The past 18 months have seen disruption to schools, extracurricular activities and health services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Saskatchewan heads toward its full reopening on July 11, parents, kids and the people who work with them face a number of unknowns about the full effect of those disruptions.
Darian Bradley had her son in January 2020, shortly before the start of the pandemic. He was born with a breathing condition called laryngomalacia and as a result, the Saskatoon mom took extra COVID-19 precautions.
For the first few months, socializing with people outside her household wasn't an option. By now, Bradley's son has met family and grandparents, but has yet to meet another child.
"His favourite toys are books. He loves being read to. So I'm thankful for that, but I do wonder if maybe he'd be communicating a bit more at this point if he had more people around him talking," Bradley said.
"I also know he's antsy to get outside — he's had to be inside for so long. So whenever we go outside, he never wants to come back inside."
That's also taken an emotional toll on Bradley. She said she feels guilty that he hasn't yet experienced things like swimming lessons or going to the zoo.
"I'm trying really hard not to beat myself up over that. I think maybe it'll take a bit of time, and it'll get there when he gets there, but you do think about how this is going to impact him if we wait this long,'" she said.
Louise Burridge is an occupational therapist in Regina who works with kids and families. She also wonders about the longer-term impact of the pandemic on youth.
Burridge said that there are pivotal periods of development in childhood that might have been affected during the pandemic by things as simple as mask-wearing.
"What they learn about speech, what they learn about reading emotions and reading facial expressions is pivotal long term. And so you think about just how they're viewing the world and what people are like to them," she said.
"Yes, you can learn certain things later, but we're primed during certain windows in development to develop certain skills."
Parents have also told Burridge that, with reopening, their kids are enjoying finally being able to engage socially again. She's talked with other parents who, like Bradley, have said their kids have experienced what Burridge calls "social starvation."
However, some kids may not be desperate to go back to normal socializing, she said.
"There might be a little bit more anxiety because for young children we've spent 18 months — which for some of them is half their lives — telling them, 'Don't go near that person, keep your distance, stay back.'"
'Falling further and further behind'
The fact that not everyone might be comfortable immediately going back to normal is a sentiment echoed by Saskatoon child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Tamara Hinz.
She said that from what she's seen over the past 18 months, the pandemic has been really hard on kids, and especially teenagers.
"This is a phase of life and development where peers and friends are so important for socializing and identity formation and all of these things," she said.
She's also concerned about resources to help young people who might need it. Hinz said that one of her colleagues looked at some data from the pandemic and found that their unit's workload was up by about a third.
"Obviously our personnel has not grown by a third. We're sort of feeling like we're falling further and further behind when it comes to meeting those needs."
Going forward, Hinz said that there needs to be recognition that while resources might not come cheap, the consequences of not addressing the growing need down the road might be far more expensive.
"I don't think it's reasonable or realistic to expect that we're all going to emerge … from this pandemic and expect that we're all going to sort of do that at the same pace," Hinz said.
"I think that's also a concern — just making sure that some of these people are not getting left behind in the celebration of the post-pandemic time."
It's not all bad news though, according to both Hinz and Burridge.
Hinz said that while she understands that parents, especially those with young children, worry about what this long period of isolation might mean, for the most part the kids will bounce back and catch up.
She also hopes that access to online options might continue after the pandemic, since it's actually helped ease anxiety for some kids.
Burridge also made several recommendations to help families and kids ease back into normal life, and said that planning safe and fun activities for the future is beneficial.
"By practising flexibility, by letting them know and planning together, you really foster resilience," she said.
She also said it's important to validate feelings of anxiety. After more than a year of precautions, it's understandable that kids might experience some feelings of nervousness, she said.
"I think parents need to trust their instinct, so if you're feeling that your child is anxious or depressed and you just don't know if they're going to just naturally come out of it, seek help," she said.
"It's much easier to address issues early as opposed to them getting into kind of a fight-or-flight or protective mode and kind of becoming more and more resistant."