Lockdowns and school closures had a serious impact on children’s development.
Keeping children indoors kept them safe from COVID-19. But it also robbed them of critical experiences that help them develop.
As children navigate life beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, parents should watch out for a few possible scenarios:
Children and teens who are overly cautious and fearful
Now that it’s safer to be back in the world, it’s important that children start to return to the normal activities that go with childhood and adolescence.
Urge and support your children to spread their wings. If they're feeling nervous about heading back into the world, remind them that they don't have to do everything all at once. They can take small steps. Remember, avoidance feeds anxiety, especially over time.
Parents may also worry as children return to normal life. Ordinarily, children branch out into the world gradually, making the process more comfortable for parents. It's not easy to go from having your child very close to home to gaining the kind of independence that might be age-appropriate now.
It can help to talk with other parents who raised children the same age as your child before the pandemic. This can reassure you about what 10-year-olds, 13-year-olds and 16-year-olds can be expected to do independently. If you feel confident that your child can manage independently, it also helps to build their confidence that they can do things on their own.
If you are still worried about your child’s development, seek advice from a healthcare professional or talk to your child’s teacher.
Children who are struggling to interact with others
Between birth and the age of five, children’s brains grow rapidly, as they develop social, emotional and intellectual skills. These early moments matter. But pandemic restrictions limited opportunities for them, especially for the youngest children.
Some children may be socializing and making up for lost time, but other children’s social skills may still be out of practice. They could be finding it difficult to make friends, build relationships and communicate in a group.
We shouldn't expect children to figure it all out on their own — and you may need to give your child more coaching and role modelling than you’ve had to in the past.
The most important thing you can do is to be very clear with children about how you want them to handle the challenges they run into. For example, if your child grabs a toy from another child, you could say to them, “Of course you want the toy. But here’s how you can ask for it: You say, ‘When you are done with that, can I have a turn?’”.
Don't get frustrated with your child for not always knowing the appropriate ways to interact with others. Continue to play, learn and grow together. The greatest thing you can do for your child is to provide them with love, support and care.
Children who have fallen behind in school
Most children had a really difficult time learning during school closures, especially girls, children from low-income households and children with disabilities. Three out of four 10-year-olds in South Asia cannot read a simple sentence, a number that is much higher than before the pandemic.
With children back in the classroom, it’s important to assess and understand where they are in their learning so that teachers and parents can provide tailored support to help them catch them up. This is no easy feat, because the range of what was learned (or not) during school closures — even in a single classroom — was enormous.
To support older children, make sure they are going to school regularly. Keep an eye on how they are doing with their homework and if they have any worries about completing specific tasks. Talk to their teachers about what you’ve observed and make sure your child is getting the support they need to catch up. Give them time and space to spend on their learning and with their fellow students and friends.
If you have a young child, try engaging them with stimulating activities like reading books, telling stories, singing songs, going outside, naming objects, counting or drawing things. These will all help boost their brain development and learning recovery.
It can be hard to see your child struggling in their learning — especially if it’s making them feel anxious and affecting their self-esteem.
Remember, you are the best person to help shape your child’s behaviour, development and choices. Strive to be their best teacher in their life by providing encouragement, support and organising non-classroom-based activities to help them develop, learn and socialize. For example, outdoor sports, picnics, visiting relatives and friends, quizzes and board games.
Remember to look after your mental health too and let your child know it’s OK to fail, it’s all part of learning.
With your support, guidance and love, it’s possible to help children catch up and feel better.