requirements, raising more questions that make for feelings of uneasiness. If mask wearing is required, it may be unpleasant to wear and uncomfortable for children as they cannot make out facial expressions, which they greatly rely on to communicate. It is important to remind them that this weird state is temporary and soon things will feel more normal.
All of this may lead to new feelings of social anxiety. If the child already struggled with social anxiety before, they will have to become reaccustomed to coping. After all, they are not used to using that muscle; they are not used to controlling their anxiety as they were doing before, and this makes the anxiety feel even worse. Additionally, few have been able to see their friends, so kids might find that after a year, their friends are entirely different. A year is a lot of development and change, both physically and emotionally.
It is important to remember that some children with a predisposition to anxiety may have developed disorders during the pandemic, such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), where worry and rumination could impact their ability to pick up on social cues. As a result, a child may need more handholding and encouragement to set them on the right track. Those impacted by neurological issues will find adjustments even more difficult. Children with sensory processing challenges will have to readjust as they take in new visual and auditory stimulation that can overwhelm them. Children with ADHD may struggle because some of the techniques once used to get a child’s energy out, such as movement activities, may not be an option with the COVID-19 protocol.
Once kids return to school in a few months, or sooner for those attending summer school or returning to a day care setting, they may require extra attention when they get home for the day, because they may feel homesick while away, miss their parents, and may even worry about getting that same time and attention with their parents. Some kids did better academically when working from home without the distractions of the classroom and are going to feel like they are suddenly overwhelmed. These children may be used to parents being over their shoulder, helping them when they need it, and teachers and caregivers will not be able to do this. Other kids will be relieved to be back in the classroom’s structured learning environment, where they are now receiving more attention than they were from their overworked parents.
It is likely that a child will return from a day away from home unable to cope with all the changes and may have emotional meltdowns like they never have before. Parents shouldn’t punish for this, but instead try to be understanding. Have conversations with them about what the child is feeling and acknowledge and validate their stress.
Creating a routine as much as possible for the family will help children anticipate what is coming next. Structured time, particularly in the beginning, is important so they become more acclimated to their new routine. Where possible, give them choices so they feel more in control. Some examples include what they are going to bring for lunch, what they are going to wear, or letting them pick out a new backpack. Giving children rewards and praise will also help, like when they are able to get ready for the day on time or when they have begun working on their summer homework.
If the parent finds a week or two into a new transition that coping mechanisms are not working well for their child, neurofeedback can help. Although it is difficult initially, given the right tools and practice, it will become easier. Development is all about exposure and practice.
Dr. Jolene Ross, Ph.D., is the founder and director of Advanced Neurotherapy, PC, located at 145 Rosemary St., in Needham. She is a neurobehavioral psychologist with extensive experience in neurobiofeedback treatment, cognitive and behavioral therapy and behavioral medicine. For more information, call 781-444-9115 or visit AdvancedNeurotherapy.com.