On Oct 27, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced and multiplied the long list of risks that threaten children’s physical and social-emotional heath, socio-economic status, and academic performance. It has simultaneously complicated educators’ capacity to teach, monitor and empower. Teachers play an important role in serving, in some cases, the only role model for students. To ensure that teachers maintain this important role in students’ lives, I want to bring attention to the additional risks the pandemic has created for children and teachers. Additionally, recommended strategies for teachers to use to monitor and enhance childhood fortitude in a remote learning environment.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Associated With COVID-19
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are defined as “potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood” (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020). These can include substance abuse, socioeconomics, familial instability, and mental health issues. The COVID-19 Pandemic has exacerbated the key causes of childhood adversity and has branched out to impact children who were not exposed to the risk factors previously. Sadly, risk factors in relation to physical and mental wellbeing, socioeconomics, and academics have intensified during the pandemic (especially for those already struggling). Traditionally, educators have served as, in some cases the only positive person in the child’s life. Shelter-in-place requirements have eliminated the face-to-face (F2F) interactions between a teacher and student; however, the teacher can continue to serve as a positive role model for the student, even remotely.
Physical and Social-Emotional Health
At the time of writing, the health risks associated with contracting COVID-19 during childhood have been deemed smaller by comparison to adults, yet children are not immune. Children with underlying health conditions or are medically fragile are at greatest risk of contracting the illness. Additionally, a small percentage of children risk hyper-inflammatory shock if they contract the virus. Recently, there has been a reported increase in the number of children who are contracting the pandemic with varying degrees of results.
Other health issues posed from contracting COVID-19, include a reduced the number of children undergoing routine vaccinations during. This trend is rooted in parental adherence to shelter-in-place orders and an unwillingness to risk exposing a child, or their family, to COVID-19 while obtaining a vaccination. Unfortunately, the decision not to boost a child’s immune system poses other health risks.
Additional physical threats include low-income children experiencing reduced access to breakfast and/or lunch at school that can lead to food insecurity. This can result in malnourishment and a shortage of essential vitamins and nutrients necessary for brain and physical development. Comparatively, there is a fear in the rise of childhood obesity because of unhealthy eating habits during the lockdown coupled with limited outside activities or exercise. Both instances threaten the health of children.
At the same time, COVID-19 threatens the family in numerous ways. A child could, for instance, lose a loved one to the virus. Further concerning, some children are being isolated with abusive or neglectful parents or guardians while shelter-in-place orders are in effect. Under stay-at-home mandates, children have limited or no opportunity to escape their abuser, while neighbors, teachers, and other community members are unable to monitor the child. These circumstances naturally increase the number of ACEs a child is exposed to.
Socially, COVID-19 has upended children’s traditional routines, which likewise threatens childhood wellbeing. Many students were quarantined at home and unable to attend school, visit friends or relatives, and have had limited opportunities to engage with their community. They are being denied the opportunity to socialize and to maintain a sense of normalcy. Some scholars warn that shelter-in-place could lead to psychological problems, including mood disorders (e.g., depression or anxiety) or post-traumatic stress disorder.
In addition to the physical and emotional implications COVID-19 has had on children, it has also caused additional socio-economic stressors for children and their families. The pandemic has threatened job security in many U.S. households, often resulting in the loss of jobs. This has resulted in the increased stressors associated with a lack of income to pay bills, cover cost of living expenses, and purchase food to nourish the family. Sadly, we have all seen the devastation on television of the cars lined up to receive free/reduced lunches provided by schools; however, in some cases this practice was halted with the school shutdown, leaving children hungry.
Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens academic development in numerous ways. The loss of face-to-face (F2F) pressured some school districts to resort to remote learning. While necessary, going digital introduces unique challenges for some students. Predominant among them is the disparity in access to the technology required to participate in virtual classrooms. Approximately twenty-percent of school-aged children in the United States do not have access to a computer and/or broadband Internet connection. A disproportionate number of these children come from low-income households, are minorities, and reside in rural locales.
In many of these cases, the ACEs presented by the COVID-19 pandemic will compound with those they faced prior to its spread. Worst, the health, economic and social implications of the pandemic have a disproportionate, negative impact on poor families, racial and ethnic minorities, and other marginalized groups (e.g., students with special needs) (Bowleg, 2020). Regardless of its root, educators remain at the forefront of the efforts to empower students and augment their resilience.
Promoting Resilience from A Distance
Experts argue that resilience can be constructed at home, in the community, and at school. Nevertheless, the literature implores educators to proactively empower their students by imparting the tools that ensure their social and emotional wellbeing. They likewise urge that intervention occur as early as possible.
While teachers are ideally positioned to observe and impart resilience in a traditional F2F school environment (e.g. in the classroom, at recess), there are numerous obstacles that complicate assessing student wellbeing remotely. Among the challenges outlined here, the most concerning is the difficulties of observing standard markers of abuse. For instance, it may be nearly impossible to see bruises or other visual cues that indicate maltreatment through a webcam. Next, younger students are less likely to be involved in remote lessons due to their age and inability to use the necessary technology. Finally, parents have more control in a remote setting and can thereby limit what educators observe. Although these and other challenges complicate the task of monitoring and imparting resilience, there are opportunities available. The following are a list of recommendations for teachers to use to support resilience in all students:
- Develop strong student–teacher relations to motivate and inspire a student socially and academically.
- Elicit active participation when students are passive.
- Lessen the fear of failure by encouraging, supporting, praising accomplishments, and empowering pupils while they learn and explore in a digital environment.
- Use strength-based educational models to improve academic performance, while building student confidence, motivation, and fortitude.
- Help them identify their learning style and teach them the most effective strategies to succeed academically.
- Encouraging students to share their feelings.
- Teach vocabulary and expressions to give students the tools to express themselves with clarity.
- Encourage them to be optimistic, flexible, and determinate.
- Schedule individual one-on-one online meetings with students deemed at risk.
- Schedule remote playtimes for pairs or groups of students as a means of encouraging virtual social interactions.
Now, more than ever, at-risk students need educators to be cognizant to the impact COVID-19 is having on them as they are sheltering in place. While educators may not have the means to provide the same level of support they would during F2F interaction, strategies can be conducted through virtual interaction. Throughout these unprecedented times, it’s vital that we ensure students are receiving the support in hopes of alleviating most of the negative implications of the virus and continue to move towards resiliency.