COVID-19 and Children
COVID-19 continues to shape who we can see and what we can do - at home, school, work and play. The ongoing change and upheaval surrounding snap lockdowns, school closures and other restrictions has kept us in a persistent state of uncertainty, which can be unsettling, frustrating, anxiety-provoking, even traumatic.
Children are not immune from these effects. While politicians grapple with finding a balance around the threat and risk, social commentators have drawn heavily on military metaphors to maintain the urgency and scale of what we, like other nations, are facing (‘Dunkirk moment’, ‘war with an invisible killer’, ‘frontline soldiers’). Meanwhile children are wrangling with their own questions and concerns: Will Grandma be OK? Does this mean no soccer season, again? What about my birthday party? Is it safe to be at school? Will you die if you catch this?
Given the COVID-19 impact is unlike anything most of us have experienced before, we need to continue to give close attention to how we can best support children to cope and adapt. A considerable body of research highlights that adverse life events can impact significantly on the wellbeing of children and young people but it is often the accompanying change and uncertainty that such events give rise to that is not so readily recognised and addressed (Gibbs et al., 2014; Shepard et al., 2017).
With COVID-19, change and uncertainty may be experienced differently in different families. While most will have been impacted to some extent by changes in routine at home, school, work and in social interactions, some families are more deeply affected by unemployment, reduced finances, temporary housing issues, safety concerns at home, family bereavement and illness. We have no precedent in Australia (nor in many other 'wealthy' western nations) for a disease threat and widescale change on the scale of this pandemic, although considerable research has been undertaken internationally over these past 18 months (or remains on-going) to shed light on children and young people’s experiences in this context (see Children and Young People, 2021; Lundy et al., 2021; Renshaw & Goodhue, 2021). Cross referencing this with existing literature on the science of coping suggests there are parallels from other contexts regarding what might best support children’s social and emotional wellbeing and resilience at this time (Goldberg, 2019; Masten & Motti-Stefanidi, 2020).
Central to such research is that children are impacted - they need to understand what is happening, be reassured about their safety, have opportunities to ask questions, be given timely information in clear, factual ways that doesn't overwhelm them with detail, and be supported to focus on what they can influence rather than what they can’t. Such strategies reduce anxiety and help promote coping throughout on-going cycles of lockdown and reopening. As Gibbs et al. (2014) have highlighted following detailed, longitudinal studies of communities recovering from the 2009 Victorian bushfires, "Infants, children and young people are alert to their physical surroundings and experiences, sensitive to their emotional and social environments, and, according to their age and personalities, will try to make sense of what is happening to them, as adults" (p.18).
More broadly, literature on natural disasters and terrorism events reiterates these points, highlighting that a caring, consistent and open parent or carer, who is coping as positively as they can, is key to helping children understand and adapt to difficult situations. Indeed, such evidence shows time and again that this relationship is a central factor in strengthening children's resilience as they develop their capacity to live with uncertainty and adapt to change. This often simply involves parents and carers talking about feelings with children (as well as about facts), spending time together and doing enjoyable activities (Freeman, Nairn & Gollop, 2015; Gibbs et al., 2014; Mooney et al., 2017; Pine et al., 2015; Schonfield et al., 2015; Shepard, Kulig & Botey, 2017).
In summary, such research focuses our attention on supporting children by:
- Open communication (which sometimes involves listening to what children are not saying);
- Minimising media exposure (reducing anxiety exacerbated by constant media coverage, including unhelpful social media);
- Creating new routines – around home-schooling, free time, family time, alone time, device time; Using the 'not normal' to spend quality time together;
- Modelling creative problem-solving to promote positive adaptation;
- Looking after yourself as a parent or carer - including affirming the way you are managing to juggle the challenges, changes and uncertainty - while also attending to your own stress, anxiety and fatigue as a result of the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 realities.
The Centre is committed to sharing evidence-based information and resources to support children, young people, families and communities throughout the crisis. We will be adding these below as the challenges, changes and responses to COVID-19 unfold.
