Back-to-school and COVID: psychological consequences in children
A summary of the psychological effects of going back to school in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
The waves of coronavirus infections have not yet stopped and are having an impact on many aspects of society, not only materially and economically, but also psychologically.
With this in mind, it is only natural that there is some concern about the implications of the COVID-19 crisis for the most psychologically vulnerable social groups, including children.
Therefore, in this article we are going to focus on the consequences of the back-to-school situation during the pandemic crisis, and the way in which these affect the youngest members of the household emotionally. of the house.
Why are the youngest children psychologically vulnerable to pandemic crisis?
Childhood is, in most cases, the stage of life when we are most psychologically vulnerable: what happens around us greatly influences our emotional, cognitive and behavioral development, for better and for worse.
It makes sense that this should be so: in our early years we are constantly adapting to all kinds of novel situations that life throws at us, and in the face of what is happening in our lives. We have much less knowledge and reference than we do as adults, and we have both a fully developed and mature brain and a range of practical and theoretical knowledge about how the world works.
This is why, although we retain the ability to learn and adjust our minds to challenges we had never encountered before, during childhood the human mind is especially flexible and prone to integrate experiences quickly, at the price of not always doing so in the most systematic and appropriate way for our own well-being.
In the end, if learning about what happens around us during childhood is already a task that requires effort, learning to deal with the emotions it produces and the dysfunctional behavior patterns that certain experiences can generate is even more complicated, especially if we do not have help.
Knowing this, it is not surprising that the coronavirus crisis has affected not only many children, but their families as well.. Now, with the prospect of the start of a new school year, another experience that the children have not faced before is beginning: the first few weeks in which certain dynamics of work in class will have changed, and in which there is still a certain level of fear and uncertainty about what will happen in these months.
Main consequences of going back to school in times of coronavirus.
These are the main aspects in which the return to school in the context of the pandemic can affect children. They do not necessarily affect everyone (in fact, children with almost all of these forms of discomfort will probably be a clear minority, and many will not manifest any of them) but they must be taken into account when it comes to looking after their well-being.
1. Vulnerability to family anxiety
Children are vulnerable to anxiety when it is present in their daily lives in the people they live with. For example, it is known that children with parents with Generalized Anxiety Disorder are more likely to develop stress and anxiety problems.
That is why in families in which the return to school is a source of discomfort due to the progression of the virus contagion (i.e., due to the idea of the risk of bringing the virus into the house), a climate of uneasiness can be created in which everyone suffersThis can lead to a vicious circle: the discomfort of others makes us feel worse, and vice versa.
2. Feelings of guilt
Having seen all the problems caused by the first wave of contagion, and having to spend many hours without parental supervision after several months without parental protection, it is likely that many children feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of minimizing the risk of contagion. This phenomenon can occur especially in children who live with people who belong to a risk group: the elderly, people with Respiratory diseases, etc.
For example, this can lead some of the children to try to take extreme precautions to an unhealthy extent, which causes more problems than it saves. Y as it is impossible not to be careless at any time, feelings of guilt arise, posing an added challenge that must be overcome.This is an added challenge that must be managed emotionally. Ultimately, it will take several days to know for sure that the moment when the child put his hand to his mouth did not result in subsequent infections.
3. Demotivation and stress due to uncertainty
It is no secret that there is a clear uncertainty about what is going to happen during the first months of the school year, both socially and in the organization of the educational system.
The fact of not being able to draw up clear plans to get organized, knowing that the school year will go on as usual, can cause many children to become discouraged. many children become demotivated and take these weeks of school as a time wasted, in which it will not be possible to finish the course.It will not be possible to finish the syllabus or consolidate knowledge because at any moment the schools will be closed and they will improvise on how the lessons will continue. Most of them have already gone through the experience of distance classes during the end of the previous school year, in which the lack of preparation of the educational system for this kind of scenarios became evident.
On the other hand, this lack of clear information about what will happen is capable of leading many children to a situation of a situation of blockage in which doubts accumulate to the point of not knowing what to do and suffering stress.. The prospect of seeing classes interrupted and subjected to a way of studying marked by improvisation detracts them from their references. For example: is it necessary to make the effort to prepare for the oral presentation in front of the whole class, if it may not be possible in the end? If so, is it bad to make sure it is designed to be seen by many people, and not only by the teacher? Will I be able to count on the P.E. grade at the end of the term? Etc.
4. Doubts about how to relate to others
Predictably, many children will be more fearful than others at the thought of becoming infected by being in close proximity to others. This, bearing in mind that children tend to touch each other more than adults, is relevant, because trying to avoid this kind of interaction can lead many children to be excluded from the dynamics of play, or to experience rejection.or experience rejection.
What to do?
In the face of these types of risks and problems, here are some tips to keep in mind.
1. Help children realize that school is more than what happens in class.
The educational process is not limited to school attendance, and that does not change even if they switch to videoconference classes.
2. Give them support in the face of possible conflicts or problems when socializing.
Listen to their problems and give them the opportunity to express themselves without being prejudiced. allows for the search for solutions with the participation of teachers and other parents..
3. Help them build their new habits
Faced with the need to adapt to the new scenario, it is good to help the little ones to generate this dynamic of habits, either by making it easy for them to learn and memorize these routines or by making timetable modifications if necessary.
4. Help them to question their fears.
Feelings of fear and guilt are based on dysfunctional beliefs. Through conversations, you can help children see how these beliefs falter when contrasted with reality.
5. If necessary, go to therapy
Family therapy and child and adolescent therapy may be the solution in cases of significant and persistent distress.
Are you looking for psychological assistance and psychotherapy services?
If you believe that the problems that have arisen in the context of the coronavirus pandemic are negatively affecting you and/or your family, please contact us. In Cribecca Psychology we offer both child and adult psychotherapy and family therapy and counseling for parents, among other services. You can find us in our center located in Seville, or through the modality of online therapy by video call. On this page you will find our contact details.
- Aktar, E.; Nikolić, N. & Bögels, S.M. (2017). Environmental transmission of generalized anxiety disorder from parents to children: worries, experiential avoidance, and intolerance of uncertainty. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 19(2): pp. 137 - 147.
- Grupe, D.W. & Nitschke, J.B. (2013). Uncertainty and Anticipation in Anxiety. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 14(7): pp. 488 - 501.
- Osmanağaoğlu, N.; Creswell, C.; Dodd, H.F. (2018). Intolerance of Uncertainty, anxiety, and worry in children and adolescents: A meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 225: pp. 80 - 90.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)