Jennifer Brown, M.Ed., LPC
Social and Academic Repair for Children in a Post-Lockdown World
The ongoing CoVID-19 pandemic turned life upside down, seemingly overnight, for a lot of us. As we all worked to figure out how to operate in a Zoom and Microsoft Teams world, there were many worries about finances, job stability, physical safety, and much more all at once. To say this global pandemic has been traumatic for the majority of us feels like an understatement.
On the minds of all the parents, I’ve been working and interacting with them through the Coronavirus pandemic is how this past year will affect their children, both in the short and long term. The answer to this question is specific to the child, the family system, and which resources the children and family system can realistically access, but in my anecdotal experience, it isn’t all doom and gloom. The families I work with are typically at or above the poverty line, so aside from job instability or loss through the Coronavirus pandemic, they all have access to enough financial resources to provide their children with adequate food and housing.
With the children’s basic physical needs met, as county after county locked down, the parents I work with found themselves in a position of having to think about and make plans to meet almost all of their children’s academic, social, and emotional needs. Children receive a large part of their socialization and develop most of their social skills at school with peers. Their academic and cognitive development happens largely at school, and their emotional development is supported by a myriad of people and places, including school. Without school, many kids seemingly missed out on many of the opportunities they regularly have to complete good academic work with teacher feedback, stay motivated to maintain grades, and negotiate and problem-solve social issues that arise in their peer groups. Across the board, the parents I work with reported observing their children as feeling and being more and more isolated as the year went on, often with an increase in arguments within the family system (especially around school work and grades).
But this isn’t all the parents reported. Thankfully.
Week after week, as I was listening to and thinking with my families about the particular struggles which were arising because of the global pandemic, I also heard parents report so many wonderful things their children had an opportunity to work on that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. In the beginning, as I started noticing this phenomenon, I wondered if this crisis wasn’t just like every other life challenge (albeit one of the most significant some of us have faced yet). When something shifts suddenly, as with any drastic change or loss, it can feel overwhelming. Chaotic. Like drowning. Yet, as we work tirelessly to adjust to the new normal, things are also just different. We often judge this difference as entirely “bad” because it is often so far outside of how we operate and understand things. Still, like any other of life’s challenges, a change, a loss, a paradigm shift typically isn’t entirely bad. It is uncomfortable, to say the very least, and we do have to contend with the emotional and social ramifications of the change or loss, but hardly ever in life is an entire experience entirely bad or entirely good.
How could children possibly benefit from the lockdown?
While many children struggled to manage their schedules and school work at home and often did not turn assignments in on time or at all, parents reported that their children were filling their time with other activities. Day after day, I heard about children finding ways to make use of their time at home: to problem solve societal issues (like how to support the BLM protests), to discover a new love for creative arts, to create a new piece of art inspired by creatives in their community, or even to learn how to cook for themselves and their families. One child, in particular, took advantage of the new lockdown schedule to practice keeping all the things he needed and wanted to do in his Google calendar, even if he didn’t get to all of the items on his list.
All of these skills - cooking, scheduling, creating, keeping up with current affairs - the children did of their own accord and are all important skills they will need for adulthood. Even as they missed some of their academic work and social experiences that school provided, many children (and parents) developed other skills throughout the pandemic shutdown. If you take a moment to reflect on how your child spent their time, what other skills were they developing? If you’re having difficulty picturing anything, think about all the tasks you have to accomplish in a day and what it takes to complete those tasks. Do you typically cook dinner for your family in the evening? We wouldn’t ask a five-year-old to cook an entire meal for their family, but if your Kindergartener was able to make his bowl of cereal in the morning, he was working on a necessary foundational skill to feed himself. Taking part in meal prep as a child is one of many tasks children can do to build skills to take care of themselves and others as an adult.
Social and Academic Repair
Realistically speaking, most children missed out on a lot during the lockdown. The additional skills they may have developed do not replace what they missed. As adults emerging from the pandemic shutdown, our task will be to identify where children fell behind, both academically and socially, and assist them in filling in some of those gaps. Keeping an eye out for any changes in behavior patterns, especially as they relate to socializing and social skills, will provide clues for beginning social repair. For instance, if your child is typically motivated to initiate plans with peers and is not doing so even if they have the opportunity. Here are some things to help your child connect to why this might be happening: by reminding them of the good feelings they once received from hanging out with friends or being curious (with your child) about what is keeping them from making plans with friends. They are two excellent ways to help your child begin thinking about their own experience through the pandemic and identify their areas of struggle
As we all continue to move back into the world, helping your child recover from the loss of school time will likely continue to be on your mind. At The Journey School, we have created a four-week summer program geared toward helping children process and socially recover from their time in lockdown, including a weekly social group led by a clinician. Other programs will likely also begin to focus on social and academic recovery as the world continues to open itself up again.
If you would like more information about The Journey School’s summer social repair program, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.