A Year of COVID and Addressing the Emotional Wellness of Our Children

Often, I joke about this being the “14th month of 2020”. Yet, there is a level of weariness within that assertion. In March 2020, the terms “social distancing” and “COVID19” entered popular lexicon. Even then, we held our breath (hopefully under a mask), and waited impatiently to “Return to Normal” in a few months. Yet, almost a year into the pandemic, the “New Normal” has become our reality, and we continue to wonder what the long-term impact on our children will be. Research is beginning to address how the current global pandemic is affecting our children (Shah et, al 2020; Ye, 2020).

We are learning how COVID19 is not only causing stress due to social distancing requirements that do not permit much-needed connection/social interaction amongst children, but the financial strain of families losing their jobs is also felt by those same children. For Black children, this is further compounded by ongoing issues of racial injustice, and with many being tethered even moreso to technology due to virtual learning — -they are being bombarded with racial trauma images as the World seeks to share such throughout social media. Further, we know that those who are already marginalized within our society, often experience additional stress due to lack of resources (educational, financial, etc), which is often ignored by the decision-makers, and minimized by those who have more privilege.

Even as we push for moments of joy within times of great stress, our children are also not having the benefit of many of those avenues. Milestones within their lives such as graduations and birthday parties may occur, but are also reminders of the Pandemic’s Effect as such events are scaled-down at best, and do not occur at worst. Other outlets including sporting events are just beginning to return, but even then, are inconsistent with outbreaks resulting in games and seasons being abruptly cancelled.

As a psychologist, although I am grateful for the acknowledgment by public officials of the emotional toll of COVID19 on children, there appears to be no plan to actually provide resources and funding to address this — -now or when we return to some level of normalcy. Even if such funding is provided, it is likely to be disproportionately distributed, where again the most marginalized who have been impacted the most, are less likely to receive the resources they need to not just “return to the status quo”, but to move the level of emotional health they deserve.

During this time of continuing to navigate the Pandemic, we must identify what can be done as we enter Year Two of COVID19.

1. ENGAGE in discussions on racial trauma/racial stress, specifically for Black and Brown Children-Do not avoid the conversations. Address them in a way that acknowledges their frustration, fear, and anger, while providing resources such as the American Psychological Association’s Parent Toolkit (Racial Stress and Self-care: Parent Tip Tool (apa.org)). Offer meditations such as “Meditation for Black Lives” (available on Itunes and all streaming platforms) that are designed specifically to address racial trauma/stress. Look for books written by Black authors that discuss what racial trauma can look and feel like.

2. BE creative in remaining connected-Zoom fatigue is real. Yet, our children continue to need to remain connected with their friends. If using technology, try to do so in creative ways where the children are not just staring at a screen. Host cooking dinner parties, watch movies together by sharing your screens. As the weather improves, identify outdoor activities in the park or other activities that allow for engagement while social distancing.

3. CONTINUE to celebrate milestones — true, birthdays look different. Holidays are not the same. However, it remains important that we do not “put off” celebrations. These moments of joy (however different they may look), can still provide some sense of normalcy. Because of the financial impact on many families, especially BIPOC, parents should not put stress on themselves to celebrate in ways that will cause additional financial hardship because doing so only places the stress in a different category

4. DISCUSS the impact on COVID19 with your children and be honest about it- Failing to acknowledge that COVID has impacted you or your children does nothing to alleviate your child’s concerns. Instead, it stigmatizes those feelings and can cause even more stress. Instead, normalizing their stress/concerns and identifying ways to decrease them should occur. For younger children, picture books such as Pooda and Granny Don’t Like the Rona (available on Amazon), can provide an opening for conversation regarding what they are missing, the people from whom they are now not as connected, etc.

5. DEVELOP a routine-children thrive in stability. COVID has resulted in nothing but uncertainty and instability for most of our children. Try to institute a schedule or rituals your family can commit to. For example, it can be something as minor as being dressed by a certain time each day, or eating a meal together on a designated day once a week, or still having bedtimes for younger children (who in this virtual world, may sleep or awaken at differing times).

6. LOOK for signs that your child is struggling- the anxiety, anger, and grief associated with COVID19 cannot be overstated. If your child demonstrates signs of any of these, it may be time to seek mental health services for them. Many providers are offering telehealth to make it safer and more accessible. For some school districts, they also contract with mental health providers to do counseling services for their students — -which may eliminate the financial barrier for families in need.

7. KNOW that the Pandemic will have a lasting impact on your child and your family-Even if the world “returns to normal”, living in a year of social isolation/social distancing, virtual learning marked with disparity in access, COVID19 deaths, racial trauma blasted on all social media outlets, and normal life milestones being either put off or being greatly downsized — — will have an affect. We must commit ourselves to continuing to work through the trauma of this year and to try to recoup the varied financial, educational, social, and emotional losses. It will take time, and we must give our children and ourselves the grace to process it.

Dr. Tyffani is a licensed psychologist. Her hardest job is being a Black Woman who centers the experiences of Black women and girls. During this 14th month of 2020, she is hopeful that the conversation about mental health will not be just lip service, and that in the development of programming to address the emotional health of our children during and after COVID19, needed culturally-informed resources will be made available to Black and Brown children in particular.

#COVID19 #Pandemic #EmotionalWellness #MentalHealth #RacialStress #RacialTrauma #DrTyffani

Citations

Devin English, Sharon F. Lambert, Brendesha M. Tynes, Lisa Bowleg, Maria Cecilia Zea, Lionel C. Howard, (2020) Daily multidimensional racial discrimination among Black U.S. American adolescents. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 66, 101068, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2019.101068.

Shah K, Mann S, Singh R, Bangar R, Kulkarni R. (2020) Impact of COVID-19 on the Mental Health of Children and Adolescents. Cureus, 12(8)

Ye J. (2020). Pediatric Mental and Behavioral Health in the Period of Quarantine and Social Distancing With COVID-19. JMIR pediatrics and parenting, 3(2), e19867. https://doi.org/10.2196/19867

Dr. Tyffani is a licensed psychologist. Her writings address the intersection of mental health, race, and gender — -specifically focused on Black women & girls

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