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10 Ways to Support Your Child as We Move Out of COVID-19

After the pandemic: How are the kids?

Key points

  • Many parents are worried that their child has fallen behind academically with all the disruptions of the past two years.
  • Although some kids are showing signs of pandemic-related academic problems, most have kept learning and growing intellectually.
  • Schools might end up better than before, but teachers need training, support, and resources to address the widened learning gaps across kids.
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Family Support Matters

Some kids are actually doing better post-pandemic than they might otherwise have done. They’ve become more socially aware and responsible. They’ve learned that by wearing a mask and following social distancing rules, they can help keep other people safe.

They feel grateful to medical workers and other essential frontliners, like grocery store and pharmacy staff.

If a child feels that they and their family have come through a stressful time together, they’re stronger, more confident, and more resilient.

For other kids, the pandemic has been an emotional disaster. If a child has had to handle too much on their own without the resources they need to do that, the child will be set back in their developmental progress, and we can expect to see problems going forward, problems that need our urgent attention.

Academic Impact: Most Kids Have Kept Learning

Children who have had a disrupted and inconsistent school schedule, but a reasonably supportive home situation, have probably done more playing than usual, which is a very good thing for their brain development. They’ve also learned how to entertain themselves, which stands them in great stead going forward, helping make them more resourceful, confident, and innovative.

If they’re lucky, they’ve had more outdoor time than usual, more do-nothing time, and more time for figuring out who they are and what they like doing. They’re more independent and creative than they would’ve been if they’d carried on with regularly scheduled activities, including school.

But some children and teenagers have been set back by the pandemic. It’s these kids I’m concerned about, knowing we can anticipate academic, emotional, and behavioral issues in the future. We can’t expect schools to address all those needs—teachers don’t have the training, the time, or the resources to provide psychological counseling—but schools will be where many of the problems are showing up.

How Does Schooling Need to Change?

There have always been huge academic learning differences among same-aged children. Those gaps have gotten wider with the pandemic. Addressing those gaps is one of the biggest educational challenges of the next several years.

As we move out of the pandemic, teachers will have to work harder than ever to differentiate curriculum, challenging the kids who have somehow managed to stay on task academically and supporting the kids who’ve done practically nothing by way of academics for two years. Teachers will need an infusion of training, resources, and support to do that. In Being Smart about Gifted Learning, Joanne Foster and I write about how to move toward an Optimal Match for each child.

But really—kids are far more different in their learning needs, subject by subject than most schooling experiences have typically taken into account. In some ways, I see the post-COVID recalibration as addressing needs the education system had been ignoring before the pandemic. There’s even a chance we’ll end up with better schools and better teachers because of the pandemic.

Social and Emotional Development

When parents have managed to keep the stress to a minimum and get through this terribly challenging time with their sense of humor and perspective intact, their children may actually be stronger psychologically than before. Yes, the kids have missed the social experiences they otherwise would have had, but as with academic learning, they’ll catch up quickly as they re-enter social activities, as long as they’re given the support they need going forward.

It’s the kids whose parents haven’t coped well and where the kids haven’t experienced much social or emotional support that we need to be most worried about. Their lack of healthy social contact during the pandemic will leave them with a big social/emotional deficit resulting in mental health, behavioral, and academic problems if not addressed very soon.

Parents Working from Home

There’ve been pluses and minuses for the parents, but I’m seeing real benefits for children when the parents have managed to cope reasonably well with working from home. With the pandemic, as with daily life stressors, what matters most for kids is that their parents are coping well enough to provide a sense of stability and warmth.

If from now on, parents are working more virtual hours than before and going into workplaces less. I can see it benefiting the children. Kids feel happier and safer knowing their parents are close by, and that’s a good thing.

If parents feel resentful or distracted, that’s not a good thing for the kids. In a world of more people working from home, it becomes more important than ever that parents take good care of their own mental health. I’ve just written a book about that—Imperfect Parenting: How to Build a Relationship with Your Child that Will Weather Any Storm.

How Can You Support Your Child in Moving on from the Pandemic?

  1. Be warm, loving, patient, and available.
  2. Take good care of yourself, practice mindfulness, and attend basics like sleep, outdoor exercise, social support, and nutrition.
  3. Remember that two years of their young life is like two decades of yours, and it’s going to be hard for them to get back into routines after all that time of chaos and worry.
  4. Make sure your child gets the basic essentials: play, nature, physical activity, sleep, and social interaction.
  5. Look for opportunities to talk with your child, and listen to what they’re thinking and feeling.
  6. Be available as they enter back into social interactions, with all the joys and stressors that brings.
  7. Be patient as they get back into academic and other routines. Expect fits and starts and ups and downs.
  8. Celebrate their successes, and be supportive and patient with the inevitable meltdowns, regressions, and setbacks.
  9. If you have a tween or teenager, realize that this period of life is challenging and chaotic, even without a pandemic, so they will need solid and reliable parenting support more than ever now.
  10. Get help if you need it.
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