According to a report from December 21, 2021, over 140,000 children in the United States have lost a primary caregiver due to COVID. This could qualify as either as a parent of grandparent who was serving as caregiver for the child. Furthermore, the pandemic economy has affected families in a profound way, with many caregivers losing jobs or having to change careers due to layoffs.
Research is just now coming out that there will be long-term related issues with children who lived through the pandemic. For example, the total number of children entering the foster care system fell about 4.5% from 2019 to 2020. This is largely due to the stay at home orders and lockdowns. At risk children had less opportunities to be seen by others outside the home, and as a result, the child abuse hotlines and investigations dropped as well. The impression is not that less children needed the foster care system, but the foster care system was unable to help at risk children.
Further long term issues for children raised during the pandemic will be studied for decades to come. There will be a heightened awareness to sickness and disease. The concept of mask mandates will profoundly shape this upcoming generation. Developmental theoreticians are asking questions about infants learning to speak and develop a grasp of language if everyone is wearing masks. Social distancing measures have been tied to educational development in children causing a 23% slump. These issues and more will be something this generation must learn to cope with coming out of the pandemic.
This is very similar to my grandparents’ generation. My grandparents were children during the depression. They grew up with very little. The 50’s and 60’s were times of great economic flourishing for many Americans. However, the children of the depression knew need. My grandmother even has a group of recipes known as “depression food.” These recipes are made with simple household ingredients and often would be the only food available in the house. My parents did not know this kind of need.
As a result, my grandparents were very frugal. They often had the same clothes and furniture for decades. If something was working, there was no need to replace it. They also had a compulsion to save. The colloquial phrase was “saving money for a rainy day.” They had a fear that something would happen, and they wanted to make sure they had finances in case of another economic crash. This was embedded in them at a young of learning to live without what many Americans now consider a given.
What concerns will these children have as adults? Will they be constantly worried about another pandemic? Will they be skeptical of medicine in the future? All of these concerns will take wisdom from parents to help their children navigate through the fears and concerns. How can parents help in this area.
1. Be Aware
First, I would encourage parents simply to be aware that these are concerns and realties with which your children will grow. Every child will respond to this season of life differently, and parents need to be quick to listen for indicators. Do not assume that your children have all the concerns or that your children even have the same concerns. Different children will respond differently. Therefore, a parent needs to be a good listener and give space to their children to talk to them.
How can you do this? Obviously, if your kid starts a conversation about one of these concerns, that is your first cue to listen. Parents need to practice active listening, meaning that parents are taking mental notes and not trying to formulate responses while the child is talking. A child may take a few minutes to finally get to the topic he/she really wants to talk about, or they may bring up a topic without sharing their feelings initially. This is his/her way of testing if it is a safe topic with the parent.
Help the child to be aware of any tendencies. Mastering one’s personality starts with an awareness of tendencies and traits. For example, the mask mandates created a culture where people could openly shame people not wearing masks. This culture is irrelevant to the person’s opinions about masks because of its prevalence. This has created a fear in some children about being openly shamed. Helping a child be aware and understand this fear will be a what helps them most.
2. Be Empathetic
Another key element for parents is to be empathetic towards their children. This does not mean that a parent fully understands his/her child’s emotions, but a parent can have similar emotions. For example, a millennial may be more concerned about safety because of the breach of safety on due to the events pertaining to September 11, 2001. This may impact how a millennial aged person reacts to security and safety in international settings.
Seek to understand before you discipline. For younger children who cannot express their feelings well, they may choose to act out. They may display outburst of anger when they are anxious. You may have bathroom issues after the potty-training phase. Tantrums can be the extreme expression of anxiety.
Now, none of these actions are acceptable behavior for a child you are raising, but it will affect how you parent. You will be less likely to parent out of anger when you are parenting from a place of empathy. Certainly, there must be consequences to poor behavior, but with understanding can also lead to the development of coping skills.
3. Be Hopeful
Finally, be hopeful. The pandemic and lockdowns cannot last forever, and the anxieties attached to it cannot last forever. There will be a return to “normal” life, albeit a different normal. Yes, the pandemic will have fundamentally changed the American culture, but people cannot stay in crisis forever. There is no existence in that. Instead, paint a picture for your child of a better future. Part of being young is an inability to project into the future, because of the brevity of their own lives. Most children view their parents as older and wiser, even if they are teenagers. If you are positive, they will be positive.
 American Academy of Pediatrics, “Mental Health During COVID-19: Signs Your Child May Need Support,” Healthy Children (posted December 21, 2021), https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/Signs-your-Teen-May-Need-More-Support.aspx(accessed January 30, 2022).
 “New Data Show Drop in Foster Care Numbers During Pandemic,” Child Welfare Monitor, Posted December 13, 2021, https://childwelfaremonitor.org/2021/12/13/new-data-show-drop-in-foster-care-numbers-during-pandemic/ (accessed January 30, 2022).
 Alex Hammer, “Face Masks Do Harm Children’s Development,” Daily Mail, November 26, 2021, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10247315/Face-masks-harm-childrens-development-Study-blames-significantly-reduced-development.html (accessed January 31, 2022)