By Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) can affect children directly and indirectly. Beyond getting sick, many children’s social, emotional, and mental well-being has been impacted by the pandemic. Trauma faced at this developmental stage may have long-term consequences across their lifespan. CDC’s COVID-19 Parental Resource Kit: Ensuring Children and Young People’s Social, Emotional, and Mental Well-being can help support parents, caregivers, and other adults serving children and young people in recognizing children and young people’s social, emotional, and mental challenges, and helping to ensure their well-being.
Change in routines
In addition to other everyday steps to prevent COVID-19, physical or social distancing is one of the best tools we have to avoid being exposed to this virus and to slow its spread. However, having to physically distance from someone you love—like a grandparent, friends, your worship community, or sick family members—can be hard for children. It is important for adults to support children in taking time to check in with friends and family to see how they are doing.
Break in continuity of learning
School closures have meant that children stayed at home with parents and caregivers who had to juggle caretaking, learning supervision, and potential telework responsibilities. Participating in school from home is one way to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Online platforms and learning communities have become essential, as children and their families turn to digital solutions more than ever to support children’s learning. Unfortunately, the immediate need to have virtual school and learning revealed inequity in resources, access, and connectivity across students and communities. It is important for parents to reach out to teachers, school administrators, or school counselors to discuss the challenges your family may face supporting virtual learning. Together, you can discuss options that may be available through the school or county. Also, keep in mind that some students may experience nervous or anxious behaviors due to uncertainty about going back in-person to school. Families and communities can join together to troubleshoot ways to make the transition back to in-person school safe and healthy.
Break in continuity of health care
Parents may have avoided seeking health care due to stay-at-home orders and may continue to do so because they are afraid of getting sick with COVID-19. This includes important well-child visits, immunizations and oral health care. Additionally, school closures have impacted many children’s ability to receive mental health and speech therapy services. It is important to ensure children receive continuity of health care, including checking on their development at well-child visits, continuing mental health and speech therapies (e.g. via telehealth), and receiving vaccines for illnesses such as measles, influenza, whooping cough, and others—including COVID-19, when it becomes available.
Missed significant life events
Physical distancing can feel like placing life on hold. The truth is that the clock keeps ticking. Birthdays, graduations, talent shows, vacation plans, births, and funerals are just a sample of the many significant life events that children may have missed experiencing during COVID-19. Social distancing, stay-at-home orders, and limits to gatherings have affected the ability of friends and family to come together in person to celebrate or grieve in typical ways. Grief is a normal response to losing someone or something important to you. It is important to help children understand that hosting gatherings during COVID-19 could be dangerous to those who would want to participate. Family and friends can help them find alternate ways to connect and support each other at a distance.
Lost security and safety
The household income of many families with children was affected during COVID-19 due to job loss and lost wages. Economic insecurity is consistently linked to children’s adverse development, academic achievement, and health outcomes. It may affect their ability to consistently access healthy foods, safe transportation, and housing. Mounting economic stressors can increase children’s risk for exposure to violence. Along with stay-at-home orders during COVID-19, some children may have been increasingly exposed to child abuse and neglect, intimate partner violence at home, and sexual violence. Children’s increased online activity also puts them at increased risk for online harmspdf iconexternal icon, such as online sexual exploitation, cyberbullying, online risk-taking behavior, and exposure to potentially harmful content. It is important for parents and caregivers to maintain a trustworthy relationship and open communication with children, watching for behavior changes that may signal distress.
What can you do?
Steps to Help Provide Stability and Support to Children
- Maintain a normal routine
- Talk, listen, and encourage expression
- Give honest and accurate information
- Teach simple steps to stay healthy
- Be alert for any change in behavior.
- Reassure children about their safety and well-being
Recognize and address fear, stress and behavior changes
Children might worry about getting sick with COVID-19, and about their loved ones getting sick, too. Excessive worry or sadness, unhealthy eating or sleeping habits, and difficulty with attention and concentration are some signs of stress in children. Adults can take steps to provide stability and support to help children cope.
Teach and reinforce everyday preventive actions
There are actions we can take to prevent getting sick and slow the spread of COVID-19. Be a good role model— if adults wash their hands often, stay at least 6 feet apart from others, and wear their mask in public spaces to help protect themselves and others, then children are more likely to do the same.
Help keep children healthy
Schedule well-child and immunizations visits for children. Seek continuity in mental and occupational health care. Help children to eat healthy and drink water – instead of sugar sweetened beverages – for strong teeth. Encourage children to play outdoors— it’s great for physical and mental health, and can help children stay healthy and focused.
Help children stay socially connected
Reach out to friends and family via phone or video chats. Write cards or letters to family members they may not be able to visit. Schools may have tips and guidelines to help support social and emotional needs of children.