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Social-Emotional Pandemic Risks To Your Child — and Solutions by Age

Social-Emotional Pandemic Risks To Your Child — and Solutions by Age

Social-Emotional Pandemic Risks To Your Child -- and Solutions by Age

I’m worried that…

  • “My 22 month old has to wear a mask in daycare four days a week.”
  • “My extraverted four year old never sees anyone but me and his little sister, and is getting more and more difficult.”
  • “My eight year old hates zoom school and now says he hates math and reading.”
  • “My twelve year spends all his time playing games with friends online and lies about doing homework.”
  • “My fifteen year old — an only child — really misses school and friends and seems lonely and depressed.”

Most parents I know are worried about the impact of social isolation on their children, regardless of age. Remote learning isn’t developmentally appropriate for children or teens, and most kids miss the social interactions that are part of the school day, as well as the after-school activities. If your child can go to school in person, that’s probably a relief, but masks and social-distancing restrictions can trigger a sense of disconnection and sadness. It’s hard for kids to sustain excitement about learning under these conditions. And as the pandemic continues, many youngsters are battling anxiety and depression, just as adults are.

A recent British study cautioned that months of social isolation could have long-lasting effects on kids’ mental health, which confirms the suspicions of many child-development specialists. Although this is worrisome, it’s important to remember that these conclusions were drawn from studies done over the past five decades, none of which are an exact parallel to our current situation. And of course, children will be affected differently, depending on factors such as the supportiveness of parents, whether they have siblings, whether they tend to be extraverted by nature, whether they are able to attend school in person, etc.

Given that this pandemic poses some obvious risks that may affect your child, what can you do to protect your child and reduce those risks? Here’s your age by age guide.

For Kids of All Ages

Risk: Anxiety.

Solution: Develop healthy family habits to manage stress.

  • Routines, traditions and rituals all reduce stress and power struggles while normalizing healthy habits.
  • Create a daily schedule that includes time outside in nature, exercise (family dance party?) and positive family interactions, like dinner, board games and an evening family guided meditation.
  • Brainstorm together to come up with a list positive actions everyone in the family can take to feel better when they’re having a hard day, such as snuggling, reading a book, listening to music, blowing bubbles, watching a snow globe settle, or playing a favorite game.
  • Don’t give up on Managing Your Child’s Screen Time During the Pandemic.
  • Reassure your child that it is your job to keep everyone in the family safe, and you will do that. They need to wash hands, wear a mask, and follow instructions about social distancing, but they do not need to worry.
  • Don’t talk about the virus around your child in ways that could scare them.
  • Don’t listen to news when your child could hear.

Risk: Acting Out

Kids who can’t process their tears and fears directly will act out with bad behavior — or worse, internalize their upset and become depressed or self-destructive.

Solution: Help your child work through big emotions.

  • Check in often. Listen, accept and validate whatever your child is feeling. Their disappointments are real, and they need to grieve as much as adults do. You don’t have to solve what they’re upset about; just make space for them to feel it and to share it with you.
  • Keep communication open by empathizing and asking questions: “You seem worried. What would be the worst thing that could happen?”
  • Be patient. Children are stressed right now, and most of them can’t articulate why. Instead, they show you, by acting out. Remember that when kids are at their most difficult, they often just need to cry. Connection will be more effective to prevent bad behavior than punishment. Here’s Your Blueprint for Discipline During the Coronavirus Pandemic. And here’s your cheatsheet on handling your child’s anger.
  • If you’re seeing lots of sibling conflict, coach kids to ask for space appropriately when they need it, and facilitate fun activities that help siblings bond.

Risk: Stressed Out Parents

Solution: Take care of you.

  • Parents who are calm, warm, responsive and patient are the most important predictor of emotional health for children of all ages, so taking care of you may be the most important thing you can do to protect your child.
  • Manage your own stress levels. That’s tough during this stressful time, but each of us has the responsibility as a parent to manage our own stress.
  • Model positive stress-management habits like regular physical exercise, meditation and emotional connection with other caring adults. Address any coping habits you’ve developed that aren’t serving you, such as too much screen time or alcohol.

These are the three biggest risks for kids of all ages, but you’ll find specific additional guides below for each age group.

The bad news is that you can’t completely mitigate the risks of isolation. But there’s good news, too. Kids are resilient, this too shall pass, and kids will eventually regain ground on the social and educational losses they’re suffering now.

What’s more, you have more power than you know. When your child looks back on this time, they’ll remember how you stayed calm and kept your sense of humor (most of the time!), how you modeled graciousness in the face of uncertainty and apologized when you made mistakes, how you went for walks together or enjoyed family dance parties, how you made cookies together or grew seeds on your windowsill, how you set a tone in your home of love and fun.

Yes, that’s a tall order, for any parent at any time — and even more so during a pandemic. But even in tough times, we’re the parents, and we make the weather in our homes. You don’t have to be perfect. Just keep showing up and do your best. That’s what your child will remember.


See Also

  • Caregivers wearing masks can interfere with bonding, with the baby’s ability to learn to read expressions, and with the baby’s ability to match sounds with mouth shapes, which is important for speech development.
  • If the baby wears a mask, it can interfere with the baby’s ability to produce sounds and engage caregivers, which impacts speech development as well as the baby’s confidence that her needs will be met.
  • Parental stress can cause a parent to be less responsive to their baby, whether because parent is using screens while with the baby, or simply more anxious than usual.


  • Arrange for Baby Care from grandparents, relatives or other care-givers who have limited covid risk and can forgo masks while interacting with the baby.
  • Parental self-care, including regular physical exercise and mindfulness practices, will help you be more present with your baby.
  • Limit interacting with screens while caring for your baby.
  • Build face to face connection games into your routines with your baby.


  • Toddlers need to spend a lot of time outside, or their need to move and explore may lead to them tearing the home apart and driving parents crazy.
  • Increased screen usage to provide downtime for parents can negatively impact the toddlers’ rapidly developing brain and reduce their ability to sustain attention to tasks.
  • Caregivers wearing masks can interfere with the toddlers ability to learn to read expressions and can negatively impact bonding.
  • Parents who are stressed by being with a toddler 24/7 can get into negative spirals with their toddler, where yelling leads to more defiance and tantrums.


  • Find ways to get your toddler outside to move and explore every day. If your community has low infection rates and allows it, go to playgrounds early in the day to avoid crowds and bring alcohol wipes.
  • Limit screen time to the most important times of day for you, such as while you are on work calls or in the shower.
  • To keep your toddler occupied, set up an area in your home for messy play and make a list of Screen-Free Activities Your Toddler Can Do With Minimal Supervision. Set up at least one of these sensory activities every day.
  • Find childcare from parents, relatives or other care-givers who have limited covid risk and can forgo masks while interacting with your toddler.
  • Find another family with whom you feel safe setting up a play pod so that you can trade off childcare and have some time off.

Dr. Laura Markham is the author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life and Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting and more, – you can visit her at

Purchase her books here;

Article reprinted with permission by the author.
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