Written by Kristin Greco, MSW & Edited by Madia Javid-Yazdi, M.Ed.
“At recess me and my friends got together and made one big choo-choo train! It was so fun! Until the teachers saw … then we had to stop because we can’t be that close.”
This was the moment my daughter described her day at school – and the same moment it hit me that I took for granted linking arms with my best friend in middle school and huddling close together at recess. After imagining and empathizing with my daughter’s reality, I was overwhelmed with sadness. Her excitement was visceral, but I was grief stricken for her. The recess choo-choo train signified great connection in her reality, and, for me, magnified the lack of connection she has experienced.
I anticipate a commonality between many, if not all of us, in the face of this pandemic: We are exhausted. However, in my opinion, it is the children who are experiencing most of the impact whether they, or we, know it yet or not. For some children, it will not be as noticeable as it will be for other children. For others, the effect will be cumulative and won’t “show up” for years to come.
For the last two years, we have been reacting to uncertainty and chaos. And children have been absorbing our conversations, our moods, and our behaviours. After all, that is what children do; they emulate the adults closest to them.
In my career as a clinician, I have not seen as many children in need of social, emotional, and mental health support, as I have seen during this pandemic. Children as young as nine are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and eating disorders to name a few. What about the children who are not seen and are not receiving the appropriate support? What will happen to those children? What is happening to them?
I am not in favour of the commonly used phrase “children are resilient” because it is dangerously misleading. The catchphrase may persuade adults and caregivers to believe it is not necessary to address a child’s potential or evident emotional and mental health challenges until the struggles become terribly evident or life threatening. My colleague, who is a child-focused mental health clinician, reflected that several years from now, parents will be looking for therapeutic support for their children, not understanding why “all of a sudden” their children can’t sleep, are disruptive at school, or are having difficulty making friends. Parents and caregivers need to consider such issues may be a direct result of the unique ways in which their children/families were impacted by the cumulative devastation of this global pandemic.
Children are only asresilient as the extent to which appropriate resources/supports are provided by parents, caregivers, and educational institutions. As adults, we have a responsibility, now more than ever, to pay attention to what our children are telling us, verbally, non-verbally, and through their behaviours. We have a duty to be proactive and preventative for the children. To facilitate resiliency in our most vulnerable population, find resources for children or assemble your village to gain resources/support. We cannot meet the needs of our children alone.
Keep talking to your children. We must not deduce a child’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviours to “just a phase” or “bad behaviour.” In my opinion, this is not only a global pandemic that confronts us; we are amid a child mental health epidemic.