I've heard several possible school-year scenarios from my friends who are scattered across the US. Some are being told that kids may be able to attend school a few days a week in the fall. Others are hearing their kids might attend classes virtually — at least at first. And some have heard that schools are likely to open in the fall despite the pandemic.
The idea that schools may not open this fall has many parents worried. While there are practical day-to-day issues like daycare, being out of school might also negatively affect kids socially, emotionally, and cognitively.
While we don't know what the long-term psychological impact on kids might be (after all, closing schools because of a pandemic isn't something any recent generations have endured), there is some evidence that being out of school could take a toll on some kids' emotional well-being.
Potential psychological impacts
School closings may not have a psychological impact on some kids. After all, plenty of homeschooled children are well-adjusted.
Not all children will fare so well, however. Some may experience emotional distress that could affect them for the rest of their lives. Here's what we know so far:
- Kids with preexisting mental-health issues may experience the most problems. A report published in The Lancet in April cited a study of more than 2,000 young people in the UK with a history of mental illness that found 83% said the pandemic made their condition worse. So while some kids may struggle with fears of getting sick, others may experience distress from the changes to their daily routines and being isolated from their friends.
- Some kids will lack access to resources. In the same study mentioned in The Lancet, about 26% of young people with a mental health condition reported being unable to access mental-health support during the pandemic. Many children see their mental-health treatment providers at school. Without school, some of these kids may go without services.
- Some kids may experience new mental-health issues. Research on children in China's Hubei province, where the novel coronavirus was first identified and strict lockdowns were enforced, found an uptick in mental health issues during the pandemic. A survey of nearly 2,000 students found that 23% reported experiencing depression and 19% said they experienced anxiety.
During past epidemics, school closings often led to lower graduation rates. This was mostly because teenagers started jobs and didn't return to school even after they were open.
Obviously, times have changed since the days of polio outbreaks. Things like online learning and child-labor laws will most likely curb mass dropouts. But, some kids may still give up on education if traditional classrooms don't reopen in the fall.
What parents can do
There's a good chance parents can prevent a lot of the negative effects of school closings by being proactive in the fall. Here are some things that can reduce children's distress and keep them mentally strong if schools aren't open:
- Establish a routine. Kids do best when they have a schedule. So establish some structure in their lives. Set aside time for school work, chores, exercise, and play — similar to the way teachers do. Your child will adjust better to the "new normal" when they know what to expect every day.
- Find safe ways to socialize. Kids need to be around their peers. Friendships are an essential component to healthy emotional and social development. Of course, you need to observe up-to-date safety practices. But if you can get your kids together for playdates or organized activities, do it. If they can't be together physically, create ways for your kids to socialize online — such as an online lunch group where they can talk to other kids every day.
- Encourage activities. Extracurricular activities are important. And while you may not be able to have them join their "usual" activities, there are alternative options. Look for online activities, like an online cooking class or dance class. These activities can foster learning and reduce feelings of isolation.
- Help them set goals. Everyone feels better when they're working toward a goal — including kids. So whether your children want to run a mile at a faster pace or are hoping to learn how to play the violin, help them establish a healthy goal they can work on. Then, assist them in creating a schedule that will help them work on that goal — such as practicing 20 minutes, five days a week.
- Get professional help if needed. If you're seeing changes in your child's mood or behavior that concern you, talk to your pediatrician. You also might try reaching out to a mental health professional. If it's not safe to attend therapy appointments in person, you may be able to establish virtually therapy appointments for your child.
This article was written by Amy Morin from Business Insider and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.