Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, parents, educators and mental health experts have paid a lot of attention to caring for their very young children, simply because babies, toddlers and young people elementary school children need a lot of practical care. And they’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how teens are doing.
But the tweens (and the parents of tweens) were a bit … lost.
It makes sense. Children ages 8 (ish) to 12 (ish) are usually old enough that they don’t need someone to sit with them all day during distance learning, and young enough that they don’t miss the major ones. rites of passage, such as graduation. Their struggles – big and small – can be overlooked.
But tweens and tweens are at a critical stage of development. And they can be particularly prone to anxiety and depression during the pandemic, said Elizabeth Englander, executive director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center.
Englander has teamed up with Katharine Covino, assistant professor of English studies at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts, to write a humorous guide to help pre-teens as they continue to navigate the pandemic: “The Insanely Awesome Pandemic Playbook: A Humorous Mental Health Guide For Kids. ”(The book was illustrated by Caroline Charland, a 12-year-old who brought a very valuable perspective to the process, Englander said.)
Tweens really need their own tools to continue dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic because, as Covino says, “they’re old enough to know that things are different and scary for their families, but not old enough. to find out why. “
Parents at HuffPost spoke with Englander about what tweens are going through and how caregivers can help them navigate the next few months.
The pandemic has been going on for a long time now. Where do you think tweens are emotionally now that they’ve had time to get used to so many changes?
Children are definitely resilient, but this pandemic has been a huge blow to them. They lost a lot – their schedules, schools, activities, seeing friends, seeing extended family … and some were really traumatized by financial blows, illness or even death. I think a lot of kids have adjusted and if they’re lucky enough to be in families that get along without financial stress or serious illness, I think we’ll see the kids bounce back.
But this pandemic has affected everyone psychologically and children are quite vulnerable in this regard. I think as the fall and winter – and the pandemic – drag on, issues like stress, anxiety and depression become more and more prominent.
It’s the chronic and ongoing stressors that really increase the rates of mental health problems.
Considering all of this, humor might seem like an odd approach. Why do you think this is important?
We wanted to write a book that the kids really wanted to read, and that’s what humor does. When we tested readings in the field, we found (of course) that it was the humor that really engaged the kids – and got them to remember the contents of the book.
What should parents who really want to give their kids a good start to 2021 be thinking about? They have suffered so much!
First of all, I think we should try to be positive ourselves – 2021 is less than two weeks old, let’s give this baby a chance! There are good things to look forward to, including, of course, the vaccine.
Second, I think it’s helpful to explain to the children that all of our work has already contributed to more positive events. For example, scientists worked tirelessly to develop the vaccine, and my God, they did it in record time! Like that, if we all try to do positive things, it will help things to improve.
For example, let’s make sure we stay in touch with the people we love and care about. It means taking the time to zoom in with grandparents, with friends, with your cousins and everyone else. If we keep talking to these people then it will be easier and more fun to see them after the pandemic.
Your book embraces the idea of rewards. For example, one section asks children to list three things they can enjoy right after finishing homework, as well as three longer-term treats to look forward to. Should parents be thinking about this stuff for their tweens too?
Definitely do more fun things every now and then. In the book, we sometimes talk about “sundae dinner” instead of “Sunday dinner”. Play a new game! Decorate the living room with hundreds of family photos! Read a good book, aloud, together. Things that make you smile also help improve your mood.
The book is also about “FOMO” which I think we sometimes forget can be a really big deal for tweens as well. Do we know, at this point, what impact social isolation during COVID-19 has had on tweens?
In fact, very little has been published. A few studies were done in China at the start of the pandemic, and they have shown a substantial increase in depression and anxiety – almost certainly due, at least in part, to social isolation. It is difficult to get quick results in the mainstream scientific community.
But there has been research on how children recover from a long time out of school. A small study was conducted in Louisiana after repeated hurricanes when children were out of school for several months. The kids are resilient, but it took them a while to readjust to school and they approached standardization differently. Some kids wanted to talk a lot about the trauma, while others didn’t want to talk about it at all. We will have to prepare the parents, the school and the children for the readjustment phase.
What should parents watch out for to know if their tween (or tween) is having difficulty?
Once kids hit their teens, they’re much better at being specific about what’s bothering them. But one of the challenges of raising young children is that their “symptoms” are widespread. So, changes in sleep, mood or diet can be due to many different causes.
Try to do a “check-in” during dinner where each person reports on their mood. Do they feel cranky? Restless? Needlessly crazy? Sad? Worried about school? Worried about the virus?
If so, chat with them on their own, perhaps at bedtime, and ask them what they are thinking. A psychologist by the name of Ashleigh Warner once said, “Under every feeling there is a need.” If you notice that your child is feeling anxious – which is very common – help them feel better in the short term by giving them some facts. Like, “Most people who get this virus don’t get very sick.” And have a good time with them.
Help them in the long run by emphasizing how hard we are all working to get back to ‘normal’.
The key point? All our current efforts are not in vain. All of this will help us restart and make the transition to a much better 2021. Keep telling your kids!
The conversation has been edited and condensed.