Here we are, one year and 8 months after the start of the pandemic, still battling its effects, and we are exhausted and overwhelmed. Our children, teens, and young adults continue to hear about new variants of the virus, which makes us believe that this is not over yet.
Adults, parents, and children everywhere are struggling with heightened levels of anxiety and as mental health professionals, there is more need than there is supply. We are seeing the anxiety across the lifespan. Isolation has led to feelings of anxiety and ultimately sadness as there seems to be a little end in sight.
What about the COVID-19 pandemic has created such heightened levels of anxiety for so many of our children?
As humans, we strive on having constants in our lives—a constant home, a consistent routine, and the ability to plan ahead. The COVID-19 pandemic has given us little consistency, which has triggered our anxiety. It's difficult to plan ahead, whether for a vacation, a wedding, or a graduation party. We are all too familiar with the phrase, “Let’s wait and see what the numbers look like." These are not comforting words and they don’t allow us to have something to look forward to as we have in the past.
New variants leave us wondering about how many more there will be and how they may impact our schools, our jobs, and the economy. Our lives have slowly begun looking more familiar to us, but we are not at the finish line yet and we don’t know when or how we will get there. There are still ample restrictions that put limits on our activities and lives. For example, children have returned to school all day, every day, but are not yet done with masks. The unknown time frames for when things will return to “normal,” the changes that persist, and the unexpected cancellations do not offer consistency and that's a breeding ground for anxiety.
We have suffered so much loss during this pandemic. We have lost time that can’t be made up. We have lost milestone events such as weddings, birthday parties, proms, graduations, field trips, and extracurricular activities. Almost two years have been lost. My two older children who were in 5th and 8th grade in 2020 did not have graduation ceremonies or all of the other events that were to be their rite of passage.
Children have also lost almost two years of academic progress. Teachers and administrators are just now beginning to gain a full understanding of how students are functioning. A child may be in third grade now, for example, but really functioning academically like a first-grader. Children are trying to build their present-grade skills but get frustrated and their self-esteem suffers. It is heartbreaking when I hear my 8-year-old call himself “stupid,” or proclaim, “I don’t know how to do this, mom. I can’t do this.” I know I’m not the only parent hearing this and facing the frustration of watching children struggle with their schoolwork.
Children have also lost social skills and time to socialize. They have been socially isolated from the experiences they normally would have had through school, extracurricular activities, and life events. Many are saying, “It’s weird being with other people again. School is real this year.” Many “forgot” how to be a part of a group, a class, or a team. These skills will slowly return, but we also have to provide the opportunities and coaching to help bring those skills to where they need to be based on our children’s present age.