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We’re hitting a strange anniversary this month. It’s been a year since the pandemic’s first reported deaths in the U.S., and this week, we crossed the dark threshold of a half-million deaths due to COVID-19. With the vaccinations available to more and more people, there’s a sense of light at the end of the tunnel. But most kids still aren’t in school, attending birthday parties, visiting Grandma, taking vacations. The youngest kids might not even remember life without masks, going inside other people’s houses.
As parents, we feel the responsibility of maintaining normalcy for our kids, even while their worlds are anything but normal. You may have been successful explaining why they can’t have friends over. You used strategies and techniques to help them channel their emotions in more constructive directions, and set sights on a hopeful horizon, not far off. But do you believe your own words? Children as young as infancy can sense the unspoken emotional signals of adults. How do we make sense of this for them, when we’re not even sure it’s OK for us?
There’s widespread concern about the mental health effects of parenting young children during a quarantine, and research confirms this troubling reality. Among parents, 42 percent report feeling lonely at least a few times a week since the pandemic started, according to data from the American Enterprise Institute. Data from Brigham and Women’s Hospital reveal that 36 percent of pregnant or postpartum women reported clinically significant levels of depression, up from the pre-pandemic level of 15-20 percent. Likewise, the quarantine affects the emotional and social development of children, with symptoms including clinginess, irritability, disturbed sleep, inattention, and separation-related anxiety, according to the journal Psychiatry Research.
But it is important to keep in mind that children are resilient. And with the vaccine rollout picking up steam, we are likely talking about just a few more months of navigating this isolating time—not an eternity.
We try to help our children understand that this is temporary, but words are just hollow platitudes if they are not backed up by emotional and nonverbal messaging that rings true. We are still in the winter of our discontent. But important practices and perspectives can help us as we navigate these strange days.
You might think you can hide your stress and anxiety from your kids. But you can’t. Children are emotional detectives, picking up on discrepancies between what we say and how we behave. If the emotional signals emanating from caregivers do not match their actions, children won’t know which to believe. The truth will win out.
Children need a dependable role model to help foster their own resilience, and successfully cope with the stress and anxiety of challenging times. Being authentic about your own feelings shows your children emotional regulation and self-care in action. It doesn’t make you less of a trusted adult; it makes you credible.
At Housman Institute, we believe our role is to nurture the social, emotional, and cognitive well-being of all students and educators without bias. It is critical that every child feel recognized and validated from their earliest days—to understand that their voice matters, regardless of background or experience and is being heard. We listen to, respect and support the needs of our educators as we recognize their critical role in a child's emotional growth and development. Together we need to begin the important work to help all our children and educators, as we move toward a more equitable environment for early learning, setting the stage for the building blocks of empathy and conflict resolution, and a more equitable future for us all. To learn more about how our program works to address equity in early childhood school communities... visit here.