By Dr. Rosy Chhabra and Dr. Alicia Menard-Livingston
New York Daily News | Sep 18, 2020 at 5:00 AM
Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a media availability with Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza (Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)
Regardless of whether students return to school in-person or via distance learning, education leaders and policymakers across the country must equip schools to address the social, emotional and behavioral effects of the pandemic. Already, COVID-19 has resulted in dramatic mental health consequences. In June, one-third of adults reported anxiety or depression symptoms, according to the CDC.
Research on the emotional toll of the pandemic on children is relatively limited. A study of more than 2,300 kids who endured home confinement during the pandemic in Hubei province, China, found that
nearly 23% reported symptoms of depression, and nearly 19% reported experiencing anxiety. Other research has shown that more than a third of adolescents reported increased loneliness early in the shutdown.
Schools provide access to mental health services for more than half the youth in the country who need them, which has been impeded by school closings. The complex school reopening process has added a further level of disruption for many children. Since school was disbanded in the spring, students have received an array of conflicting guidance regarding their upcoming school year.
In New York City just yesterday, reopening plans changed again, with Mayor de Blasio announcing a second delay in the restart date. First it was Sept. 10, then Sept. 16, with in-school learning starting Sept. 21. Now in-school learning is pushed back again, to late September or early October, depending on the age of the student.
Through this — and with parents daily absorbing an array of confusing and sometimes conflicting guidance about reopening — children are in a state of constant uncertainty, potentially causing anxiety or trauma, as they struggle to adjust to a fluctuating situation.
On top of this, we cannot forget that many children have experienced loss and suffering within their own families, as a result of the pandemic. It is reasonable to believe that this whole experience can induce trauma-related symptoms in children. And these can have devastating long-term effects.
How can we help our children cope?
First, we need to understand what trauma is. According to the American Psychological Association, it is an emotional response to a terrible event, which can result in long term reactions and even physical symptoms.
Second, we need to be able to recognize trauma’s signs in children. Typical reactions include problems with behavior regulation, negative feelings, avoidance of reminders and problems with attention and moodiness. Regression is also common; younger children may revert to bedwetting, crying or clinging behaviors. Older children may seek out ways to avoid thinking about or “tune out” trauma by increasing social media involvement or engaging in negative behaviors such as substance use. Shame and guilt about the traumatic event may be expressed as withdrawal from friends and family.