COVID-19 Response Resources
A number of organisations have compiled further useful resources for supporting children and young people during this time. For example:
- UNICEF has a Covid-19 portal that is being constantly updated with additional resources, such as ‘Tips of parenting during the outbreak’, ‘How teenagers can protect their mental health’ etc.: Unicef Tips of parenting during the Covid-19 outbreak
- Emerging Minds has collated a curated list of relevant Australian and international factsheets and resources to help support children and young people during the pandemic:
Supporting children during the coronavirus Covid-19 outbreak
- Australian Catholic University have developed a practitioner guide and parent guide for supporting shared parenting during COVID-19: Safeguarding children during covid-19
- Beyond Blue's Be You website features a number of COVID-19 related resources for educators working with children. Beyond Blue's Be You website
- SNAICC have compiled a list of helpful resources for children, carers and families. snaicc.org.au helpful resources for children and families
- The Australian Children’s Knowledge Acceleration Hub, an initiative by ARACY and UNICEF Australia, brings together support programs and resources to help ensure children’s experiences of the pandemic are understood and communicated to decision-makers at all levels https://www.aracy.org.au/publications-resources/area?command=record&id=312
Betancourt, T.S. & Khan, K.T. (2008). The mental health of children affected by armed conflict: Protective processes and pathways to resilience. International Review of Psychiatry, 20(3), 317-328.
Commission for Children and Young People. (2021). Snapshot: Checking in with children and young people: Youth Survey November 2020 – February 2021. Melbourne.
Freeman, C., Nairn, K., & Gollop, M. (2015). Disaster impact and recovery: What children and young people can tell us. Kōtuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences Online, 10(2), 103-115.
Gibbs, L., Di Pietro, M., Harris, A., Ireton, G., Mordech, S., Roberts, M., . . . Wraith, R. (2014). Core principles for a community-based approach to supporting child disaster recovery. Australian Journal of Emergency Management, 29(1), 17-24.
Goldberg, S. (2019). Parental socialization of coping: A review of the literature. In Stress and Anxiety: Contributions of the STAR Award Winners, Buchwald, P., Moore, K.A., Kaniasty, K., & Arenas-Landgrave, P. (Eds.). (pp. 182-190). Logos Verlag: Berlin.
Lundy, L. Bryne, B., Lloyd, K., Templeton, M. et al. (2021). Life under Coronvirus: Children’s views on the experiences of their human rights. International Journal of Children’s Rights, Published online ahead of print. Retrieved: https://brill.com/view/journals/chil/29/2/article-p261_261.xml
Masten AS, Motti-Stefanidi F. (2020). Multisystem resilience for children and youth in disaster: Reflections in the context of COVID-19. Adversity Resilience Science, 1(2):95-106.
Mooney, M., Tarrant, R. A., Paton, D., Johal, S., & Johnston, D. (2017). Getting through: Children’s effective coping and adaptation in the context of the Canterbury, New Zealand, Earthquakes of 2010-2012. Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies, 21(1), 19-30.
Pine, N. S., Tarrant, R. A., Lyons, A. C., & Leathem, J. M. (2015). Rolling with the shakes: An insight into teenagers’ perceptions of recovery after the Canterbury earthquakes. Kōtuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences Online, 10(2), 116-125.
Renshaw, L., & Goodhue, R. (2021) It’s not our difference that is the disability: Impact of COVID-19 in Australia on children and young people with disability, and their families. Report prepared by ARACY for the Australian Government Department of Social Services. Canberra.
Schonfield, D. J., Demaria, T., & The Disaster Preparedness Advisory Council and Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. (2015). Providing psychosocial support to children and families in the aftermath of disasters and crises. Pediatrics, 136(4), e1120-e1130.
Shepard, B., Kulig, J., & Botey, A. P. (2017). Counselling children after wildfires: A school-based approach. Canadian Journal of Counselling & Psychotherapy/Revue Canadienne de Counseling et de Psychothérapie, 51(1).
UNICEF Australia. (2020). “Swimming with sandbags”: The views and experiences of young people in Australia five months into the COVID-19 pandemic (August 2020). Retrieved from: https://www.unicef.org.au/Upload/UNICEF/Media/Documents/202009-UNICEF-Swimming-with-sandbags-FINAL.pdf