The constraints brought about by COVID-19 isolation and social distancing are challenging. We are hearing about job losses, inability to meet with friends, lack of social entertainment, and having to cancel holidays. But what about the children?
Kids are now being confronted by a world which, in their mind, is not that far from the “Zombie” style Armageddon movies, TV shows, and games with which they are familiar. They are also unable to freely mix with their close friends, are possibly unable or not allowed to attend school, have to perhaps deal with confronting social issues at home eg alcoholism, domestic violence, and aren’t able to exercise to the degree required for good health.
Parents are under more stress financially, they are having to deal with home schooling, they are in fear of infection, and they have no daily escape from possible confronting home circumstances. Those stresses can’t be hidden from children no matter how hard you might try. The result for children is a distressed view of their current and perceived future circumstances, leaving little room for a positive frame of mind and everyday enjoyment.
From a child’s perspective, this may be their new paradigm:
· Everyone might die from the disease,
· My mum and dad might lose their job,
· We might not have a place to live,
· We’ll never be able to see our friends and extended family again,
· How are we going to eat,
· Mum and dad are fighting all the time,
· I’ll fail my exams if I don’t go to school,
· I’m getting fat staying at home,
· I’m scared of being abused,
· Home is like gaol,
· And many more worries.
How do we somehow ease the worry burden for children under the current circumstances? Its easy to say that the parents should just re-assure their children but that is trite. Children read between the lines and are often more affected by what’s not said, rather than what is said.
Social welfare agencies and volunteer organisations offer a range of support services which are reasonably accessible. There are also authorities such as the Police who can deal with violence and other reported abuse. But these approaches are “after the fact” Band-Aids for what might be more life-threatening conditions, many of which may go unreported. What we need to do is get onto the front foot in understanding the circumstances from the child’s perspective.
We know that children are into games, so maybe we can “gamify” their feelings? An app which contains rewards/points for dealing with certain situations, based on their “feelings” rating, could give us a picture of children’s overall sentiment. This type of feedback process, combined with known demographic social and economic data points, can build a picture of where proactive, rather than responsive, family support services should be provided.
There is no magic bullet here, but we need to better understand the new challenges imposed on children under the constraints of COVID-19. The isolation and social distancing will ease over time but the scars of this experience for children may not.