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Child Development: The Impact of the Pandemic

Updated: Jul 29, 2021

Mary Jane Amato explores how the pandemic may have hampered children’s development, yet also prove their resilience.

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Photo by Austin Pacheco

The highly challenging situation resulting from the COVID 19-pandemic has put everyone to the test, physically, economically and mentally. Children have been the silent victims of this unforeseen disruption to life as we know it.

The pandemic’s effects on children between the ages of 5-16 have been severe on multiple levels, especially in social and educational development. Lockdown restrictions leading to subsequent school closures nationwide have played a major role in slowing down the usual advancement of children, both intellectually and in their capacity to interact. The lack of contact with others may have caused setbacks in their linguistic abilities and capability to manage their feelings.

Isolation might also have a lasting impact on the educational progress of children. For the younger children, this has meant a significant and abrupt halt in relation-building, connection and communication, but for the slightly older ones, it has consisted in an unexpected capsizing of the solid structure that school provides them.

An example of this hasty overturn is the cancellation of the 2021 GCSEs and A-Levels along with the consequent decision to have teachers award grades based on coursework and mock exams. This measure, taken without consulting students beforehand, has caused mixed feelings amongst them, with some welcoming the break from standardised testing and others worrying that the quality of their coursework would not be good enough for them to pass the year, causing great distress.

Moreover, long-distance learning may have impacted students’ performance, altering an already delicate balance during the central years of their formation. Although online teaching is not new to most education providers, it had previously only been experimented within a mixed context where in-person learning was also provided. What emerges from studies around this issue is that vulnerable and disadvantaged students may struggle more with online instruction; children with an unstable family condition tend to have more trouble keeping up with schoolwork and staying on top of project deadlines when left to their own devices.

An Educational Development Matter, But Also One Regarding Mental Health

Education and learning development are not the only areas that have been subject to the detriment caused by the pandemic. Studies conducted by the National Institute for Health Research have seen an increase in apprehension in children in their teens. Worrying about catching COVID-19, or that a loved one may do so, as well as a fear of missing school, are some of the concerns that cause the most anxiety and distress.

Young people’s mental health and wellbeing have been further jeopardised by many other factors, a prominent one being vulnerability. If the situation at home was already precarious, lockdown may have made matters unquestionably worse, forcing them to be even more exposed to stressful household conditions and making the pandemic an additional obstacle to their already unstable lives.

Low-income households might have been impacted even more severely by the loss of jobs and financial cuts, with parents becoming more prone to developing depressive symptoms. Forced to stay at home, children will have absorbed negativity, possibly translating into anxiety, PTSD and mental strain.

A Possible Silver Lining and The Right Steps to Take Going Forwards

Even though the inconveniences and problems generating from the pandemic have unquestionably weighed upon the wellbeing of children, some positives have emerged from it. Their innate adaptability can in fact prove very resourceful, and taking the opportunity to build resilience during such stressful times could change the perception of this moment. Making sure their basic needs are met is an essential part of this process, together with keeping children connected and supervising their screen-time, avoiding mindless scrolling and the negative influence of the excessive use of social media.

Furthermore, supporting children’s Social and Emotional Learning, also known as SEL (the way they manage emotions and create and maintain positive relations), will be of primary importance while returning to school. This will be a critical step on the road to recovery, both for children and for each and every one of us.


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