Experts weigh in on best ways to help children adapt during COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 1:40 PM, Apr 10, 2020

Everyone responds to change in routine differently, including kids. Most children have had to adapt to learning from home.

“Monday, Wednesday, and Friday they do a Zoom meeting with the whole class,” Taylar Ridberg explained.

Ridberg is the mother of two, 6-year-old Makena and 4-year-old Knox.

“She misses seeing her teacher and her friends,” Ridberg said.

Like many kids, they went on spring break in March, thinking they’d come back to school, but that’s not what happened.

“They told us, 'Yup, we are going to be doing virtual school until further notice,'” Ridberg said.

Learning and working from home was an abrupt shift in lifestyle for some people, including Ridberg’s family. In the eyes of 6-year-old Makena, it may be hard to understand.

“They know that there’s a virus going on," Ridberg said. "We tell them it’s not something we need to be afraid of, it’s just part of life. Things happen in life."

“You want to keep things age appropriate,” Dr. Chris Rogers, the Medical Director of Child and Adolescent Services at the Medical Center of Aurora, said. “Things like saying, ‘We're doing what we need to do to keep our family safe,’ is probably very appropriate, but saying things like, ‘Don't worry, no one in our community is gonna get sick,’ is probably not very much a good idea.”

Dr. Rogers explains the emotions children may be feeling.

“We’re seeing somewhat of the classic stages of grief manifesting with kids,” he said. “A lot of them were sort of excited, 'yay, no more school,' and then I think it started to settle in that home is not that much fun when it’s all you do all day every day.”

He said this won’t last forever. The only reasons parents should be concerned and seek professional help is if children have trouble sleeping, or regress on previous milestones or skills they’ve already learned. There are things adults can do to help.

“Your kids will form their opinion on what's happening by listening to your conversations,” Dr. Rogers said.

“I think they’re picking up their family's stress. Lots of things like I really miss going outside, I want to see my friends,” Katie Strabala, an elementary school teacher of 15 years, said. Strabala teaches 5th-graders in the Denver, Colorado area.

“More than ever before, kids are having totally different experiences,” she said.

“The good news is that kids are resilient; in many ways more so than adults often,” Dr. Rogers said.

The other good news: people have gotten creative in finding fun. Online, videos of drive through birthday parties and virtual video parties have gotten a lot of attention.

“She has really gotten into FaceTiming her friends,” Ridberg said about her daughter.

Many organizations are getting on board with posting virtual tours and experiences for kids, too.

Another solution?

“Coming up with creative ways to keep them being able to explore their world even within the same four walls, so to speak,” Dr. Rogers said.

Dr. Rogers suggested having them help you cook and clean up. Keeping a routine can also help as kids, parents, and teachers readjust.

“One of the things that has really been helpful for me is these video conferences, my office hours,” Strabala said.

The response to the pandemic is fluid, and so is how schools are choosing to handle it.

“It'll be interesting to see if we ever settle into a rhythm,” Strabala said. “At the beginning of all this, we thought what are the next two weeks going to look like. Then, it was what are the next four weeks going to look like, and what are the next eight weeks gonna look like. It just keeps changing, and we don't know.”

“My hope and expectation is that the vast majority of kids will bounce back and this really won’t negatively impact their development or their social skills or their educational development," said Dr. Rogers. "I think it'll be, hopefully, more of a speed bump than a long term problem."