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Understanding COVID-19’s Impact on Children

27 February 2021

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Around the world, everyone has been impacted in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you lost a job, a loved one or simply the comforts of normal life, the past year will have a lasting impact on all of us.

Coronavirus cases are often relatively mild for young people under the age of 18, but that doesn’t mean children and adolescents aren’t feeling the effects of living through a global pandemic. Their education, family life, recreational activities, social interactions and daily routines have been turned upside down during a time in their lives that should be care-free and full of optimism.

Because of these disruptions, there will likely be significant and long-lasting impacts for kids who lived through this unprecedented year.


How is COVID-19 impacting kids?

Regardless of age, there are several ways in which COVID-19 has negatively impacted children, from irregular routines and virtual school to homelessness and food insecurity.


Changes in routine

Having a predictable routine is important for kids as they develop. Parents know that routines have all but gone out the window during lockdowns and school closures. While unavoidable, this departure from their normal routine can cause feelings of stress and isolation.

With social distancing measures, kids are stuck at home isolated from relatives and friends. They may not have access to extracurricular activities that once brought them joy. Like the rest of us, kids are adjusting to a new normal and may experience feelings of sadness, isolation and anxiety. If possible, try to establish a routine within our new normal, and check in with your kiddos if they exhibit signs of stress, anxiety or depression.


Disruptions in learning

Oklahoma schools adopted a hybrid learning model throughout the past year, with a combination of virtual and in-person instruction. Additionally, students and teachers were required to quarantine when exposed to COVID-19. While necessary, these disruptions could have a lasting negative impact on kids’ academic and emotional well-being.

It’s important to remember that not all home situations are the same. From limited technology and poor internet connections to abusive family dynamics and food insecurity, children faced a wide variety of learning barriers in an unprecedented, and often unpredictable, school year. While teachers and parents did their best to adapt and accommodate, many kids did not retain information as well in the modified classroom settings, which could lead to difficulty absorbing curriculum even after returning to normal.


Breaks in continuity of health care

Over the past year, there was a significant decrease in childhood immunizations and routine wellness exams due to a variety of barriers for parents, including transportation, cost and fear of COVID-19 exposure. Children also experienced limited access to essential mental health, speech and occupational therapy services often provided through schools.

This year was a reminder of how important our health is to our well-being. If your child is behind on any routine healthcare services due to COVID-19, speak with your healthcare provider about scheduling a virtual or in-person visit.


Missed significant life events

Prior to COVID-19, significant life events, such as birthdays, vacations, graduations and holidays, were often taken for granted. While adults are feeling the loss of these special moments, it’s important to acknowledge that our kids are grieving the loss of these experiences as well.

As parents, you can do your best to make experiences special while following social distancing protocols. However, children may still feel isolated and sad from missing out on normal rites of passage.


Loss of security and safety

More than half of all people experiencing homelessness are children under the age of 18. The pandemic resulted in job loss, evictions and loss of security for millions around the United States. To make matters worse, virus concerns compromised the safety of homeless shelters, placing significant stress on families experiencing loss of employment, housing or food security.

Even for children who didn’t experience housing or food insecurity, the economic stress of the past year took its toll on parents, creating unstable, uncertain or even violent environments for kids. These stressful circumstances have led to an increased prevalence of anxiety and depression in young people over the past year.


Signs of stress in your child

Many of the circumstances of this year are outside of your control, but it’s still important to talk to your kids about COVID-19, recognize signs of stress and provide support where you can.

Signs of stress in young children

  • Fussiness and irritability
  • Changes in sleep
  • Feeding issues, reflux, constipation, loose stools or stomach pain
  • Separation anxiety
  • Hitting, biting or more frequent tantrums
  • Wetting the bed after being potty trained

Signs of stress in older children and adolescents

  • Changes in mood, such as irritability, hopelessness, rage or frequent conflicts with others
  • Changes in behavior or lack of interest in personal relationships
  • Loss of interest in normal activities or schoolwork
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes in weight, eating habits or personal hygiene
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • Increase in risky behaviors
  • Thoughts about death or suicide


If your child is exhibiting signs of stress or depression, contact your pediatrician to schedule an in-person or telehealth appointment. For more health and wellness resources for the whole family, visit our On Your Health blog


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