A young child looks longingly out the window during coronavirus pandemic.


The Impacts of the Coronavirus Pandemic on Children

Awareness and action key to limiting trauma on youth

Two months into the life altering coronavirus pandemic that has swept through our country, the full impact it will have on our lives is still unknown. It’s increasingly plausible that the pandemic will come to define, in large part, the lives of younger generations whose development will be marked by this unprecedented upheaval. Many believe it will be viewed on the same scale as World War II was for its generation of youth.

And that brings us to how it is affecting our children. Just as the trauma of a global conflict left life-long repercussions on children born in the 1940s and 1950s, so too will the coronavirus likely impact the children who grew up in the time of coronavirus. Its influence will be felt differently across society, but it is undeniable that the pandemic will taint our children’s lives in major ways, perhaps more than any global event in their lifetimes. 

As happens often, those with the least will likely suffer the most. A great amount of that trauma is likely to fall on low-income populations. Before we can mitigate those negative, we have to know what to look for. 

Impacts beyond infection

Although the Center for Disease Control says that children experience different symptoms than adults and that hospitalization and severe symptoms occur less in youth, kids still play a major part in mitigating the spread of coronavirus. Schools have been shuttered and figuring out when to reopen remains a major concern

The lack of regular schooling will be one of the major trauma triggers for most of if not all children. The extent to which the pandemic will stunt learning and development won’t be known for some time, but if other major traumatic events hurricanes and earthquakes are any indication, the effects could be huge. Socially, the impact is already being felt. Many of our children have been robbed of middle school and high school graduation ceremonies, proms and other celebrations that mark successful completions of a school year. Although Miami-Dade County Public Schools is still studying ways to honor and celebrate graduating seniors, the disruption will nevertheless be far reaching. 

Beyond the social and cultural, the impacts are even more critical when it comes to food insecurity. Free breakfast for all Miami-Dade public school children and free and reduced lunches for low-income children in the county represent a major portion of the meals our children consume. Without these meals, the likelihood that children will go hungry increases exponentially. To date, the school system has filled in the gaps admirably with more than 1 million grab-and-go meals served as of April 17. But more needs to be done. 

Considering three-fourths of the 350,000 enrolled Miami-Dade school children qualify for free or reduced meals and assuming they get at least one meal a day from school during a regular school year, the need is still being underserved. Visit Freeschoollunch.info to find out what school sites are still providing meals.

As well as the dangers of food insecurity, the coronavirus could lead to increases in child abuse, both physical and verbal. Increased stressors on parents, feelings of isolation and other factors of prolonged confinement could see an upswing in domestic and child abuse, according to experts. Though reporting of child abuse cases at the onset of the coronavirus have been down, that is not necessarily a positive sign. 

"What I'm seeing is a decrease in phone calls, which scares me," Amanda Altman, CEO of Kristi House, told the Miami New Times. "because it means there's probably an underreporting of incidents. What I anticipate is that once we're off lockdown and kids are back out — at schools, at camps, going to pediatricians — I would imagine we'll have an influx of cases." Trust-funded Kristi House is a child-advocacy center in Miami that focuses on eradicating child abuse and child sex trafficking. 

Another negative byproduct for children resulting from the current situation involves general health care and dental care. Kids have a hard enough time scheduling or making their regular medical visits during the coronavirus pandemic, but without the school health clinics many students count on – which represent a large percentage of the total health visits for low-income kids – a variety of negative health outcomes not related to the virus could be seen. Close to 100,000 students made almost 350,000 visits to Trust-funded school health clinics in 2019 to receive first aid, medical and mental health assessments, diagnosis, treatment, counseling, dental and vision screenings and vaccines. With schools closed for now and perhaps into parts of the next school years, health care for children could be an increasing worry for parents.

What parents can do to soften coronavirus trauma

Taking on a worldwide pandemic might seem an impossible task for Miami-Dade parents, but controlling the impact it has on our own children is not. Of course, we cannot control them being out of school, the scarcity of critical goods and the mental toll it will have on them completely, but we could lessen those impacts and cast light on positive aspects to reduce the overall trauma. 

The first thing to understand is that like with most things your children will take cues from you on how to behave and the long-term impacts start with your relationship.  “Watch out for catastrophic thinking,” said Mark Reinecke, PhD, a clinical psychologist with the Child Mind Institute. “Keep a sense of perspective, engage in solution-focused thinking and balance this with mindful acceptance.” It is critical to keep a constant dialogue with your children about both coronavirus and non-coronavirus related subjects and find ways to reduce the panic pandemic that accompanies the physical one.  Face the challenges and successes of the day together, but do so with purpose. 

Perspective is another valuable tool to battle the long-term effects of the crisis. The uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus can be among its most debilitating consequences. We don’t know how long the pandemic will be present, how long the stay-at-home order will last, what will happen with resources, stimulus checks, unemployment, our jobs, and on and on. Kids are even less equipped to handle those uncertainties. It’s okay to face them head on. One Miami schools assigned a time capsule project to memorialize the amount of time students followed the stay-at-home order. Students were encouraged to put in everything from labels of their favorite meals or snacks to rocks found while taking walks to photographs taken during the confinement. Finally, they were asked to write about their feelings during the confinement. The exercise allowed children to put their experience into context and also established a time frame for its duration, with the understanding that the current situation will pass eventually. 

While parents are the first and most critical line of defense between children and the long-term trauma the virus can have, that doesn’t mean they have to face the challenge alone. There has been a wholesale move toward virtual learning and coping resources that are available for free online and a good portion of a parents weekly schedule should be spent utilizing and researching them. 

StayHome.Miami, The Children’s Trust’s new microsite devoted exclusively to providing resources, activities and other tools to help children and families get through the current crisis, recently added Parent Club virtual workshop videos to its list of offerings. The Parent Club originally launched in August of last year and offered free workshops for any parents throughout the county. Last month, those workshops moved online and the new StayHome.Miami module presents useful portions of those workshops in short video formats. 

Parents can also count on StayHome.Miami for a new “Soccer for Success at Home” module with activities to stay active at home, a variety of videos geared toward children with disabilities from Easterseals South Florida, a multitude of other resources. 

Keeping kids active, engaged and entertained are important factors in reducing the long-term effects of the pandemic. Together with an honest but sensitive dialogue, parents can do their part in making sure that the pandemic's indelible impression on our children's lives will not be more negative than it has to be.